In our work and daily life, we often encounter various forms of stress. Moderate stress can sometimes have a positive impact on our ability to get things done, but excessive stress can affect our health.
Let's first understand how stress affects our brains. Learning about the physiological changes that occur in our brains under stress may help us be less critical of ourselves, as some of the states induced by stress are not easily controlled or regulated through rational means.
With this understanding, we can explore appropriate ways to cope with the pressures of work and life, such as drinking loose leaf oolong tea or consuming other stress-relieving foods, to help us better manage the stress we encounter.
How Does Stress Affect Our Brain?
Long-term chronic stress, such as overworking or family disputes, can affect brain size, brain structure, and brain function, and it may even impact your genes.
Stress begins with something called the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a series of interactions between endocrine glands in the brain and kidneys that control the body's response to stress. When your brain detects a stressful situation, your HPA axis is immediately activated, releasing a hormone called cortisol to prepare your body for immediate action.
However, high levels of cortisol over an extended period can seriously damage your brain. For example, chronic stress increases brain activity and the number of neural connections in the amygdala, the brain's fear center. As cortisol levels rise, the electrical signals in your hippocampus, a part of the brain crucial for learning, memory, and stress control, start to deteriorate. The hippocampus also inhibits HPA axis activity, so when it weakens, your ability to control stress weakens as well.
Cortisol can actually cause your brain to shrink in size, leading to a reduction in synaptic connections between neurons and the atrophy of the prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain responsible for managing focus, decision-making, judgment, and social interactions. It also results in fewer new brain cells being produced in the hippocampus, which means long-term stress may make learning and memory more challenging for you and leave you at risk for more severe mental issues such as depression and ultimately, dementia in old age.
Why Can Oolong Tea Alleviate Stress?
There are multiple studies that suggest oolong tea can help relieve stress.
In a study in 2018, it was found that L-theanine, an amino acid found in oolong tea, can block glutamate receptors in the brain from receiving L-glutamate. When this amino acid binds to these receptors, the neurons in the brain's cortex do not become excited. This allows the brain to remain in a relaxed state, thereby reducing stress.
In a study in 2003, researchers investigated the preventative effects of oolong tea on overnight stress in 55 Chinese women. Participants were given 4 servings of tea per day, each containing 2 grams of dry oolong tea or barley tea, or just water, for a week. The results from questionnaires showed that oolong tea intake improved stress symptoms, such as stiff shoulders, eye fatigue, headaches, and an increased number of calculation errors due to stress when compared to the control group. Oolong tea was able to alleviate stress by inhibiting the production of cortisol.
In a study conducted at the Osaka Institute of Health Science in Japan, experimental mice that consumed oolong tea exhibited a significant increase in stress levels, ranging from 10% to 18%.
If you're feeling stressed in your work and life, you can try incorporating oolong tea into your daily routine to relieve stress. Two oolong teas are highly recommended for you to try. One is TieGuanyin. Besides its stress-relieving properties, TieGuanyin also offers other health benefits, such as anti-cancer, antioxidant, and anti-cavity effects. Another one is Da hong pao, which is a classic oolong tea that oolong tea enthusiasts shouldn't miss. Dahongpao also has benefits for mental alertness, digestion promotion, and antioxidant properties.
Other Recommended Stress-Relieving Foods.
Foods rich in calcium
To alleviate stress, consider consuming foods rich in calcium, such as small fish, shrimp, spare ribs, and bone broth. Calcium acts as a natural nerve stabilizer, helping to relax tense nerves and stabilize emotions.
Foods containing vitamin B and trace minerals
Include foods like millet porridge, oatmeal, and spinach in your diet, as they are rich in vitamin B and trace minerals. These foods can help regulate hormone levels and aid in digestion, reducing feelings of fatigue.
Bananas are packed with various vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, and dietary fiber. This delicious snack promotes the secretion of dopamine and magnesium, aiding in relaxation and reducing stress and fatigue. Additionally, it can lower cortisol levels, further reducing stress.
Citrus fruits, including blueberries, kiwi, grapefruit, lemons, and oranges, can be helpful in reducing stress. These fruits provide a significant amount of vitamin C, fiber, and essential nutrients on a daily basis. Research suggests that consuming a large amount of vitamin C-rich fruits can slow down the production of cortisol.
When purchasing stress-reducing foods, the quality of the food is a crucial aspect. For oolong tea, it is recommended to choose loose leaf oolong tea rather than tea bags to maximize its health benefits. To find the best loose leaf tea, you can try iTeaworld's various tea selections, which include tea sampler of classic Chinese teas, making it more convenient and cost-effective for you to choose the loose leaf tea that suits you.
Apart from incorporating stress-relieving foods into your diet, there are other effective methods, such as regular exercise and meditation, that can help reduce stress. The diversity of approaches to problem-solving often exceeds your imagination. Did you know that there are dozens of methods for just washing dishes? I hope everyone will try various ways to make their lives more relaxed and joyful.