Show me one person that isn’t under stress these days. We all seem to have financial worries, family issues, work pressure, not to mention life’s lovely curve balls that bowl you off your feet.
So why is it that some people seem to be coping with it all, while others are falling in a heap or flying off the handle at the slightest bit of pressure?
There are quite a few people out there who champion the theory that there is no such thing as stress. They quite validly make the point that there is no event or external pressure that creates stress, but instead our stress response is created by it is our perception. Stress is officially defined as a physical response to a physical pressure. As our perception is not a tangible thing and can be changed with a change in mindset, therefore there is no such thing as stress, only a perception of stress.
So all we need to do is change our mindset and stop perceiving things as stressful situations and everything will be hunky dory……..Right???? Yeah because, you know, when you are really stressed about something and your well-meaning friend says “just RELAX, stop stressing” it makes you feel a whole lot better doesn’t it?? NOT!!
There are some holes in the “There is no such thing as stress” theory.
One particular weakness in the stress/perception theory is that there is actually an inequity in stress perception. We are not all as capable of changing our perception to reduce our stress response. This is because people who have chronic stress, (a prolonged and elevated exposure to stressful events) have a consistent elevation in stress hormones, so they lack the buffer from acute situations that will cause a stress response.
You may even be born with elevated stress hormones. Researchers have found that the level of the stress hormone, cortisol is passed on from mother to baby. What they found was, that women who were highly stressed and materially-deprived, had associated higher cortisol levels and delivered babies with higher cortisol levels. When cortisol is consistently elevated, as with chronic stress, the ability to cope in stressful situations is diminished.
So in short our cortisol levels contribute to our perception of stressful situations.
So if you are suffering from chronic stress, your capacity to cope becomes diminished over time. This propels us in to a negative spiral of not coping and an over response to stressful events, things or people. Until eventually the adrenals become exhausted and burn out.
So while we CAN change our perception of stressful situations, sometimes it is actually harder to do than say. People that have suffered chronic stress have a harder time changing their perceptions because they have elevated stress hormones keeping them on edge.
That’s why I like to describe this kind of situation as adaption deficiency, because it is our capacity to cope that is impaired. We need find ways to increase our ADAPTION to stressful events. We need to nurture our adrenals to down regulate stress hormone imbalance and promote appropriate stress responses. What we don’t want, is to have elevated stress hormones coursing out unnecessarily, making us feel jittery, snappy, and cranky, upsetting our digestion, disturbing our sleep and making everyone around us walk on egg shells. And just quietly guys, if you don't want to have a gripey, cranky baby make sure you look after your lady when she is pregnant!
Cortisol imbalance is also associated with the occurrence of eczema and asthma in babies.
It is now well documented that elevated stress hormones is related to a raft of chronic illness, such as: auto-immune diseases, asthma, eczema, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, menstrual disorders, low libido, infertility and cancer, blood pressure irregularities, thyroid issues, gut issues just to name a few. So getting your stress response under control is kinda important!
As a Naturopath I love to use herbal medicine to nourish the adrenals. Why? Because they produce amazing results in my patients. The premium herbs for stress adaption are Withania, Siberian Ginseng and Rhodiola. These herbs are classed as adaptogens- meaning that they assist your body to adapt to physical and emotional stress. I will often mix these adaptogens with an adrenal restorative such as Licorice and Rhemania. Giving the hard working adrenals, a bit of love can create amazing results in healing. I like to call this my “bottom up” approach, bolstering and nourishing the adrenals rather than attempting to suppress the stress response with sedation. People describe the feeling of taking these herbs as like "a warm hug" and they start to experience sustaining energy that is nourishing and supportive.
The nutritional vacuum that is created in the body through elevated stress may require nutritional supplementation of activated B vitamins, vitamin C and zinc.
Empty sources of energy are often the go to for those under stress. Depending on your level of adrenal exhaustion you may be reaching for the coffee as soon as you wake to get you out of bed, you will be craving high carb salty and sweet snacks to keep you going through the day and at night after a full day of feeling tired you will be reaching for the wine, as you now can't seem to wind down.
All of this serves to deplete your body further of the nutrients that it needs to cope with the out put of stress hormones.
In my clinic I advise my adrenally exhausted patients to eat a nutritious whole food diet that includes a good amount of clean protein, lots of colourful vegetables and plenty of hydration.
So if you feel you need a bit of help to increase your adaption to stressful events, you may like to try some of the herbs and nutrition that I have mentioned or you may like to make an appointment to see me.
Melanie Turner, Naturopath, mother, gardener, lover of wholesome food