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Subdue that Stress: understanding stress and ways to combat it

This is a multi part blog that will continue throughout the month or two on understanding how stress is affecting your body and supports from nature that will help you conquer and heal as you make lifestyle changes.

I tend to gravitate to holding onto stress and let that spur me on till exhaustion and sickness set in. Not healthy way to live nor is it compassionate for myself. Much of that was learned through my childhood when life was constant stress living with an emotionally abusive mother. Letting go of a lot of those false beliefs has helped tremendously as well as learning about and loving myself, which has turned around many chronic conditions I have suffered with for years. Yet... I am finding myself in a chronic stress state this fall and early winter. I am neglecting myself again for other more "pressing" matters and, as an empath, I am picking up on all the fear, anger and resentment that is so prevalent out in society. I literally have to remove all the emotions I pick up each day I leave my house.

It's time to go back to the basics and understand stress and how it wreaks havoc in our body and all the powerful tools nature has given us to subdue that stress as we work to make those lifestyle changes we need and get back to a state of love. Ready to learn (or remind) yourselves? This will take several posts and today's is about the mental, spiritual and physiological affects of stress on our bodies. Next we will discuss some very helpful herbs, then discuss other natural remedies from flower essences to diet to movement to incense and aromatherapy. Let's dive in.

Our lifestyle today compared to even, 50 years ago, is riddled with stress. The workplace short on employees pushing each worker to do more, demanding no sick days, the idea that our kids need to be involved in everything and parents are running 3 directions each evening afterwork to get their kids to their activity. It's just go, go, go. Some even find they have to work 2 jobs to make ends meet among this inflationary world. Then we volunteer what free time we have left. Where is our rest and rejuvenation time? Our bodies stress response was built for short and sharp stressors, not day after day after day. Hans Selye (endocrinologist) said, "Every stress leaves an indelible scar, and the organism pays for its survival after a stressful situation by becoming a little older."

"When we register or anticipate a stressful situation, the brain immediately sends an urgent message of alarm to the nervous system, which is relayed to the adrenal glands. The adrenals instantly release adrenaline and cortisol into the blood stream which is delivered to the cells in our body, and now the person is in a state of alarm, ready for fight or flight. Within seconds the adrenaline has reached the brain, which continues to pulse alarm messages to the nervous system and adrenal glands. [This] cycle of alarm ... will continue until the person's brain perceives a reason to calm down, after which the adrenal glands cease secreting adrenaline and cortisol."1

The stress trigger can be life threatening or the more low grade chronic type, like hard athletic training, living in an unhappy home environment, working long hours, politics, etc. Chronic low grade stress is very debilitating, especially to the immune system. If stress becomes prolonged, the adrenal glands are compelled to continue secreting hormones and after awhile, the gland becomes fatigued and less and less able to produce these hormones. This then leads to burn out, muscle aches, exhaustion, brain fog and a strong aversion to any thing stimulating or stressful and often a diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Chronic stress affects our digestive system (eat too fast, so poor digestion and leaky gut is developed which can lead to autoimmune conditions). Stress also affects the blood sugar levels in our body. The elevated adrenaline levels, elevate the blood glucose levels and thus elevated insulin levels. Cortisol is stimulated to inhibit the insulin from shunting glucose into the cells so have ready energy for fight or flight. This can lead to insulin resistance and strong sugar cravings, This of course can lead to diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and yeast infections.

Another affect of stress is on the Thyroid gland. "In a healthy person, the pituitary gland in the brain secretes TSH or Thyroid Stimulating Hormone, which stimulates the thyroid gland to produce the inactive hormone T4. This is converted into the activated thyroid hormone T3 in the liver and kidneys and then enters the cells of the body, influencing metabolism. Excess T4 needs to be cleared from the body, so any left over T4 is converted into another inactive hormone known as reverse T3 or rT3."

"When there is excessive cortisol in the bloodstream, it can down-regulate the secretion of TSH. Cortisol can also inhibit the conversion of the inactive T4 into the active T3. Further down-regulation of thyroid activity can occur when T4 is not converted into active T3 but into rT3. With poorly functioning thyroid gland and exhausted adrenal glands, the person will be feeling unable to cope with their life and will be excessively tired." 2

This is why, when your doctor tests you for thyroid function, make sure he tests you for TSH, T4, T3 and rT3. Most doctors only do a TSH test. This won't catch the stressed out thyroid gland.

Chronic stress will affect the immune system by activating the inflammatory response line of the immune system(Th2) and depressing the killer cell response to viruses, bacteria, etc (Th1). With continued stress responses, the body is less able to fight viruses and bacterial infections and so become ill.

A study in Israel found that increased levels of cortisol stimulate the white blood cells to take up more serotonin than is normal. This results in less being available for the nervous system and so see increase in anxiety and depression in stressed individuals. We also see increase in anger and frustration that they just can't seem to control anymore. The nervous system is so important for us to live a quality life. It is our link to our environment through our senses and the monitor of our internal environment. Even more so, "the nervous system is the interface where we can dream, think abstractly, create and receive intuitive impressions. It is our primary connection to the Universal Consciousness or the divine in all of us." 3

The recommendation we all here to "Reduce that stress in your life" is not something to pass off lightly. Each stress reaction is affecting our body and over time, it will become harder to recover as so many important body systems are being affected and compromised. Next week we will explore the use of herbs to help our bodies deal with stress and understand the four classifications of herbal nervines, Nerve Tonics, Nerve Sedatives, Nervine Demulcents and Nervine Stimulants.

Until next week, make some time to rest, laugh and play.

1,2. Dunbar, Jo. "The Devastating Effects of Stress on our Health." vol vol.4, issue 2. Feb, 2019

3. Galdstar, Rosemary. Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. Storey Publishing. 2008. Chapter 3.

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