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Who me? @#$%&! Stressed OUT?!

I don’t know about you, but the last two years have been incredibly stressful. Pandemic, work, my teenage kid, loss of easy social gatherings. My house seems like it is in constant turmoil. I feel like AGH! most the time.

We can’t change or hurry ourselves through these times. What we can change is how we respond to stress in our lives.

Not all stress is bad. Some stress actually stimulates our brains, increases our abilities to perform, enhances our immunity. Athletes know this and use it to good benefit. But too much or prolonged stress uses up energy, affects our memory, our libido, our weight, triggers illness.

The adrenal glands are in charge of stress response. They produce a hormone called cortisol and the neurotransmitters called epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine. (noradrenaline).

These substances are released in response to signals from the brain and other organs to help us utilize glucose (sugar), improve our attention, increase our heart rate, our lung capacity.
Normally, if you are confronted with a stressful situation -like a saber tooth tiger- your heart rate increases, blood pumps into your muscles and away from your digestive organs, you become hyperaware and focused, the fuel that you need for action is released and you either run or fight. Once the situation is over, things gradually return to normal and you go home, you eat and relax.

In chronic stress, these hormones are released, but they don’t have a resolution. Your boss is mad at you, your kid is driving you nuts, an idiot driver just flipped you off, your house is a mess… etc. You can’t run or fight. You just internalize this stress and slowly your blood pressure goes up, you become irritable, you have more headaches, you can’t sleep, you gain weight. Chronic stress leads to disease. Dis-Ease.

The nervous system has two branches – fight or flight (Sympathetic) and rest and digest (parasympathetic) If you are in fight or flight all the time you miss out on the other important restorative part. The Parasympathetic’s job is to heal and restore.

Clearly things are out of balance. Things need to shift. But how?

Exercise helps. It uses up excessive cortisol, lowers blood sugars, etc. If you are burnt out (too much stress for too long) you may need to start slow and work up.

Meditate or pray. Calm the mind. Learn to let go. There are guided meditation apps out there. You could color or crochet if it is too hard to just sit. Take a walk in the forest. Nature is restorative on so many levels.

Sit down and eat regular meals. Add protein.  Don’t skip meals. Fasting causes blood sugar to drop which is a stressor. Your body sees it as a saber tooth tiger.

Sleep is restorative.

Herbs like holy basil (tulsi), rhodiola and ashwaganda are adaptogens and help the body adapt to stress.

And don’t forget to play and laugh. Endorphins are released and we are reminded that life is beautiful and funny and an adventure, even when things are challenging.


By Dr. Jennifer Means, ND, LAc

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