by Dr. Mary M. Alavi
He had been looking forward to this Jamaican vacation all year long. Sun, surf and scuba…it would be fantastic. Larry had booked all of the reservations early, bought traveler’s checks, packed his bags, put the finishing touches on things at the office, got a good night’s sleep, and made it to the airport with time to spare. “I should be on top of the world,” thought Larry. “So why do I feel so out of sorts?”
Like all human beings, the changes in Larry’s normal routine have resulted in stress. The irony is that even happy events such as weddings, vacations, or the birth of a grandchild, not just those we label as negative, can cause this natural human condition. The good news is, there are healthy ways to deal with stress.
All living organisms are stressed. If you are alive, you are stressed. Broadly defined, stress is our body’s adaptation to a change in the environment. Stressors can be physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, financial, legal, sexual, misgivings, career, social, nutritional, hormonal, or genetic. We may perceive a stressor as good, bad, or not be consciously aware of it at all. Our body’s physical stress response is like a knee-jerk reaction, i.e. not a conscious response and again, we may or may not be consciously aware of these responses at all.
Within our bodies, hormones are released as messengers to the body to respond appropriately to a stressor. This stress hormone cascade begins with cortisol, norepinepherine, and adrenalin. For simplicity, let’s discuss the group of these as effects of “cortisol”. When our body recognizes a stressor, our adrenals release “cortisol” resulting in increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, dilated pupils, and also stimulate production of glucose from glycogen stores available to “fight the bear”. The increased circulating glucose notifies the pancreas “we have—sugar”. The pancreas responds by releasing insulin to put glucose into the cells where it can be utilized as energy. If there is really “a bear” our body utilizes the glucose in our brain, muscles, nerves, etc for energy to “fight the bear”. If however, our body notes there is really “not a bear”, but merely a false alarm or minor issue like unsolicited e-mail, the insulin will store the glucose right in your abdomen as fat! Now the circulating glucose in your system falls, signaling hunger. This is when you have the “see-food” diet effect. I don’t mean seafood, but rather we’ll eat whatever we see first, or whatever doesn’t eat us first! Our bodies are craving carbohydrates to increase circulating glucose again.
Simple carbohydrates increase glucose rapidly with the same insulin response. When our body doesn’t recognize “a bear” or other need for immediate energy, we again store the newly consumed sugar as fat. This cycle perpetuates leading to increased insulin resistance. Insulin resistance leads to high blood pressure, further obesity, eventually diabetes, affects our immune response, mood, and energy level. These conditions dramatically decrease the quality of life and health and if not addressed, result in premature death.
Should our body perceive chronic stressors, even relatively mild ones as going to bed too late, inadequate sleep/rest, eating too little, too much or poorly, emotional stressors, exercising too much or too little, it will continually respond/adapt to the “change” in the environment.
How can we reduce stressors or response to stressors?
- Appropriate nutrition including supplements. Eat five-six meals daily with the first within one hour of awakening and then every three-five hours throughout the day—each small meal/snack with protein, non-starchy vegetables, whole grain and healthy fat, utilize high quality pharmaceutical grade supplements to support adrenals and stress response including multivitamin-multimineral, B complex, C, phosphatidyl serine, EPA and DMAs (healthy fats) antioxidants.
- Adequate rest—Adults should have between seven-eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. Listen to your body. If it says “take a nap”, take a nap!
- Tension-release exercises—stretches, Yoga, Tai Chi, meditation, diaphramatic breathing, water therapy, walking.
- Personalized appropriate cross-training programincluding stretching, resistance-adaptive and cardiovascular components. This may not only help stressors, but also ensures optimal flexibility, muscular and cardiovascular fitness.
- Stress management includes identifying your core issues and your resistance to experience them in your life. Learn how to choose your life, regardless of circumstances or relationships.
- Balance hormones when indicated. When stress hormones are too high or too low all hormone systems are affected. Chronic stress hormone responses MUST be addressed with all life-style changes and support as above and when indicated with other hormone support (ex: insulin, thyroid, “sex hormones”). To be metabolically and physiologically healthy, all hormone systems must be in balance.
For further information or support please contact Balanced Health & Wellness during business hours at 281.855.2273