Stress Q & A with Wholefoods Nutritionist Nicola Murphy

Apr 19, 2018

Q. What does stress do to your body?
A completely stress free life would probably be quite boring as we need a little stress in our lives to stimulate and motivate us. The truth is we all need to experience that fight/flight adrenaline response occasionally to help us deal with pressurized situations. However problems arise when high stress levels are sustained and the person fails to get off the adrenaline rollercoaster. Then stress can have a detrimental effect on health. Essential nutrients are depleted and the hormone cortisol is released to help the body adjust to the stressful situation.  This can be very harmful when stress levels remain high for long periods of time. Energy levels will become erratic. Sleep patterns will become disrupted and anxiety levels tend to rise. The Immune system becomes suppressed leaving the person susceptible to colds, coughs and other infections. Headaches may also become a problem which may affect the person’s ability to concentrate and function properly. So while a little stress can be good for us, it is essential that we control it and not allow it to wreak havoc on our bodies.

Q. How do holistic approaches help?
A natural and holistic approach can help to support the body in dealing with stress effectively without causing any side effects.  Nourishing the nervous system is important during times of stress and B vitamins play a crucial role here. Topping up with a good B complex will help calm the nervous system as well as boosting energy levels.  For those who find themselves becoming increasingly anxious, Passiflora is a wonderful herb for soothing the nervous system and it also relaxes tense muscles. Exercise is always a great stress buster too so getting out for a walk or quick run for 30 minutes can boost the production of happy chemicals and result in instant relaxation. For those panicky moments Rescue Remedy is perfect to have on hand to instantly restore calm again! Adding a few drops into a bottle of water to sip on during exams will help students remain calm. Practicing deep breathing can also help the person relax as well as getting oxygen into their lungs – important for concentration.

Q. A lot of students have trouble sleeping in the run up to exams. What natural remedies are there?
A good night’s sleep is essential to enable a student to study effectively, concentrate properly and maintain peak energy levels. Switching off when they go to bed is the biggest problem for most students. Many spend hours tossing and turning with formulas and facts flying around in their head before drifting off into an uneasy sleep.  Rescue Remedy Night, a natural and safe flower remedy can work wonders on an overactive mind.  Traditionally it has been used to switch off the mind from unwanted repetitive thoughts, ensuring a peaceful sleep. For students who feel that they are half awake all night and fail to slip into a deep sleep, a herbal remedy called Dormeasan from A.Vogel which combines Valerian and Hops can be very beneficial for them. Taking 30 drops before bedtime will help the student relax and send them into a proper deep sleep quickly, leaving them refreshed and clear headed in the morning. It makes sense to avoid stimulants such as caffeine and sugary foods and drinks.

Q. What foods should students be eating in the run up to the exam?
Students need to eat regular well balanced fresh meals coming up to exams. All meals need to contain good protein foods and slow releasing carbohydrates. Good protein foods including eggs, nuts, seeds, cottage cheese, fish and chicken are great brain boosters as they help increase mental alertness. Wholegrain rice, pasta and breads should be chosen instead of the white refined varieties which will help to keep energy levels on an even keel.  Incorporating plenty of fruit and vegetables into the diet is key to providing many of the essential nutrients for the brain, Immune system and to maintain good energy levels. Fish is particularly important, as the omega 3 oil it contains helps to boost learning power. For people who struggle to eat fish, taking an Omega 3 supplement such as Eskimo oil, which has high levels of DHA will provide all the benefits. Omega 3 oils help enhance communication between brain cells, boosting memory function and concentration.

Q. Students often crave salty or sugar-rich foods when studying. Why is this, and what natural alternatives are there?
Stress, boredom and mood can all trigger cravings for high energy sugary or salty foods. The production of stress hormones in conjunction with other brain chemicals produced during times of intense concentration and learning can send us scrambling for the chocolate bars and crisps! Unfortunately, we are programmed to reward ourselves with sugary and fatty foods. A little treat occasionally will do no harm but students will reap the rewards if they resist the temptation to overindulge in these foods. Energy slumps tend to follow the initial high from sugary fatty foods. Nuts that are very lightly salted and popcorn provide a healthier option. Nut butters such as almond or peanut butter spread on oatcakes or rye crackers are a tasty and fulfilling snack. If the craving for chocolate is too much, a little dark chocolate with a high cocoa content is best. There are also plenty of health bars packed with nuts and fruit that don’t contain any refined sugar. When sugar cravings kick in, fresh fruits such as strawberries, blueberries and pineapple can hit the spot.

Q. It's exam day – what's a good breakfast?
Many students will be suffering from butterflies in the tummy on exam morning and may have no inclination to eat. However it is absolutely vital that they eat some food to avoid being distracted by hunger pangs during the exams.  Slow releasing carbohydrate foods and some protein are best to sustain students through an exam. Porridge with some nuts and seeds, wholegrain cereal or sugar free muesli with milk, yoghurt with some fruit and seeds are all healthy and sustaining options. Eggs are a brilliant source of good protein so a boiled egg or scrambled eggs with some wholegrain bread will certainly help sustain a student through a long exam. Some unfortunate students may be far too nervous to eat anything so this is when a protein shake or good smoothie will come in useful. Hemp protein is an excellent source of protein which is available in a powder form. This can be easily mixed in with a smoothie or blended with some fruit and fruit juice.

Other tips:

  • Stay hydrated! Drinking plenty of water is vital as dehydration can leave a student feeling sluggish and unable to focus.
  • Tea and coffee and colas need to be limited as too much caffeine will result the student feeling jittery reducing concentration levels. Green tea might be a useful substitute as it contains an amino acid called L-theanine which has great relaxation properties but also helps to boost mental alertness! L-theanine can also be taken in capsule form.
  • Support your Immune system but taking some A.Vogel Echinaforce leading up to exams. The last thing any student wants is to come down with a cold or flu before or during exams. Echinacea has anti-viral and antibacterial properties and it helps to ensure that immune cells are strong and ready to fight off any invaders.
  • Clever snacking can energise the body and enhance alertness for the student. Some healthy snacking ideas include nuts and dried fruit. Almonds and walnuts are particularly beneficial and rich in omega 3 oils and protein. Protein bars and energy bars  can really help sustain students through a long exam. Granola bars and fruit bars such as Nakd bars are another healthy option.
  • Regular breaks from study are important as the brain can only take in so much in one sitting. Using a break as an opportunity to get some exercise will help the student chill out more and sleep better at night.

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