Stress - The Un-doer
Before now, I spent most of my adult life in a continuous state of stress. I was not aware at the time, but it was actually debilitating, harming my body and affecting every aspect of my life: performance, sleep, relationships, perspective, security (or rather fears and anxieties). It also contributed to a constant state of worry -- will it all get done, how will I get it done-- which influenced my behavior and choices. Sure, I knew that stress was a problem—we’ve all heard that it contributes to heart disease or other conditions down the road. I was unaware, however, just how pervasive the stress was in my life right now, permeating everything I touched, thought and even dreamed. Stress was actually in charge.
What is stress really? Is it different for different people? Are some people just better at managing it or does it roughly affect us all the same? Well, these are good questions and lucky for us, many nutritionists, physicians, movement therapists, acupuncturists, chiropractors, yoga instructors and other health scientists have pondered the same thing, some participating in studies and research to reveal statistically-sound answers. We now know that even a little unmanaged stress—especially repeat stressors—can dramatically alter your life trajectory. Who and what you hoped to be and have are often hijacked by your stressors— creating more and more space for the “demanding” career or the “impossible” thesis, the “necessary” marathon training, or the “almost complete” house remodel. Meanwhile, the other parts of yourself and your life are disappearing. Some of us have less choice in how much stress exists in our lives as we care for others and secure a living and still, there are small changes we can implement to aid in loosening stress's grip on our future.
Turns out, stress modulation is possible through many means. Though I do not remember hearing about this in college, at work and definitely not growing up. Achieve, work harder, compromise more, complain less—these are concepts I incorporated from 8 to 28. Working with the stress in your life and modulating it with foods, natural supplements, herbs and lifestyle adjustments can reduce the impact it has on your body and life. At a minimum, maintaining this awareness, and the options to alter its course, will most assuredly present more opportunities to change your course. (Mariotti, 2015).
Dr. Chatterjee says in his book, The Stress Solution, that bringing your stress response down can be as simple as a 20 minute walk a day or even staring at a tree from your desk chair! (Chatterjee, 2018). This is remarkable information. The long intense work out that supposedly reduced our stress load and helped us lose weight was not in fact doing either. Those work outs can actually contribute to the stress cycle. Stress is managed by our Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (“HPA”) axis. With continued HPA axis elevation, rarely are we able to perform at our best or have good judgment. Commonly, people chose alcohol to mediate these effects which is not an effective strategy. (Stephens, 2012).
We can bring our body back to homeostasis through restorative practices such as calming herbal teas, meditation or breathing exercises, soothing hot salt baths, stretching or relaxing yoga, walks both long and short, gardening together, hugging a loved one or a pet, lounging through lunch under the trees or making a delicious meal for yourself or with others. All of these practices “restore” the body’s balance. The HPA (stress) axis is calmed while the adrenals and the hormone cortisol are relieved of their duties. The parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, allowing most of the organ functions to resume including the GI system; the body does not burn fat when we are stressed. (Smith, 2006).
When we are stressed, we are in a ‘fight or flight’ mode—preparing to respond to something big, so we have no time to process food or burn fat. Instead, the heart speeds up, more glucose (fuel) is released into our blood stream while our insulin modulator is restricted, metabolism slows to a crawl while our body releases hormones to raise our awareness, reflexes, and acuity. This state is really only good if we do need to run or fight; long term it just wears out all of these systems creating internal 'burn out.'
Detox systems are also not functioning optimally during stress. We definitely will not have time for a bathroom break—so lots of halting and slowing down of normal metabolic pathways while toxins build up in our systems wreaking havoc. Not good.
Stress is not our friend. It derails us from our real life—one filled with joy, laughter, family and friends, good meals, good reads, gardening, dreaming, loving and being. Organic whole (unprocessed) foods and certain herbs such as adaptogens can help restore the body systems and rebuild the interconnected cellular communication system that keeps you healthy and happy. We are prepared to partner with you on this stress-modulating journey with food and herbs. Taking a 20 minute walk today will start you on the track back to a life of YOUR choosing.
- Jen Vitry, Vitry Wellness
Chatterjee, R (2018). The Stress Solution: The 4 Steps to Reset Your Body, Mind, Relationships & Purpose. Penguin Random House, UK.
Huerta-Franco, M. R., Vargas-Luna, M., Tienda, P., Delgadillo-Holtfort, I., Balleza-Ordaz, M., & Flores-Hernandez, C. (2013). Effects of occupational stress on the gastrointestinal tract. World journal of gastrointestinal pathophysiology, 4(4), 108–118. https://doi.org/10.4291/wjgp.v4.i4.108
Institute of Functional Medicine (2020) [website] How Stress and Inflammation Contribute to Chronic Disease. https://www.ifm.org/news-insights/inflam-stress-inflammation-contribute-chronic-disease/
Mariotti A. (2015). The effects of chronic stress on health: new insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain-body communication. Future science OA, 1(3), FSO23. https://doi.org/10.4155/fso.15.21
Smith, S. M., & Vale, W. W. (2006). The role of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in neuroendocrine responses to stress. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 8(4), 383–395. https://doi.org/10.31887/DCNS.2006.8.4/ssmith
Stephens, M. A., & Wand, G. (2012) Stress and the HPA axis: role of glucocorticoids in alcohol dependence. Alcohol research : current reviews, 34(4), 468–483.
Xenaki, N., Bacopoulou, F., Kokkinos, A., Nicolaides, N. C., Chrousos, G. P., & Darviri, C. (2018). Impact of a stress management program on weight loss, mental health and lifestyle in adults with obesity: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of molecular biochemistry, 7(2), 78–84. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6296480/
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