|Olivia, at 42, was extremely stressed and felt that she was aging too fast. She was jumpy, moody, and tired. It was bad that she was taking blood pressure medicine, but what frustrated her more was a skin rash and an expanding waistline. Are we stressed because we are sick? Or does stress make us sick? Or does it go both ways? Following Olivia’s journey to health sheds light on that puzzle.
Mainstream medicine seems to imply that our bodies work against us for no good reason and that they must be whipped into shape with new-to-the-planet chemicals. But like Doug, I believe that the body is a marvel of engineering. When we know the cause and support the body appropriately, it behaves wonderfully. Elevated blood pressure and a fast heart beat might be the body’s intelligent reaction to a stressful situation. If you are running from a bad guy, you want those actions to support muscle function. The body’s other jobs like digestion, fighting infection, creating hormones, burning fat, repairing tissues and sleeping soundly will have to wait. But what if we constantly tell our body that there is a crisis? We aren’t built to deal with chronic stress.
Our fictitious friend Olivia didn’t want to chase her symptoms with medications after seeing how they affected her mother. She wasn’t aware that many of her symptoms were being caused by elevations in the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol depresses other hormones and generally upsets balance. It was a blessing that Olivia had started watching Know the Cause and guessed that some of her issues might be related to fungus. She started taking Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics and cut back on the refined carbohydrates that had been her comfort foods. It only took a week for her sweet cravings to subside, but she did temporarily feel a bit down. The carbs had been boosting use of the happy hormone serotonin. Fortunately, since Olivia was now eating more protein, she got enough amino acids to create more of the right brain chemicals. Her skin rash vanished and her waistbands were a little more comfortable.
Olivia also noticed some improvement as she gradually cut back on stimulants like coffee and the energy drinks that she’d leaned on because of the fatigue. She began taking a supplement of the mineral magnesium because she heard it can determine whether a situation is taken in stride or causes a panic attack. (For more about on this crucial nutrient, search for “miracle nutrient” on my website, RadioMartie.com.) On Doug’s show, she heard about my heartburn book and read it. She learned that acid-blocking drugs aren’t as safe as advertised and interfere with both protein digestion, magnesium absorption and vitamin B12. Having tapered off of Prilosec and feeling better, Olivia was excited to look for more factors that she could control. She was sure that her B vitamins and fish oil helped normalize nerve function. She got back to exercising, reducing her stress and oddly enough, it gave her more energy. At work she found that taking a few seconds each hour to breathe deeply made her less wiped out at the end of the day.
But Olivia still felt a background stress that her new health habits hadn’t resolved. She heard that a lot of stress (and maybe most of it) is self-induced. So she started saying “no” more often, and now there is not so much on her plate. A cheery friend, Judy, reminded her that “we get more of what we think about all the time”. Olivia realized that she was spending too much time focused on what could go wrong at work and worrying about problems the kids might face. She began to purposefully focus more on optimizing the current moment rather than anticipating trouble. Now, when an unproductive thought pops into her head, she says to herself “STOP” and changes the subject.
Her neighbor, just back from an AA meeting, gave her another tool when he recited the serenity prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Olivia began making nightly entries into a gratitude journal, recording blessings that she previously took for granted.
Most of Olivia’s symptoms were now history, but down deep there was still heaviness. She was carrying around a lot of suppressed anger at her no-good ex-husband. (Olivia should know that integrative cancer doctors think anger worsens cancer.) Judy forwarded one of my email newsletters to her in which I quoted actress Carrie Fisher: “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” That made sense to Olivia and so she bravely threw her voodoo doll in the fireplace and signed up for an online dating service. Olivia peeled back the layers of her problems and is better able to cope with whatever comes along. Happily, every improvement she made also reduces her risk for several degenerative diseases.
Unfortunately, there are stressful situations that seem hard for anyone to handle. An ultra-demanding job like air traffic controller comes to mind. People who are upset by those demands might need to change careers. Being a caregiver for an invalid or an Alzheimer’s patient in your home can be another such situation and not so easy to walk away from. Caregivers tend to be selfless and stoic. God bless them. However, for everyone’s sake, they need to take breaks. Perhaps he or she can get some relief by asking for help on a rotating basis from family or church friends. The caregiver needn’t feel guilty for taking time off. After all, if the caregiver gets sick from the constant stress, what happens to the person for whom they were caring?
Hans Selye, the scientist who pioneered our understanding of the physiology of stress said, “Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one.”