Chronic stress sends us into fight-or-flight mode, in which the hormones cortisol and adrenaline flood our body. Heart rate, breath, and blood pressure increase and we get a surge of glucose into the bloodstream to use for energy. Blood flow moves to our extremities (our arms and legs) so that we can flee danger. It flows away from the digestive system, which is not considered necessary for immediate survival and actually takes a lot of energy to run.
This response is great if we need to escape a dangerous situation but not so great if we're simply stressed out about deadlines or finances. Lack of blood flow (and therefore oxygen) to the digestive system slows function, which means poor digestion, nutrient absorption, and elimination (constipation).
Yoga can be a fabulous tool to unwind and detach from stress. In fact, 60 minutes of yoga has been found to significantly increase gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) — aka the "chilled" amino acid — levels in the brain.
GABA is a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) that works directly on the brain to calm the mind and enhance mood. It does this by regulating noradrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin. GABA functions as a brake on the neural circuitry during stress and relaxes the muscles; slows heart rate and breathing; and reduces anxiety, tension, and insomnia.
What we eat influences our mood. To understand how food can enhance feelings of happiness and reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, let's look at the common drivers of poor mental health: