I see many women who feel that they should not complain that they are stressed, as they feel that they have nothing really to stress over, yet they can’t shake this feeling of being stressed. It doesn’t matter what the source or size that the stress is, how you are feeling and coping is what is important.
Over 25% of Australian adults report high levels of anxiety and/or depression. Furthermore, Australian has the second highest rate of prescriptions for mood conditions per capita in the world. FYI, Iceland comes in first!
When we understand the mechanism of stress, then we can work to improve your resilience to stress. When we are under stress, there are changes to the structure and function of certain brain regions. Depending on the circumstances, the brain can reshape these areas to promote resilience to stress, or it can reinforce negative pathways that worsen your resilience to stress.
There are two factors that determine if you are resilient or vulnerable to stress – neurotrophic factors and neurotoxic factors. A greater exposure to neurotrophic factors promotes a better resilience to stress, whilst exposure to neurotoxic factors can reduce your ability to manage stress.
The primary driver of neurotoxicity is excessive exposure to cortisol caused by chronic physiological stress. Cortisol has a negative impact on the hippocampus of the brain, which is the area responsible for memory and emotional context. It also affects the pre-frontal cortex which is responsible for emotions and executive function. What happens to these areas of the brain when they are exposed to excess cortisol is that the dendrites of the neutrons retract, lose connection and eventually die off and shrink. When this happens your ability to manage stress and other mental functions start to decline.
Cortisol is not the only neurotoxic culprit, inflammation is all an influencer here. Inflammation in the body stems from a poor diet, exposure to environmental toxins, and negative lifestyle choices.
This is where neurotrophic factors are vital for stress management and mental function. Neurotrophic factors support the health, plasticity and function of the brain, allowing you to cope with the stress that you are exposed to in a better way.
A healthy diet is the corner stone for optimal brain health. Eating lots of fresh seasonal vegetables, healthy fats containing essential fatty acids, and adequate protein for amino acid content is vital.
Top brain foods include –
- Oily fish such as salmon
- Nuts and seeds
- Green leafy vegetables
- Protein from well-animals (meat from factory raised animals contain inflammatory fatty acid profiles that will contribute to inflammation in the body)
- Organic eggs
You can further support neurotrophic factors with specific nutrients that the brain thrives on. These include B-vitamins, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids.
Herbal medicine also has a profound affect on brain health. Many herbs can help to boost circulation to the brain, manage cortisol levels, support the adrenal gland that releases cortisol, improve memory and exert anti-oxidant actions to absorb free-radicals that can cause damage to the brain.
Herbs to support stress resilience
- Siberian Ginseng
- Green Tea
So, if you feel that you are struggling to get on top of your stress levels, let’s have a chat about getting to the root cause and develop a treatment plan that will support optimal brain health.