Beating Stress and Stimulants

  • 25 Feb 2015
  • Reading time 13 mins
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Stress starts in the mind – but it doesn’t stay there. Every time you react to a stressful event, you set off a cascade of activity that fundamentally changes your body chemistry triggering the release of adrenal hormones which get you ready to ‘fight or take flight’. The average adrenalin rush of a commuter stuck in a traffic jam provides enough fuel to keep them running for a mile. That’s how much glucose is released, mainly by breaking down glucose stores called glycogen held in muscles and the liver. All this is happening as a result of a stressful thought. The other way to get an adrenalin release is to have a blood sugar dip, usually as a result of the body over-reacting to high sugar foods, or consuming some caffeine or nicotine.

Where, you might wonder, does all this extra energy and increased alertness come from? The answer is by diverting energy from the body’s normal repair and maintenance jobs such as digesting, cleansing and rejuvenating. So, every moment you spend in a state of stress, essential physical maintenance jobs are being neglected and the ageing process of your body therefore speeds up. It’s stressful even thinking about it. But the effects of prolonged stress are even more insidious than that. Like a car driven too fast, the body goes out of balance and parts start to wear out.

As a consequence your overall energy level drops, you lose concentration, get confused, suffer from bouts of ‘brain fog’, fall asleep after meals, get irritable, freak out, can’t sleep, can’t wake up, sweat too much, get headaches, tight muscles... sound familiar?

A quick remedy for energy deficiency

In an attempt to regain control, most people turn to stimulants. Legal stimulants include coffee (containing theobromine, theophylline, caffeine), tea (containing caffeine) and energy drinks such as cola (containing caffeine), chocolate (containing theophylline), as well as psychological ‘stimulants’ including demanding jobs, dangerous pastimes, horror movies, thrillers, emotional traumas – something to put you on the edge. Alcohol and cigarettes act as both stimulants and sedatives. Illegal stimulants include amphetamines and ‘uppers’, cocaine, crack and crime. Naturally it becomes increasingly difficult to relax with a regular intake of stimulants, so many people learn to balance their use with relaxants such as alcohol, sleeping pills, tranquillisers, cannabis and so on. After a while, it’s only the adrenalin and cortisol that keeps us going. If you quit the stimulants or take some time off, you collapse into a heap – depressed and exhausted. This means that you’ve become addicted to stress and/or stimulants.

Are you addicted to stimulants?

Imagine a day with NO coffee, tea, sugar, chocolate, cigarettes or alcohol. If you think ‘no way!’ there is a very real possibility that you have some level of addiction to stimulants. This can range from a mild addiction that you can live with quite happily to a major addiction that is running your life. However, whatever the level of addiction, the net consequence is less energy not more.

One client, Bobbie, serves as a case in point. She was already eating a healthy diet and took a sensible daily programme of vitamin and mineral supplements. She had only two problems: a lack of energy in the morning and occasional headaches – and one vice: three cups of coffee a day. After some persuasion, she agreed to stop coffee for one month. To her surprise, up went her energy level and the headaches stopped.

In making an assessment of your current relationship to stimulants, it is very helpful to get real about what you do and how you feel towards stimulants. So fill in the Stimulant Inventory below for three days. Note down how much and when you consume coffee, tea, chocolate, sugar or something sweet, cigarettes or alcohol. Also, consider what your relationship is to these substances. Do you, for example, ever buy sweets and hide the wrappers so other people won’t know? Do you swoon at the dessert menu in restaurants and always take a mint or two on the way out? How much do you think about and look forward to that cup of coffee in the morning or in a break? How important is that drink after work for you? How secret are you about the amount you smoke? Have you become a coffee connoisseur, side-stepping the issue of addiction by focusing on your hobby of sampling yet another caffeinated offering? This kind of relationship to stimulants, often cloaked in the attitude that these are just the normal pleasures of life, is indicative of an underlying chemical imbalance that depletes your energy and peace of mind.

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Stimulant InventoryA unit equalsDay 1Day 2Day 3
Tea 1 cup
Coffee (espresso) ½ shot
Coffee (filter or instant) 1 cup
Green tea 2 cups
Cola or caffeinated drinks 1 cup
Caffeine pills (eg No-Doz, Pro Plus, Excedrin, Dexatrim) 1 pill
Chocolate (milk) 200g
Chocolate (dark) 70g