(Originally published for The Dragontree)
In The Anatomy of Stress, I discussed the nature of stress, the many ways we’ve benefited from having identified its role in our lives, and Hans Selye’s model for how we respond to chronic stress. When we’re stressed over a long period of time, if we don’t make adjustments to ensure we’re well supported biologically and psychologically, the eventual result is that we become depleted. Selye explained that stress is a demand on our adaptation energy.
Whether this depletion occurs through exposure to noise, insufficient sleep, excessive work, or a diet of marshmallows, the unfortunate consequence is that we become more prone to experience life in a stressful way. As our buffer is eroded by stress, we have less adaptation energy available to us – a thinner buffer – and we’re increasingly easily triggered.
Neurologically speaking, the more evolved, reasoning part of the brain – the prefrontal cortex – is a resource hog. In order to be thinking slowly, analyzing, weighing our options, and responding rather than reacting to situations, we need to be well rested and well fed. When we’re worn out, we default to the unevolved, animalistic midbrain, which operates more from the perspective of survival. It reacts quickly, often based on feelings, memories, fears, and (often erroneous) snap judgments. Thus, the depletion that comes from habitually engaging stress mechanisms makes us apt to continue to engage stress mechanisms.
How do we stop this cycle?
Ensure optimal biological and psychological support:
- At least 7 hours of quality sleep.
- Healthy diet – lots of vegetables, moderate plant and lean animal protein, abundant good fats, minimal sugars and flour, no caffeine or other stimulants.
- Moderate exercise – if you feel exhausted afterwards, it’s depleting and must be reduced in duration and/or intensity. Move, stretch, and challenge without engaging stress mechanisms.
- Hydration – at least half the number of pounds you weigh, as ounces of water over the course of each day.
- Cultivate a mutually supportive group of family and friends.
- Have a daily practice of “tuning in” in some way – meditation, prayer, or other personal rituals that help you feel centered, peaceful, and connected.
- If necessary, manage pain and any other health problems (they demand adaptive energy).
- If necessary, use additional nutrients and/or herbs for balance and fortification.
Avoid use of adaptive energy:
- Don’t overwork.
- Recognize and respect your limits in all things.
- Don’t introduce stress-inducing influences: “feel bad” movies and television, pessimistic people, news media, etc.
- Don’t use stimulants – coffee, tea, mate, sugars of all kinds.
- Avoid exposure to toxins, pesticides, alcohol, household chemicals, foods you’re sensitive to.
- Reduce exposure to all pollution – air, water, noise, light, electromagnetic, etc.
- Protect against exposure to extreme weather.
- Try to listen to others’ problems with compassion, yet without “taking on” their distress.
- Accomplish your tasks with minimal emotional involvement.
- Mind your own business.
- Take a real vacation.
- Be unavailable.
- No cell phone or email.
- Get acupuncture and massage.
- Get a personalized rehabilitation plan from a healthcare provider who thinks holistically.
- Consume highly fortifying foods: bone broths, greens broths (Bieler’s Broth, etc.), mushrooms, cultured foods (miso, sauerkraut, unsugared kefir, olives, etc.), whole sprouted grains and nuts, wild salmon, sardines, pasture raised eggs, fresh berries, dark green leafy vegetables.
- Hang out in nature. Get your bare feet on the ground. Get your body in a clean river, ocean, or lake. Absorb the sun’s rays. Breathe clean air.
- Take a bath. Consider adding a few pounds of Epsom salt.
- Practice loving everything, including yourself.
I know life sometimes demands that we exert more energy than we have. Just try to make these times exceptions rather than your M.O. Prioritize your quality of life. And when you have to push, do things to protect and restore yourself.
Dr. Peter Borten
All material copyright 2015 by Peter Borten.