Too Much Stress
By Dr. Lynn Wagner
“The best six doctors anywhere and no one can deny it, are sunshine, water, rest and air, exercise and diet.”
– Wayne Fields
The theme in my integrative clinic lately has been stress. Too much of it. My patients can’t sleep, can’t lose weight, can’t stop their racing minds… It’s a pervasive problem and it’s affecting their ability to kick ass at life.
Since I’ve been saying the same things over and over again to my patients to help them deal with and heal from stress, I figured I’d share it with all of you. I know there’s at least one of you who needs to hear this 😊.
I need it too.
I’m a go-getter, type A, business owner type. For as long as I can remember, I’ve chased stress. Even though I know the dangers of stress and the things a person can do to combat it in their life, I’m also the worst at practicing what I preach. I burn the candle at both ends and sometimes ignore the signals my body gives me when it’s stressed out. Sometimes I have to get sick or injured before I take a break.
But I’m getting better at it. I know all the dangers and discomforts of stress gone bad. I know with chronic stress you are more at risk for chronic disease (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and more). I know stress can wreak havoc on relationships at home. It messes up your hormones (ask any woman about what happens with PMS when they are stressed). It can lead to substance abuse and mental health problems. I know stress even affects your libido.
NO THANK YOU.
So I work on my stress and how my body reacts to stressors. It’s baked into my routines. And I teach what I know to my patients.
What about you? Do you feel a little hot under the collar? Do you have tightness or pain in your body, fatigue, insomnia, depression or anxiety, troubled relationships, frequent infections, hormonal issues or any other things you know are caused by stress?
You are not alone. These can all be signs of stress and even if stress isn’t directly causing these issues – working on your stress will help you deal with all of the above and more.
Here are a few of the things I teach my patients and try to do myself to help reduce stress and improve resiliency.
- Exercise every day. I can’t emphasize this enough – a daily dose of exercise is a powerful antidote to stress. I’m not talking hard core daily workouts – I’m simply suggesting anything you can do to move your body on a daily basis. We are not wired to sit all day yet that’s what most of us do based on our jobs and lifestyle. Sprinkle runs, walks, yoga, hiking, biking and more into your day and you won’t be disappointed. It’s also important to know, if you are intensely stressed or beaten down – a hard workout is not the answer. Opt for something more gentle and relaxing like a hike or yoga. Listen to your body.
- Eat clean. You know how I feel about this. A clean, anti-inflammatory diet gives your body the resiliency it needs to tolerate stress on the body. Healthy food allows the systems of your body (immune, nervous, gastrointestinal and more) to work optimally and more importantly work together to make you a badass, strong human being. My current foodies in Food for Fuel will attest – in our weekly zoom calls I get to see their glow, their energy and how their bodies are growing more resilient by the day.
- Don’t bury your stress. Watch for how you hide from stress. Are you drinking a pot of coffee every morning or a bottle of wine at night? Are you binge watching Netflix series? I’m not calling you out, I’m right there with you. It’s moderation that’s key. Check in with yourself and identify if any of your habits are actually avoidance or or a way to cope with stress and if they are prohibiting you from dealing with the stress and moving on. Avoidance and numbing will only exacerbate the problem. Awareness is key and just acknowledging these behaviors is a great first step.
- Sleep. You have to sleep. You can’t avoid it. Unless you are the rare few who can survive and thrive on very little sleep – the reality is that as a human you need 7-9 hours a night of solid sleep. For most it’s as simple as going to bed 30 – 60 minutes earlier. Go to bed.
- Be a kid. I often think back to my days as a child. I was fortunate to have an amazing childhood experience. I have fond memories of endless hours of play with friends, often outside. I read book after book. Lounged in the hammock and had time to create, write, draw. I engaged in playful activities year round. I also had time to be bored. We need all of this – play, downtime, creativity and even boredom. When I feel really overwhelmed I intentionally shut it all down. I close my laptop. I block a day or a few hours in my calendar as “Lynn Off” so everyone at my office knows I’m unavailable. I ignore my phone. I do something I love like working with my plants, cooking, running around in the woods or sometimes just sitting and reading. I couldn’t do what I do without these times.
- Get help. I have what I call my tribe of healers. For me it includes my pilates instructor, my mentor, a physical therapist, a counselor, a chiropractor and an energy healer. When I start to feel off or too wound tight, I book an appointment with the most appropriate person and let them help me de-stress.
- Take some supplements. My patients know that I am not a fan of too many supplements. However, I do believe that a few good supplements when used judiciously can be really beneficial. In terms of stress, I have a few favorites. I love adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha, holy basil and rhodiola for their ability to counteract stress. I like L-theanine for reducing anxiety and phosphatidylserine works wonders when taken at bedtime for reducing the stress response. Don’t go out and buy all of these on your own. Just be aware that there are options out there then work with someone who is well versed in supplements and meds who doesn’t overdo it.
- Give love to your nervous system. It’s way more complicated than this but for the sake of simplicity – to calm yourself down, you need to nurture the part of your nervous system that is good at rest and relaxation. Our body moves between a state of fight or flight (high adrenaline and cortisol) and a state of rest and digest (relaxation, chilling out). You need both to survive. The problem is when we spend too much time in the intense fight or flight mode. Our bodies and minds don’t have the time to repair and recharge and they start to weaken or break down. It’s the recipe for disaster. How do you give love to your nervous system? It can be super simple. I tell my patients to pick a few of the following and do them regularly: meditate, deep breathing exercises, regular time in nature, massage, prayer, time with fun friends, laughing, doing things you love to do. And there are many more. Just think of what makes you feel really chill and do that as often as you can!
- Check in with your emotions. A lot of us have things that happened in our lives that change the way we view our world. The more traumatic events we experience throughout life, even if they are minor, the more likely we are to overreact to stress. Remember that sometimes the only way to change your exterior world and what is happening around you is to change how you perceive it. This can take some help so get some if you need it!
If you’ve hung around me long enough, you can probably sense a trend. For almost anything that ails you – I’m going to tell you that fresh air, sun, clean food, exercise, rest, a healthy mind and play will almost always improve the situation. When you live a healthy lifestyle, you support a healthy body and reduce disease. It’s always the first step on any healing journey especially when trying to combat stress.
Want more info on this? This is the very reason why I created Doc’s Toolbox – a short video and handout series covering the basics of a healthy lifestyle and more. It’s located here and it’s free. If you haven’t checked it out yet – do it now! I cover all of the above and more in more detail – all designed to give you the balanced health you need to succeed in your life.