Written alongside nutritionist and fellow author Patrick Holford, Lawson's book aims to be a guide to stress triggers in modern life, and how to cope better.
It's fascinating stuff for anyone who feels like they are constantly on a hamster wheel to keep up with life. Stress in itself is not the enemy - after all, it is useful in fight or flight situations and when work demands an extra push from you. But being like that ALL the time is not good, and that's where a new conversation needs to begin.
A recent survey by the Mental Health Foundation found that almost 60% of British adults believe their life is more stressful today than it was five years ago. One in five of us now takes time off work due to stress, and one in ten seeks professional help to deal with it, according to research by the charity Mind.
What causes stress?
It’s not just external events such as money worries, work challenges, relationship troubles, time pressures or distressing events on the news that cause stress. Factors such as illness, inflammation, allergies, nutrient deficiencies, exposure to toxins and poor diet also contribute to your stress load.
What does stress do to your body?
A stressful thought alone can trigger the release of more than 1400 harmful chemicals in your body. Over time, these can cause havoc with your health. For example, high levels of the stress hormone cortisol accelerate ageing and increase your risk of disease. Stress is as harmful to your heart as smoking and high cholesterol, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.
I’m sorry that telling you this is likely to stress you more. But please take heart. While it’s impossible to escape many of the events that trigger stress, the good news is that you can increase your resilience to them.
The most effective way to do this is to take a multi-faceted approach – making sure your diet delivers all you need to function at your best, boosting your levels of energy nutrients, reducing artificial stimulants and doing activities that actively build resilience.
How diet can lower stress
First, eat food that will energise you and provide a stable source of fuel. So have three meals a day and opt for a balance of slow-releasing carbs with protein – eg eggs on wholegrain toast, chicken stir-fried with wholewheat noodles and vegetables, grilled salmon with brown rice and greens.
Also never skip breakfast – it’s what sets you up for the day. The alternative is running on adrenaline and/or caffeine, both of which give you a high that soon gives way to a low, which creates stress on your system – and also makes you feel less able to deal with external stressors. So quit caffeine and while you’re doing so, switch to green tea, as it contains theanine which helps you feel calm and focused.
Supplementing energy nutrients daily can also make you feel more resilient. In particular B vitamins, vitamin C and the minerals chromium, iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium (ie in a high-strength multi-nutrient formula) plus co-enzyme Q10. The amino acid tyrosine can also help to increase resilience, with studies showing it can boost performance under pressure.
My secret anti-stress cure
Finally, the most powerful tool in my anti-stress kit is a simple daily exercise called the HeartMath Quick Coherence® technique. It’s easy to master and requires just three basic steps:
• First, focus your attention in your heart area in the centre of your chest.
• Next imagine your breath is flowing in and out of that area and aim to breathe a little slower and deeper than usual, for example inhaling for five seconds and exhaling for five seconds.
• Thirdly, recall an event where you felt good – time spent with friends, walking on the beach, looking at a beautiful view…
Keep this focus for five minutes each day, and also activate at any point you encounter a stressful event. All it takes is a few breaths to keep your cool and stop the stress cascade.
Research by the journal Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science has found that one month of praticising HeartMath techniques can reduce the stress hormone cortisol by 23% and increase DHEA, a beneficial rejuvenating hormone, by 100%. So it’s well worth learning.
The Stress Cure: How to Resolve Stress, Build Resilience and Boost Your Energy by Patrick Holford & Susannah Lawson (Piatkus, £14.99).