Is Stress Good for You? Here's When It's Not (and How to Handle It)

Can stress be good for you? It can according to naturopathic physician James Rouse. Stress isn’t the bad guy, says this expert in integrated medicine — and all of us can learn to think of stress as a positive element in our lives.

“Stress is essential to life,” explains "Dr. James," noting that the body’s “fight or flight” response gives us the extra energy we need to flee or defend against danger — but also feeds our vitality for playing with our kids and tearing up the basketball court with our buddies.

Stress becomes a problem, says Dr. James, because fight-or-flight can be triggered by situations you face every day — from financial worries to an ill-tempered boss to a troubled relationship. And if stress comes on too often, the effects can include a weakened immune system, bone loss or other serious health conditions.

In fact, studies suggest that 80 to 90 percent of illnesses are linked to stress — so keeping it in check is critical.

The key, says Dr. James, is managing when your stress response system kicks in — and channeling its energy when it does. Rather than trying to eliminate or reduce stress, as so many remedies try to do, “It’s about being proactive, by fortifying your body’s natural ability to take stress in stride,” says Dr. James.

“Start by asking yourself, ‘What do I love most in life? What gets me excited?’” Dr. James suggests. “What you give your body to work with can be the foundation of that experience.”

Dr. James notes that people under stress often skip meals during the day — only to arrive home feeling depleted and searching for feel-good foods, usually loaded with refined sugar and processed ingredients. While these foods may fill you up, he says, their lasting effect can be that you actually feel more stressed and less able to handle stressful situations.

An anxiety-ridden day drains the body of its natural feel-good hormones and stress-balancing body chemistry. Poor nutrition further depletes the nutrients needed to build that chemistry — spelling double trouble for your energy level and state of mind.

Dr. James says realigning stress-management body chemistry starts with smart nutrition including regular meals and snacks based on these essentials:

  1. High-protein foods for sustained blood sugar balance and key building blocks for beneficial neurotransmitters.
  2. Complex carbohydrates to produce energy and support optimal levels of the calming neurotransmitter serotonin.
  3. Essential fatty acids to help maintain physiological and psychological well-being and vitality.
  4. Key vitamins and minerals including vitamin C, magnesium, zinc, potassium and B vitamins to support adrenal health and the manufacture of key hormones.


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