Eliminate Stress Before it Eliminates You
by Ken Babal, CN
The world is a stressful place. We are constantly forced to adapt to life’s rapid pace, changes in technology, and the demands of family and job. Some of the worst types of stressful events are said to be divorce, death of a spouse and getting ﬁred. You might be surprised that Christmas and other holidays can be extremely stressful for some people. In fact, anything that requires making readjustments of time or attention can be stressful.
In nature, animals respond to stress by ﬁghting or ﬂeeing. After the threat, things return to normal and they go about their business. In humans, stress is channeled inward and really never goes away. It is this type of chronic stress that is so damaging to one’s health.
A healthy person adapts to stress without too much trouble. But when it is extreme or prolonged, it invites disease and can kill. Studies show that stress depresses the immune system, shortens life span, and clearly ages people before their time. Common symptoms are stomach ulcers, heart attack, teeth grinding, headache, irritability, digestive problems, fatigue, exhaustion, inﬂammation and illness. A stressful event can be a trigger for onset of a serious illness, or worsen its outcome. One study of 989 women diagnosed with breast cancer found those with the highest stress levels were most likely to have aggressive forms of breast cancer.
Stress generally comes in three forms: physical, chemical and emotional. Even one’s diet can be stressful if it lacks nutritional balance and contains too much devitalized, highly-processed food. For this reason, eliminating dietary stress will go a long way in helping one cope with other forms of stress. Around the holidays, it usually consists of too much cookies, pies, cakes, candy and alcohol. It can become a vicious cycle since we’re more likely to reach for comfort foods, like sweets, when stressed. (Did you know “stressed” spelled backwards is “desserts”?)
Many of the disorders related to stress are not a result of the stress itself but of nutrient deﬁciencies caused by increased metabolic rate. The body has higher demands for all nutrients, with vitamins B and C being used up the quickest. Also, because stress is a catabolic condition that causes tissues to be broken down for energy, extra protein is needed for repair.
Adrenal Glands: Overworked and Underpaid
The adrenal glands are the part of the body that initially responds to stress. When we feel threatened due to some stressful situation, the adrenal glands secrete adrenalin and cortisol, hormones that initiate the “ﬁght or ﬂight” response. They prepare the body for battle or to ﬂee by increasing blood pressure and blood glucose. Problem is, in our civilized society, these feeling are usually suppressed and channeled inward rather than vented. As a result, we carry the stress longer than is healthy.
The thyroid and adrenals are the main energy producing glands. Unlike the thyroid gland, the adrenals don’t receive much attention from doctors unless they completely fail. Yet, the effects of chronic over and under-functioning adrenal glands can contribute to an array of health issues, from chronic fatigue to heart disease. High cortisol levels (the alarm reaction) can manifest as anxiety, palpitations and insomnia, whereas diminished adrenal activity might cause one to feel weak and drained. In an exhausted stage, a person ﬁnds it extremely difﬁcult to handle even the slightest amount of stress.
Chronic cortisol release has been linked to an array of health conditions, including increased belly fat, reduced testosterone levels and cognitive decline. One study found that injecting subjects with a cortisol-like drug for only seven days increased levels of toxic beta-amyloid, the plaque that forms in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients.
Exercise is a great way to lower a high cortisol level, whereas adrenal exhaustion requires complete rest for recovery. Other types of stress management techniques include meditation, yoga, prayer, massage and frequent vacations.
Herbal Support for the Adrenals
For adrenal support, I recommend tonic herbs, which help the body adapt to stress by restoring altered body conditions back to normal. Ashwagandha, Eleuthero, reishi mushroom or a combination formula are excellent choices.
Ashwagandha, native to India, is both calming and fatigue-ﬁghting. It has been recognized for centuries by practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine for its potent adaptogenic qualities. Human and animal studies demonstrate that it counters oxidative damage generated by nervous tension, promotes a sense of well-being, reduces cortisol by up to 26 percent, helps maintain normal blood sugar and lipids, and supports regeneration of nerve cells.
Eleuthero (formerly called Siberian ginseng) is the premier herb for mental and physical energy, particularly for those who engage in high-stress, high-energy demanding activities. It is possibly the most famous and important adaptogenic herb. Its phytochemicals help the nervous and endocrine systems to perform at a higher level. It increases respiratory power by improving the ability of the body to absorb and utilize oxygen. For this reason, Eleuthero was taken by Russian cosmonauts to help them adapt to the rigors of space ﬂight.
Reishi mushroom is called the “mushroom of immortality” and has been consumed in China for two thousand years as an anti-aging herb, and to improve the capacity of the mind and memory. It is classiﬁed as a supreme shen (spiritual) tonic that changes how we perceive life. Conditions associated with disturbed shen include excessive mental activity, heart palpitations, insomnia and stress. Reishi is an excellent choice as an anti-stress herb to ease tension. It has been used routinely by monks, sages, shamans and spiritual seekers. Many people who take reishi regularly notice that it brings peacefulness—an effect that cannot be explained by science.
When we realize just how dangerous chronic stress is to our health it becomes the impetus to make changes in our life. We can eliminate the stress, escape from the stress or change how we respond to stress. There are no stressful situations—only stressful reactions.