Follow by Email

Jun 10, 2011

Stress: How to Deal (Part 2)

In the ideal world, we would all have just enough stress to keep us motivated, set goals, and move forward with the changes we desire in our lives.  But as it stands now, most of us are dealing with stress levels way beyond this.  High stress tends to dramatically disintegrate quality and quantity of life, so what can we do about it?

First and foremost, change the situation if you can.  If this isn’t a possibility, then you may have to work on changing your perspective on the situation.  This can be harder than it sounds, but it can be done with effort.  Find someone you trust to discuss this with, whether it’s a close friend, family member, spouse, teacher, coach, church leader, health care practitioner, or counselor.   

A healthy diet is one of the cornerstones of stress management.  Your body requires extra nourishment to get through a stressful event or day.  Eat 5-12 servings of vegetables and fruits every day, and work towards eating a rainbow of colors to maximize variety.  Eat some form of protein with each meal, and don’t skip meals.  Skipping meals puts extra strain on the adrenal glands, which are the main organs that keep us going during times of stress.   To improve digestion and absorption of food, chew thoroughly and eat in a quiet and calming environment with minimal distractions as often as possible.  

Other foundational components of successful stress management include taking a high quality multivitamin/multimineral supplement that contains adequate amounts of B-vitamins and antioxidants, minimizing sugar in the diet, avoiding the use of alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and other stimulants, participating in some form of exercise routine daily, and getting regular restful sleep. 

Herbal teas can be a fantastic way to calm and nourish an over-stressed nervous system.  During the day, try sipping on teas made from gentle herbs like chamomile, lavender, hops, passion flower, and valerian.        

In some situations, higher interventions than those mentioned above may be required in order to recover from stress or at least manage it effectively.  When someone has been under high levels of stress for a long period of time, the hormonal system will be affected.  As our primary stress glands, the adrenals can become mildly, moderately, or severely depleted.  It is not uncommon for the thyroid gland (not to mention other parts of the hormonal system) to also become imbalanced during periods of high stress. The adrenals and thyroid work together as partners; when one gland becomes overworked and depleted, the other one has to work even harder to keep up, eventually leading to the “burnout” of both glands.  In cases where the hormones have become imbalanced, hormonal testing is often necessary and helpful in getting a person back on the road to recovery.  Specific types of hormone testing can provide useful information about severity of hormone imbalance while also helping to reveal the best forms of therapies to use.

Botanical medicine has a wide range of adrenal-supportive herbs to offer those in need.  Each herb has unique characteristics and special things it does best.  Some of my favorites are Eleutherococcus senticosis (formerly Siberian Ginseng), Panax quinquefolium (American Ginseng), Glycyrrhiza glabra (Licorice), Rhodiola rosea (Rhodiola), Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha), and Ocimum sanctum (Holy basil).  Herbs can be highly effective medicines, but should be selected by an experienced practitioner who understands how to best match an individual and use correct dosing.  In more severe cases of chronic stress and depletion of hormone function, herbal medicines alone may not be enough to restore a person’s system to balance.  Here, more aggressive therapies like bioidentical hormone replacement may be temporarily warranted. 

Human beings experience all levels of traumas, losses, and difficult circumstances that can explain corresponding levels of stress.   The stress we experience also has a lot to do with how we perceive things- a cause for stress in one person may have a completely neutral effect in another.  No matter what sorts of life challenges you have been dealt, one of the best ways you can help yourself is by creating daily habits to manage and alleviate stress.  In addition to some of the suggestions mentioned above, don’t forget to do something you love everyday!  Daily rituals like relaxing baths, a candle with dinner, mindful breathing, journaling, or some other sort of creative outlet can help you unwind from the day, releasing tension, worry, expectations, and other emotions that may be weighing you down.  

Dr. Shana McQueen