Category Archives: Understanding the Stress Connection

STRESS is Your Friend

 

Quick update on myself.  Finding wellness means taking responsibility, taking a hard look at your life and making changes in all areas of your life…..and sometimes changes just happen to you and you learn to adjust with grace and compassion and move on.  So, I left my 8 year relationship (starting all over at 59), moved into an apartment, shortly after moving I had appendicitis and had surgery to remove it (when it rains it pours)…not done yet, my beloved brother died of cancer, my 90 year old step Father also passed away.  On the positive side I’m seeing a great accupuncturist once a week, I just started Toby Mortison’s on-line course for CFS (I’ll talk more on that later), and looking into SE (somatic  experiencing)….releasing old stress or trauma in the body.  I’m functional, but with everything I went through last year I had a few steps back but am now ready to move forward.

I want to share this portion of a chapter of Anthony Williams book, Life Changing Foods. It’s about making friends with stress instead of seeing it as bad. I think it’s a great mind shift to get more in touch with what’s going on in our bodies to help us on our path to healing.
” Stress is not trying to kill you. It’s a master teacher that is trying to communicate with you. It’s trying to test you—though it’s not about any sort of score. Rather than looking at stress as an invader, understand that stress is preparing you to be a master. Say hello to stress. Recognize it as a familiar face, someone you care about, and look it in the eye. Greet stress as your great mentor. Feel almost sorry for stress. After all, you will move past it, rise above it, succeed it—you’ll leave it behind. When dealing with stress, it’s key to remember this impermanence. No matter what, all things change. Nothing will stay the same. In the moment when stress is pushing you past your capacity, when you feel in dire need of relief, remind yourself that it will not last. When stress is there, we can appreciate it. Without stress, where would we be? There would be no challenge to inspire us. With the weather always perfect, food always abundant, love always flowing, we wouldn’t have anything to strive for, and life would grow boring. Without stress, we would lose our will, because will is built upon constantly succeeding, rising above, and breaking through to the other side of stress. Imagine all the birds suddenly gone from the planet. Not only would we miss out on everything birds do for the ecosystem, the experience of life on earth just wouldn’t be the same if they vanished. That’s how it would be if stress suddenly ceased to exist. If we didn’t have all these stresses flitting through our lives, it simply wouldn’t be right. If you think about it, stress is just the name we give it in negative circumstances (or what we label as negative circumstances). There are plenty of moments in our lives that we think of as leisure or play that have elements of stress involved. When you’re riding your bike on the weekend, giving it everything you’ve got to get to the top of a hill, that’s stress—only you probably think of it as exhilaration or release. The point is, stress is natural. It’s always been there, and it’s always been a friend. No matter how intense or grave stress feels in a given moment, we have to remember not to fear it. We hear the term stress management a lot. The issue with this concept is that managing stress can feel like one more job to do, and one more thing to feel bad about. So many people already walk around feeling inadequate for not being able to keep up with every single detail of their lives. On top of that, they’re supposed to feel like they have one more task—to manage the way they’re managing it all? Staying sane is less about managing stress and more about interacting with it. Instead of trying to fight against stress, communicate with it. Even consider letting stress reside at your address. Welcome it to your table. Break bread with stress. Acknowledge it as you drink your warm bowl of soup with stress beside you, offering it honor and respect, as though it’s a coach who has moved in to get you into prime shape. If you’re used to getting physical symptoms such as tight muscles from stress, politely ask stress instead to zero in on those problem areas like a masseuse and send them the message that it’s time to let go and work for you, because they’re needed to help you fulfill your purpose-plus. There is one boundary you need to set with stress: bedtime. When you retire for the night, that’s when you tell stress, “You’re locked out.” No matter what’s occurring in your life, you get to shut off your thoughts about it all when you shut off the light. This is when you call the angels in and create your sanctuary for the night, so you can navigate your dreams and be cleansed of difficult emotions that cropped up during the day. You need and deserve your rest. The approach of seeing stress as a messenger, friend, teacher, mentor, body worker, and coach makes stress less stressful. It is a powerful technique to help us grow and adapt to the challenges of our time. When you feel sorry for stress, appreciate it, and recognize it as impermanent, it doesn’t send the same jolt of excess adrenaline through your veins—it doesn’t take the toll on your body that it would otherwise. So go ahead, watch what happens when you greet stress with this new perspective. I can’t wait for you to feel the relief.”

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Stress Connection Self Assessment

Hope everyone made it through Christmas without too much stress and with lots of love, compassion, laughter and joy.

I was at the “adding food back in” phase of testing for food sensitivities….good timing.  We were invited to our neighbors for turkey and all the fixings…what to eat?  I decided on turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie (without the crust, of course)….the one thing I decided to add back in my diet was dairy which I did with yogurt ice cream and whipped cream…I know, not the best choices but I wanted to enjoy Christmas and be a gracious guest.   It was delicious!  …..but, no question that I have a problem with dairy…tried just plain yogurt yesterday and didn’t react as much….interesting, besides the usual symptoms of bloating, stomach pain, and gas, I had itchy eyes, which I never thought of as a symptom before…another would be moodiness or depression…need to really pay attention and record everything.  So after adding dairy back to my diet for two day I now need to stop using dairy and wait for all the symptoms to go away before starting the next food to add….which will be corn.  So back to the Stress Connection Self Assessment.

There are four self assessments; Past Stressors, Current Stressors, Self-Care and Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms.  Then looking at all your test results you look at what pattern you fit.  For the most part my symptoms, when put together showed up as pattern 2, which says “Your adrenal glands are shot, but you don’t have many stressors and you have been doing better taking care of yourself.  This pattern shows someone who has an empty bathtub with a drain that is closed. Why isn’t the bathtub filling with water?  Why aren’t your adrenal glands bouncing back?  If you started your self-care and stress management programs only within the past year, my guess is that it just hasn’t been long enough.  You should still focus on the treatment suggestions in the following section but pay extra attention to the herbs and supplements that can help your adrenal glands recover.  You might have other systems in your body that are not functioning properly, such as your detox system or gut.  Or you’re eating foods that are causing stress for your system and keeping your adrenal glands from recovering or making them sick.” 

Treatment Plan:  Manage stress using meditation, imagery, drawings, and journaling for self -awareness.  I’ve been using the body scan and yoga meditations from Jon Kabat-Zinn, www.mindfullivingprograms.com .  I decided to try something using imagery and found an app that I really enjoy that’s free called Sleep Lite by Belleruth Naparstek.  Many other imagery ideas at www.healthjourneys.com.  Also, I took a class at the senior center for Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) which is a series of meridian pressure points on your face and chest that you tap with your fingers as you recite positive thoughts towards healing or whatever change you’re trying to bring about.  I’ve been doing one for sleeping, since that’s my most challenging area right now.  Here’s a site to get you started.  www.eft.mercola.com.

Soft Belly Breathing.  I do this every night before I go to bed or if I’m stressed about something…really works.  Basically, you breath deeply in through your nose (you can lay your hand on your stomach and feel it raising up) and think “soft” then exhale and feel your stomach go flat and think “belly”, continue for 5 minutes…it’s the simple things that really work…give it a try.  Check out the Center for Mind-Body medicine at www.cmbm.org for more ideas…also the book, Unstuck, by James Gordon.

Tips for Sleeping Better:

  • Make sure you’re finished eating a large meal 4 hours before bedtime.  Lighter dinner 3 hours before bedtime.
  • Limiting or eliminating alcohol completely is important for healing your adrenal glands.
  • One hour before bedtime turn off all electronics.
  • Develop a nightly routine such as a warm (not hot) bath or shower, soothing music, lighting a scented candle, and/or reading an uplifting book.
  • Go to bed at the same time every night, even on weekends.  Be sure your bed is comfortable.
  • Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet and reserve the bed for sex and sleep only.
  • Try meditation, progressive relaxation, breathing awareness and guided imagery to help the body and mind prepare for sleep.
  • Try journaling 30 minutes before bed asking “What is on my mind”…she calls it downloading your thoughts.

If these things don’t help try:

  • Theanine, 100 mg at bedtime and another 100 mg in the middle of the night if you wake up and can’t fall back to sleep.
  •   Herbal blends with valerian and passionflower.
  • 5-HTP 100 mg at bedtime, which will help you stay asleep.

Eating Stress-Free

  • Eat breakfast, lunch, a snack, and dinner every day.  Going more than four hours without eating activates your stress system.
  • Have a majority of your calories before 3:00 p.m.

Exercise

  • Make a plan for moving your body and keeping it active.  At a minimum, two hours per week of something aerobic (mild difficulty talking while you are exercising)  You should feel warm and slightly out of breath.
  • If you have extreme fatigue, wait until the fatigue lessens and your energy is coming back before starting.
  • Get a personal trainer for several session or a physical therapist can also design a home program and may actually be covered by your insurance.

Foods that support your Adrenal

  • First eliminate all white flour and white sugar and stop drinking soft drinks and adding sugar to your tea and coffee.
  • Eat protein with all your meals and snacks (nuts, seeds, and legumes, free range organic chicken and grass-fed beef)
  • Eat plenty of tyrosine (almonds, dairy products, lima beans and pumpkin and sesame seeds)  If you have a problem with dairy leave that off.
  • Healthy fats from avocado, coconut, fish, nuts, or seeds with every meal.
  • B vitamins, especially B5 and B6 (cremini and shiitake mushrooms, calf’s liver, eggs, cauliflower, cucumbers, avocados, asparagus, broccoli, celery, turnip greens, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, collard greens,chard and bell peppers).  Vitamin B6 (summer and winter squash, bell peppers, turnip greens, shiitake and cremini mushrooms, spinach, cauliflower, mustard greens, cabbage, asparagus, broccoli, kale, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, green beans, leeks, tomatoes, garlic, tuna, cod, chard, calf’s liver, turkey and salmon.

Supplements

  • Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng) or Asian ginseng (100 – 200 mg)
  • Rhodiola (100 – 200 mg)
  • Ashwagandha 500 mg once a day
  • B vitamins (300 – 1,000 mg) per day
  • Licorice (no more than 500 mg per day)
  • DHEA (under guidance of a professional

Professional Help

  • Find a physician, naturopath, chiropractor, or osteopath trained in functional medicine at www.functionalmedicine.org  OR you can go to a functional medicine lab website, like Genova Diagnostics, www.gdx.net or Metametric labs, www.metametrix.com and find a practitioner who uses their services.  Practitioners trained in acupuncture, herbal medicine, homeopathy, and naturopathy areall able to treat adrenal fatigue.
  • Make sure they give the following tests:  Adrenal Saliva Test, Blood work to measure DHEA, testosterone levels…under the supervision of a doctor, women should increase testosterone by taking DHEA, fixing their adrenal glands and adding 1 – 2 tbsp. of ground flaxseeds to your daily diet.

Healing your gut next time…

Still trying to get the lab tests through my doctor…ANA, Anti-SSA, Anti-SSB, Anti-nuclear antibodies, anti-phospholipid antibodies, antibodies to double stranded DNA, Anti Smith (sm) antibodies.  These are basic tests that should not be a problem to get and they aren’t able to pull them up to order them, so they’re having the lab check into it and will get back to me…If I’m not successful here, there is a functional type doctor I can go to but will not be covered by my insurance.

Understanding the Stress Connection

This is THE most important chapter in my opinion because you can have the best diet in the world, exercise regularly and be in great shape….but if you’re reacting to stress instead of RESPONDING to it, like me…then you will eventually have health problems of some kind.  I believe my reacting to stress started as a baby….I was just one of those sensitive babies that reacted to every sound, every new situation….compound that sensitivity with having a very turbulent family life…alcoholic and abusive Father …I was incredibly shy, zero self esteem, thought I was so ugly that no boy could stand to even look at me (so sad and silly, I know)…but hey, I’m an adult now, I appreciate the good things my Mother and Father gave me and forgive the rest and am ready to move on.  I’m 56 years old…I’d say it’s about time to live my life…don’t you?  Stop fretting about every little thought in my head and be present, right now, experience the things that bring me happiness, joy, laughter and good health.  So here we go….the highlights from Understanding the Stress Connection:

The autonomic nervous system that controls your body functions such as heart rate, temperature, blood pressure, breathing rate and digestion has an on and off switch that is supposed to balance each other.  The on switch is called the sympathetic nervous system and it fires up when you’re stressed (you’ve heard fight or flight response). The off switch is called the parasympathetic nervous system and it acts as the brakes, helping you relax and turn off the stress response.  It’s supposed to turn off the fight or flight response, helping to bring you back into balance so you don’t get stuck in overdrive.

There’s also a hormone response to stress which starts in the hypothalamus and pituitary gland…where your emotions, thoughts and feelings are translated into hormone signals. which stimulate all your endocrine organs, including the thyroid, adrenals and ovaries to make their own hormones.  Cortisol is the most potent and raises your blood sugar so you can have the fuel to fight or flee and is the main anti-inflammatory hormone in the body, suppressing your immune cells and preparing your body for a potential injury…having direct impact to your immune system.  One of the most common symptoms of chronically high cortisol levels is an expanding waistline.  Belly fat is sometimes called “brown fat” because it looks and behaves differently from the other fat in your body, creating a lot of inflammation.  Stress normally has a starting point and an ending point but sometimes the stress system gets stuck in the on position.  This is called chronic stress.  I love the example Susan Blum gives in her book, about a documentary on zebras and lions.  “When one of the lions started chasing one of the zebras it was clear that the zebra was in a fight-or-flight mode as it ran for its life.  Finally, when it evaded the lion, its body began to shake wildly.  But then an amazing thing happened:  this same zebra who had just been running for dear life began quietly grazing in the field like nothing had happened.  It had already forgotten about the near-death experience it had just had, and I’m sure that if we measured the stress hormone levels in that grazing zebra, they would have been back to normal.  The zebra had a way to turn off the stress response and was now moving on.  Wish I could do this…I’ve actually heard a similar story about ducks….that after they fight they shake and ruffle their feathers then go back to what they were doing.  Here’s a good thing to try…when you’re going through a stressful situation, just taking a few deep breaths, might work the same way…..hey, I just thought of the term “shake it off”…maybe that’s where that came from.

Stress is believed to be a contributing factor in an amazing 80 percent of all chronic conditions, including autoimmune disease, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.

The Adrenal glands.  Conventional medicine has ignored them because our medical system is primarily focused on looking for disease and the main diseases of the adrenal glands are extreme situations…Cushing’s syndrome (high levels of cortisol, usually from a tumor) and Addison’s disease, an autoimmune condition that destroys the adrenal glands so they fail to make any hormones at all.

These are the hormones produced by the adrenal:  Aldosterone, regulates blood pressure.  DHEA, regulates blood sugar and lipids and helps support your bones.  In women they can also make testosterone and estrogen from DHEA, especially during menopause.  Cortisol, the most potent stress hormone is considered a primary hormone…needed for life.

The adrenals are happiest and healthiest when you’re sleeping a minimum of seven but preferably eight or more hours a night, eating balanced meals that contain adequate protein and veggies, limiting sugar and white flour, practicing some form of relaxation, exercising moderately (not too much and not too little), and minimizing your exposure to toxins.  The first thing that happens when your adrenal glands get weary is that your DHEA and testosterone levels fall.  Your adrenal glands are focusing all their efforts on making cortisol….which is needed to live, whereas low DHEA and Testosterone might make you sick, but you’ll live.  If you don’t do anything about it, next you may no longer produce sufficient cortisol and adrenaline.  Then your levels of these two crucial hormones begin to plummet, severe exhaustion sets in, often combined with inflammation in the joints or muscles that can cause pain, swelling, or stiffness, especially in the morning.

Okay….so do I have adrenal fatigue?  If you have a history of a lot of stress, not getting enough sleep or exercise, eating a diet high in sugar and bad fats, you don’t ever slow down and relax, and you have a high toxic overload (which can be mercury in your fish, pesticides in your food, or other exposure to environmental chemicals)…..your adrenal glands may be exhausted.  Well, I have a history of a lot of stress, even though I have very little stress now, I haven’t been able to sleep well for the last few years, I have trouble slowing down and relaxing (although I’m working on this, with breathing techniques, meditation, yoga)…For the last year I’ve had an extremely good diet and have always exercised regularly (sometimes too much…which I’ve toned that down quite a bit in the last year)

If you wake up tired, feel best during the middle of the day, crash and need a nap in the late afternoon, and then get a second wind at night, you have the classic pattern of tired adrenal glands.

Stress can directly suppress an immune moledule (called secretory IgA) that helps keep the good bacteria strong and growing and the bad bacteria and yeast out.

Meditation causes blood vessels to relax and dilate; as a result, more blood vessels relax and dilate.  Your body can actually learn to have a different kind of response to a situation so that you don’t turn on the damaging hormones and instead maintain a balanced inner world that will help you prevent and reverse any chronic illness you have.

Check out The Center for Mind-Body Medicine at www.cmbm.org for ideas.  One of her suggestions is the book that I was already reading and love, Full Catastrophe Living, Using the Wisdom and Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD (see website at www.mindfullivingprograms.com).  He also has some meditation and yoga CDs.  I bought this book a couple years ago but I guess I wasn’t quite ready to make any changes…my health has given me a new outlook and I’m loving every page and soaking it up.

Next week I’ll go over the chapter, Understanding the Stress Connection Workbook….a self assessment to find out how to put it all together and know how to proceed with a plan for you.