STRESS. IT AFFECTS US ALL.
Stress impair our thoughts, actions and creativity.
Listen to my 3 part podcast on The Undeniable Clarity with former monk Colin Pal:
The definition of stress by the Oxford Dictionary is,
“Pressure or tension exerted on a material object.”
This includes the mental and emotional strain from demanding circumstances. However, it can also be the effort exerted while exercising, which strengthens your heart, the muscles being worked and the bones that are attached to those muscles.
Another example is when we are exposed to germs. The introduction of a bacteria or virus signals for our immune system to take action and protect our bodies from foreign invaders. It gets stronger and faster at identifying intruders with each encounter.
If you lived in a sterile bubble your first exposure to a microoganism could be disastrous, not to mention the allergies and autoimmune conditions that often associated with “being too clean” (read more about the hygiene hypothesis).
Similarly, if you were to always take antibiotics every time you got sick, your body can become dependent on the medications and not strengthen it’s own defense system. That being said, there are definite times where you will want to take antibiotics (especially for life-threatening bacterial infections), where surviving the infection takes precedence and strengthening your immune system is of secondary importance.
However, this is not usually the case.
Often, an antibiotic is prescribed, sometimes without knowing if the source is bacterial or viral, for an advanced infection (read more if you don’t know the difference between a bacterial and viral infection). The patient would be sent home to take their medication for the proper duration, or sometimes they won’t finish the course because they are feeling better before the end of the prescription (please don’t do this), and then a couple months later they are back for the same concern. This can occur over and over again.
A more thorough intake with a Naturopathic doctor would find a pattern to this high frequency of getting sick and would treat the root of the problem, a weakened immune system.
But the root can go deeper. Why is the immune system weak? It could be due to a root canal that is harboring a low-grade infection, antibiotic resistant “superbugs”, not completing your antibiotic course, or it could even be stress.
Stress can take on many masks
You may have consistent headaches that don’t seem to follow a pattern; you might become more sensitivity to foods or smells; you get bloated and gassy after every meal; or you might find yourself putting on excessive amounts of abdominal fat– these symptoms could be how your body expresses untreated stress.
Most likely, there are other physiological and hormonal changes going on, but the underlying cause is often poorly managed stress leading to poor foundations of health:
- sympathetic nervous system overdrive leading to poor sleep, digestion and healing of the body
- poor nutritional intake (more fast food, less variety, less fresh fruits and veggies, more calorie-dense foods that cause erratic blood sugar levels)
- more coffee and less water
- sedentary lifestyle (less exercise and outdoor activities)
- isolation and lack of social support or community
- lack of self-care, meditation and mindfulness
- poor stress management tactics (smoking, drinking, bursts of anger)
Stress is the root of many diseases. Each person has their own combinations of daily and major stressors that accumulate over their lifetimes and contribute to these imbalances. The roots of your concerns reaches even farther than blaming stress as a whole.
So, Where Does Stress Come From?
Stress is normal. It’s even healthy at times. How you manage stress is what causes the accumulation of disharmony and disease in the body and mind.
Stress can come from many sources:
- People: family, friends, colleagues, trolls, haters, authority, spammers
- Situations: work, home, school, driving, traffic, social events, intimacy, confrontation, meetings, interviews, unexpected and natural disasters, parties
- Daily exposure: poor or inadequate sleep, malnutrition, excess caffeine and stimulant use, drug dependencies, toxin accumulation, mold, gossip, abuse (physical, mental, emotional), pollution (noise, light, air), inadequate finances
- Health conditions: hormonal imbalance, chronic infections, heart conditions, anemia, mineral deficiency, chronic pain, diabetes, medications, age, infertility
- Loss: person, job, physical limb, physical abilities, mental capacities, independence, marriage, children, home, financial stability
- Self-inflicted: poor self-esteem and confidence, taking on too much, being responsible for others, feeling worthless, unwarranted anxiety, self-doubt, negative perception
There are many sources of stress along with varying intensities. Some are uncontrollable while others we self-inflict and are unnecessary.
UNNECESSARY STRESS– Some of these stressors are unnecessary and completely in your control. You can take action right now to eliminate them from your list. For example, if you are the type of person who says “yes” to everyone and takes on far too much, your empowering practice would be to say “NO”. “No” to things that don’t align with your life goals.
Saying “no” does not make you a bad person, just as saying “yes” doesn’t make you good. Say “yes” to your health, sanity and future because you are worth it. You are worth more than you neighbor, mother, and volunteer group because this is your life. Only take on things that empower you.
PLANNED STRESS– Even occasions that are planned, like an upcoming exam or wedding ceremony, can cause high amounts of stress and anxiety. And it often results in a sudden energy crash or illness immediately afterwards. I’ll talk more about how to support your mind and body for an expected stressful event later on in this article.
MOVING TARGET STRESS– We work very hard to dissolve some stressors. The most common example is financial stress. Not having enough. People will work years to have enough money to pay off their student loans and car payments only to then buy a home and a nicer car, etc. Now they need to work even harder and longer to make more money to pay off their mortgage and excessive spending habits.
Financial stress is often one with a moving target. If you keep increasing your spending every time you meet a financial goal you will perpetuate this never ending cycle. Be content with what you have and live within your means. If the years of hard work results in a pay raise or bonus, don’t immediately go spending it. Save. Save until you have something worthwhile to spend it on and be content with your present situation.
UNCONTROLLABLE STRESS– Other stressors we have no control over. Natural disasters occur, people get sick and accidents happen from time-to-time. These stressors will come even if we try to insulate and protect ourselves. So the trick here, is to change your perception of stress, limit the amount of unnecessary and “moving target” stress, and practice preventative medicine so you are more resilient to it when it happens.
Now I realize I’m giving stress a bad wrap.
The idea is not to eliminate stress. I already said that stress is healthy in small doses with the proper rest and recovery systems in place. And this is where the modern day person fails. The healthy management of stress along with the rest and recovery period is not valued and often ignored.
We cannot control all the stressors in our lives, nor can we predict when they will happen. Sometimes stress comes at inopportune times and all we can do is manage. There are good and not-so-good ways for managing stress. Smoking and drinking and worrying at all hours of the day and night are clear examples of poor ways to manage stress. So what are better ways?
8 Healthy Ways to Effectively Manage Stress
Effectively managing stress takes practice, daily practice.
It’s not about taking hours a day to meditate or planning out an exit strategy for every possible stressor. It’s about quality not quantity.
Making small manageable steps will produce big results without you even realizing it. You may look back one day and find yourself asking your boss for a raise when a year ago you’d shrink behind your computer screen at the very mention of a meeting.
Below are 8 ways to effectively manage stress. For the full list of “15 Simple Daily Practices For a Healthy State of Mind“, click the link:
1. Positive Perception
Every word, action and event are just those– words, actions, events. They hold no meaning until we assign it.
For example, if 2 children fall off their bikes and both skin their knee, one might cry and never want to get on a bike again, while the other may feel proud that he was trying a cool trick and want to go again to try and perfect it.
Two similar events with 2 very different meanings. Building positive perception takes work if it isn’t inherent, but not as much as you think. Just focusing on positive outcomes or even holding a pen horizontally in your teeth, can increase serotonin release and make you feel happier. Try it.
Negativity distracts us from seeing the big picture and being creative. Imagine negativity like a person wearing a dog cone-collar around his head. It narrows out vision and stops us from seeing possible solutions for our situation. When this happens, our emotions guide our actions, which are often not in line with our long-term plans and goals (Read more about how our state of mind can control our hormones and neurotransmitter here).
2. Gratitude and Meditation
Showing gratitude is another way to focus your attention on positivity and dissolve that dog cone, which impairs our thoughts during times of stress. Embodying loving kindness, compassion and mindfulness into our days is an effective practice to keep a positive perception. I especially recommend thinking of 3-5 things to be grateful for first thing in the morning and also at night, right before you go to bed.
During stressful situations, taking 5 minutes to close your eyes and be still, or even taking 3 slow, deep breaths could be the difference between a emotion-based choice and a logic-based decision. There’s a big difference.
Choices are made without thought. It is an urge. An impulse. And it’s often made based on emotion. Decisions on-the-other-hand, uses current circumstances to evaluates if the options align with the bigger picture, your end goal. Perhaps there is a solution that hasn’t been thought of which would be a win-win situation? Decisions take emotion out of the equation (or at least as much as possible) because they aren’t constant or reliable.
Three slow, deep breaths is enough to take an anxious and tense person and bring her into a parasympathetic state (Read more about breathing meditation and your nervous system here).
3. Exercise Outdoors
Being active increases blood circulation to your body and brain to allow you to think more clearly. Pumping the heart can also help to regulate the heartbeat and blood pressure of an anxious or mildly hypertensive person. The increases in lymph drainage, sweat, and gas exchange from heavy breathing while exercising cleans out the body and supports the natural detoxification pathways.
The vitamin D that your body absorbs from UV light is healthy for you. YES, healthy. Of course too much exposure to UV light can be harmful, but so can too little. Vitamin D is extremely important for hormone balance, bone strength, preventing diabetes, your immune system and of course improving your mood. Are you getting enough vitamin D? (read more here)
4. Food for your mood
Many natural foods, supplements and botanical herbs are beneficial for improving daily mood and cognitive functioning.
Make sure to eat a variety of colorful fresh produce, lean protein and healthy fats in every meal. Try shopping for organic, local and seasonal foods whenever possible, especially when it comes to the “dirty dozen”.
Some examples of mood-altering and cognitively supportive foods, supplements and herbs are:
- Foods: Fish and fish oil, coconut oil, soy, nuts (ie. almonds, walnuts), avocado, eggs, chicken, lentils
- Supplements: Phosphatidylcholine (PC), Phosphatidylserine (PS), Glycine, Branched chain amino acids (BCAA- valine, leucine, isoleucine), Magnesium, L-tyrosine
- Herbs: Gotu kola, Ginkgo, Rosemary leaf, Bacopa
It’s important to not only eat healthy but healthy foods for YOU. Tomatoes are very nutritious, but if you have a sensitivity to them they may cause you cramping, painful joints, or headaches, which contribute to your stress. Doing a hypo-allergenic food test is my preferred way of seeing how your diet is affecting your body and mood. Learn more by clicking the image below.
*For Daily Dose Subscribers, you’re manual is already downloaded into your worksheets page.
5. Hydrate with water
Water makes up 60% of the adult human body and is critical for all major physiological systems. Water affects everything from the texture of your skin to your level of energy and the clarity of your thoughts.
Drinking 6-8 glasses (2-2.5 liters) of water a day is a foundation to your health.
And YES, coffee, tea, flavored water, and foods still count towards your hydration, however clean and pure water will always dominate. Read more about the benefits of water, how to choose the proper filtration system for your home and fun ways to liven up your H2O.
Expert tip: Use elastic bands on your glass or water bottle to help you keep track. Put 6-8 bands on your bottle first thing in the morning. As you drink 1 glass of water (approx. 1 cup) take a rubber band off the bottle and put it onto your wrist. After consuming all 6-8 glasses, add the bands back to the bottle for the next day.
6. Healthy sleep hygiene
Sleep is so important for healing of the body and regulation of hormones (ie. cortisol, thyroid, insulin, melatonin, serotonin, dopamine, estrogen, testosterone). And it’s not just the amount of hours you get, but the time you go to bed and the quality of sleep throughout the night.
If you are laying down for 8 hours a night but only getting 3 hours of deep REM sleep then you best believe that you’ll still be hitting the snooze button and dragging your groggy body out of bed the next morning.
A poor nights sleep could be due to a number of reasons: a restless or stressed mind, chronic pain, difficulty breathing, unbalanced hormones, noise or light pollution, a poor mattress, an untimely use of stimulants, or it could be due to a very serious healthy condition. Visit your Naturopathic doctor to find the root of your poor sleep.
Below are just a few key facts to remember. If you want to read more about getting a restful sleep, click the link:
- Melatonin is a hormone released at night that allow a sound sleep. It is made from serotonin (happy hormone), and is regulated by dopamine (reward motivated behavior neurotransmitter). Read more here.
- Create a winding down routine at least 30 minutes before bedtime (ie. take a bath, have some relaxing chamomile tea, meditate, or practice gratitude journaling)
- Avoid stimulants after dinner (ie. caffeine, scary movies or books, tv, computer use, exercise, eating)
- Try a brain dump to resolve any issues and calm down an over-active mind
- Get rid of light and noise pollution. Keep your room dark and silent.
- Put your cell phone on airplane mode and unplug bedroom electronics
- Sleep side-lying or on your back with proper pillows and use a supportive mattress. Read more here.
- Associate bed as a place for sex and sleep ONLY.
- Go to bed on time (ie. 10pm). Even if you sleep-in the next day, the 7 hours of sleep doesn’t equal the same 7 hours if you went to bed early and woke up early.
7. Empowering community and social support – Avoiding gossip
Community can be empowering but also dangerous, depending on the context and motives. They can unite people over a common cause, mission or positive movement, but they can also blind you from the truth.
Take Facebook for example. When you “like” or comment on a friend’s photo of their paleo diet dessert, you will start to see more of that type of information (ie. paleo) and less of the things you are not engaging with. This causes a bias of information coming into your feed that starts to align you farther and farther with a particular concept or movement. You can get so stuck that even if evidence proves the concept false you may not see it.
I’d rather trust a person who was willing to admit that they were wrong about a previous belief (when the evidence supports it), than someone too set on their mission to be logical.
Lack of security, control and inclusive feelings is a breading ground for gossip and judgement. Gossip and rumors are pieces of private information, which are relevant to that community but unverified.
Conditions of anxiety and uncertainty favor the spread of rumors, especially if they are negative in context. Within a group of like-minded people, gossip tends to polarize opinions, create biases and further solidify judgements.
Prioritize your daily tasks by sorting them into categories of importance and urgency. The things that are important and urgent are “HAVE TO” items that you get done first. The other things can get done later without you needing to stress out about. Use my free Priority To-Do List template below.
Apply this same concept when taking on each of these Stress Management changes. Take on each trigger one day at a time. Don’t try to implement too much at a time or else you’ll get overwhelmed.
Get it FREE now: I created the DAILY DOSE Calendar to help assist with this exact issue. I made taking one-day-at-a-time totally doable with a tip-a-day of medical and lifestyle advice from your favorite doctor! Just click the button below to subscribe:
Short-Term Stress Solutions and Home-Care Prevention
For those times when you can anticipate a stressful event it’s important to support your body and mind properly.
For example, if you have an exam or wedding coming up it’s important to support your adrenal glands with adaptogenic habits and treatment BEFORE the event:
- Sleep– going to bed on time and sleeping more soundly
- Drink more water
- Regular outdoor walks
- Take adaptogenic herbs such as (talk to your ND about dosages and ideal forms of supplementation):
- Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, Astragalus, Eleuthrococcus
If you’ve ever gotten really sick after a big project or celebration you aren’t alone. This is because your adrenal system and immune system are intimately related.
This is why it’s also just as important to take supplements AFTER a major event with immune supportive foods and herbs such as:
- Garlic, Onion, Manuka honey
- Astragalus, Bryonia, Echinacia, Glycyrrhiza, Panax ginsing
To learn more read an article on “The 13 Best Natural Cold and Flu Remedies“.
Home Remedies for Anxiety
Stress and anxiety can often be confused. Anxiety may be an ineffective way of coping with stress, but they are not the same thing and shouldn’t be treated as such. Using the 8 Stress Management tools above will certainly help with anxiety but there may be more specific protocols to do at home and with your Naturopathic doctor.
- Food – oatmeal, eggs, cheese, meat
- Supplements – B12, BCAA (valine, leucine, isoleucine), Phosphatidyl serine, Magnesium, Omega-3 (EPA, DHA), Niacinamide, B6, inositol, L-glycine, GABA, tryptophan, 5-HTP, NAC, melatonin (ONLY take if prescribed by your Naturopathic doctor, see why self-prescribing is dangerous)
- Vegan – B12, protein supplement (BCAA), iron, folate, omega 3 (Fish oil), coconut oil
- Teas– lemon balm tea, ginger, peppermint, passiflora, chamomile
- Herbs: Gingko, Passiflora, Valerian, Gotu kola, St. John’s Wort, Skullcap, Matricaria, Eleuthrococcus, Ashwgandha, Holy basil
- Oatmeal baths
- Lavender steam inhalations
- Homeopathy – Aconitum at low potency 12-30C
- Emotional instability – Natrum muriaticum, Pulsatilla
- Grief – Ignatia
- Physical touch – hug, massage, laughing
- Deep breathing – before eating, using the bathroom, sleeping, and stressful event (only 3 breaths can bring you into a parasympathetic state)
- Movement: Stretching, yin yoga
- Listening to a relaxing audio – waves, birds, rain (learn more about using nature to heal)
- Acupressure points – Yin tang, LI 4, PC 6, Shenmen, ST 36, LV 3
Eustress vs Distress
Having no stress is not any better than being over-stressed. Both extremes cause a distress on the body and mind.
Eustress is where we should be aiming for. A happy range between challenge and success, healing and flourishing, and work and rest.
Only you can find that balance. But once you are there, you will know it because you will thrive and be filled with creativity, focus and productivity.
Creativity, Focus and Productivity
Coping and healing your body and mind from stress is freeing. It allows you to finally breath and take the time to pause, reflect and create.
Focusing your energy on ways to be productive and efficient can be challenging in itself. Many of the home remedies will include the stress management tools seen above. However, there are other more specific treatments to stimulate the mind to be sharp and have clarity:
- Rest and sleep – Even after 1 night of sleep deprivation, research shows performance deficits
- Water hydration
- Avoid additives – Read more about the truth behind the 13 most feared additives
- Supplements: Fish oil, coconut oil, Phosphatidyl choline, Posphatidyl serine, vitamin D
- Herbs: Gotu kola, Ginkgo, Rosemary leaf, Bacopa
- Sun and exercise – Get your vitamin D and circulate those endorphines
- Stay positive – Create positivity by visualizing success, standing in powerful poses (proper posture, arms up, hands on hips), repeating powerful mantras and surrounding yourself with positive people
- Habituation – Signalling your productivity to start with a specific song, favorite chair, taking off your watch, turning social media off, working with a pencil between your teeth, wearing headphones
- Taking breaks – Set a timer to go off every 50-90 minutes
- Tuning into yourself – What does your body need? A short walk, water, to use the washroom, to readjust your posture, to breath, relax your shoulders
Taking on Stress
Just like the child who eats peanut butter without any issues (even though his tests say that he is allergic), his doctor should be telling him to keep eating peanuts. If the child were to stop, they would more than likely have an anaphylactic reaction upon the next exposure, rather than letting him continue to eat small amounts of peanuts on a regular basis.
Stress is effectively managed the same way. Small amounts at a time with adequate coping skills, healthy nutrition and lifestyle, and appropriate rest and recovery will allow a person to be able to dominate the next stressor.
Remember, small manageable exposures to stress is healthier than being completely stress-free. Focusing on being positive and productive will have you looking forward to a future where stress is a challenge you openly welcome.