There is a famous saying, it goes: “Stress, it’s a killer.” Well that’s kind of a terrible saying, and I’ll get to why, but first let’s talk about how it really did come about for a reason. Chronic stress is often seen as the enemy to healing.
We all know what stress looks and feels like, because we all know what it feels like when it’s lifted. That massive weight that has been lifted off your shoulders when you finished a project by a deadline. The release of finally making a decision. I’m currently planning my sister’s bachelorette party. I want it to be a destination since her fiancé is headed off to Scotland for his party, and she wants it to be a surprise. Fun, right? (hahahaha, nope) Oh, the stress I’ve been putting myself under. Who can come, who wants to come, and to which destinations would they come, who can afford it? I’ve had about 5 different plans, all with various stressors. I was completely aware of the unnecessary stress I was letting myself experience. As soon as I made the final decision and said this is what we’re doing, come if you like, the stress lifted like a balloon. You know the feeling.
Planning that party was short-term stress, and stress that I was aware of and knew exactly how to handle. The problem arises when we aren’t aware of, or choose to ignore, the daily stressors of our lives.
Stress can be defined as the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change. The term was coined by Hans Selye in1936. 
When it comes to our health, there is both good stress and bad stress. Good stress would come from a demanding physical situation such as exercise. It is short term, and results in some favorable responses by our body in the healing response from the stress. Not so good stress, however, places our body in what is called “fight or flight,” also known as acute stress response. Our body senses a threat and the sympathetic nervous system automatically responds by putting the body on alert and releasing hormones (namely cortisol) that will help us respond to that threat, either through fighting, fleeing, or freezing. The most common example relates to how in way back days, in the times of hunting and gathering, if a hunter came across an angry bear his body would use the stress response to flee faster. Our hearts beat faster, we breathe faster and receive more oxygen. Our body turns its focus completely on responding to stress, taking energy away from something else it’s automatically set up to do – like heal, or learning. 
Nowadays our lives are rarely in a life or death survival situation. Instead we find ourselves dealing with other types of stress, yet our bodies are terrible at telling the difference between threats like bears and “I just got called on to answer a question” and so it still responds to the stress by directing attention to handling the stress, and not to healing. To your nervous system these are the same level threat.
The primary types of stress are: 
- Survival Stress – Confronting a bear, getting into a physical fight, etc.
- Internal Stress – worry, anger, emotional stress
- Environmental Stress – such as noises or crowds or pollution
- Fatigue and Overwork – whether from lack of sleep or expending too much energy.
Stress, The Adrenals, Energy, and Health
Chronic stress can affect your health in a large multitude of ways. Chronic stress (from any and all sorts of causes, not just emotional) leads to chronically messed up cortisol levels which wreaks havoc on the adrenals and your HPA axis function (basically your hypothalamus, pituitary glands, and adrenals stop communicating correctly) and this can lead to a condition many like to call “adrenal fatigue”. There are different stages of adrenal fatigue. You might begin with too high of cortisol, or you might have reached a point where you aren’t making enough cortisol.
When you reach the point that you aren’t making enough cortisol, this will significantly impact your energy and you’ll begin to be tired and not tired at all the wrong times. Optimal cortisol levels are vital to your energy production and thus your health. The roadmap chapter on energy explains this in much more detail. The point being that energy is vital to your health and stress is an energy killer.
Other health issues related to chronic stress are, a higher risk of: (4)
- Metabolic syndrome
- Heart disease
- Mental health problems
- Early memory loss
And other “softer” issues like the ability to be present, resilient, concentrate, work hard. Everyday life things that add up to a big impact on our life.
Fortunately their is proven practice that can help us deal with this stress.
Presence has a powerful way to destroy stress, because most often our stress comes from focusing on the concerns of the future or the woes of the past. When we are fully in the present moment focused only on what we are doing the opportunity for stress dramatically decreases. When you’re aware of only what you’re working on and the sensations of your body, conscious worry is not possible. And if you are in a present moment that is stressful, it’s likely a temporary stress, and being present and mindful to the moment can help you move through it more quickly or become aware that it is temporary. If in a moment you can be aware of what you are feeling, clarify it, and describe it. It creates a little bit of psychological space that allows you to pause and decide what direction you want to go in – with the emotion or changing the emotion. It allows stress and negative emotions that come with it to be less toxic. To take presence even further you can practice a technique called mindfulness.
‘Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.’
The real key here being non-judgemental. We can be in the present moment, but if we are judging that moment it can create stress.
When we are mindfully present we are not judging that moment, and we are allowing that moment to be.
When we are mindful in the way we pay attention to sensory input we create a space between the input and our reaction to it. This gives the Prefrontal cortex a chance to choose the best response rather than the amygdala choosing a response for us.
Mindfulness is just like any other skill. The more you practice it the better you get at it.
It’s also like other skills in that you can apply it to many areas of your life. Just like if you play basketball. Not only are you building your skills to be a better basketball player, you are also learning valuable skills like team building. You can apply you working in team skills you got from playing basketball to all sorts of areas of your life, from group projects in work or the classroom to building teams and community, to working with and getting along better with your family, friends, and strangers
- improves emotional intelligence
- reduce stress
- improves working memory
- improves focus
- improves health
- reduces chronic inflammation
- improves self regulation
- increases grey matter in zones related to self awareness and compassion
Mindfulness is something we are born knowing how to do, and it really is as easy as it sounds, but it does take practice to get good at staying in it. At first your mind will wonder like crazy taking you out of the moment and into self talk “radio-me” mode (a term taught to me by one of my Bulletproof coaching teachers). That’s ok. The key is non-judgemental. It is awareness. When you become aware of your wondering, notice it, smile, accept it, and return to your focus.
To download some mindful meditations to get your practice going, go HERE.
And you can practice mindfulness at all times, it doesn’t have to be in formal meditation, you can practice it with any task you are doing by simply paying full attention and being present with the task, Anything from cleaning and chores, (doing dishes and being present with the sensations of the water, the smell of the dishes and soap, the rhythm of the action is a great way to practice) to walking, to eating (another really great idea to practice that will help with your long term health) to showering, to your sports and homework (when you are mindfully present while doing activities such as sports – this is when you’re most likely to be in what athletes and high performers like to call the zone or flow state – where everything just seems easy and flows naturally). And most importantly you’ll significantly reduce your stress.
Other Stress Eliminating Techniques and Tools:
- Redefine Stress
Finally getting to why “stress, it’s a killer” is a bad saying. When you take the view that all stress is bad, then stress will be worse for you. I encourage you to make an intentional choice about how you will view stress. Redefine stress, so that when you experience it, you don’t view it as a bad thing. It’s a good thing. Our bodies are intricately designed to be awesome and to heal. Stress is an automatic response for a reason. It’s a good thing. It means your body is working and doing its job.
When you are feeling stressed, and you see it as a good thing, you automatically become less stressed, less anxious, and more confident.
You can begin to see every person or situation that creates stress for you as an opportunity for healing.
The beauty of stress is that it is highly subjective. What causes each person to experience stress is different. How people perceive stress is different. As pioneering endocrinologist, Hans Selye said to reporters once “Everyone knows what stress is, but nobody really knows”.
- Get Social
Check out the happiness chapter for more info on the power of relationships.
Adaptogen herbs are a unique class of healing plants that help balance, restore and protect the body. They are tonifying, and produce a normalizing influence on the body. They help the body “adapt”, as they adapt to their function to the body’s needs. This makes them great for reducing stress. Some of my favorites:
Ginseng: The most well known of the adaptogens. There are many types of ginseng (asian, american, siberian). Asian ginseng in particular is amongst the most valued adaptogen herbs and has not only been studied for its ability to help with stress but is also said to help with immune support, longevity, and mental performance
Ashwaganda: Is good for immono-modulating and anxiety. It improves immune function and is also used by herbalist for patients with chronic-fatigue as it is good for treating exhaustion.
Eleuthero: Is traditionally used for joint pain, muscle spasms, insomnia and fatigue. It also is used to help improve memory
Holy Basil: Also called “tulsi” is known as an elixir of anti-aging, because it helps with stress and fatigue as well as regulating blood sugar, hormone levels and blood pressure
Astragalus: Is a root that boosts immunity and helps with stress.
Rhodiola: Also known as golden root. It is great for reducing cortisol, as well as improving brain and heart health. It can also help in the breakdown of fats.
Maca: Maca root is an adaptogen well known for its ability to increase energy and stamina as well as enhance the libido.
Some Mushrooms: In particular Reishi, Shiitake, and Maitake mushrooms. Not actually plants, but they do have adaptogenic properties as well as antioxidant, immune-enhancing, and antitumor abilities.
- EFT (emotional freedom technique) tapping
I’m a BIG fan of EFT tapping. It is a psychological accupressure technique that involves tapping with your fingers on certain energy meridian points and following a technique of phrases and visualization. Tapping provides relief from chronic pain, emotional problems, disorders, addictions, phobias, post traumatic stress disorder, and physical diseases.(6) The EFT tapping solution is a great place to learn from but you can learn the basics many places on the Internet. Dr. Mercola has a very detailed explanation of the practice on his site as well. It’s a powerful tool for emotional health.
- Breathe work
Deep breathing does calm down the nervous system and creates the pause we need to see clearly. Again, there are a lot of breathe exercises out there, but here is one of my favorites:
- Exercise – Calm breathing, also works great as a short presence exercise
- Take a slow breath in through the nose (for about 4 seconds) while closing your left nostril with your thumb (breathing in through right nostril)
- Hold your breath for 1 or 2 seconds
- switch nostrils, close your right nostril with your index finger
- Exhale slowly through the now open left nostril
- pause a second before taking another breath, breathing in through the open left nostril.
- now switch again, and breath out through the right nostril, then back in the right nostril, switch fingers and breathe out the left
- repeat for 2-3 minutes.
- Heart Rate Variablity (HRV)
Practice with HeartMath emwav 2 training. There is an app too. These are cool devices from the Heart Math Institute that let you know your heart rate is variable, which is a very good thing for your overall health. When you are stressed your HRV will be low. They have a training that comes with the device, but what it comes down to is, breathe, focusing on your heart, and thinking of something that gives you the warm fuzzies. I always go back to my niece doing something ridiculously cute (which is all the time). And when I focus there and breathe slowly and regularly from my diaphragm my heart rate variability consistently goes up and my stress down. I really encourage you to check out HeartMath, and the incredible amount of information and training they have to practice getting your heart, mind, and emotions in a coherent state where the benefits are incredibly numerous.
I’ve taken the emwave 2 with my to work, and connected the sensor to my ear, to learn what is causing me stress (the light turns red as I’m out of coherence and my HRV goes low). It was a fantastic tool to practice getting back into coherence throughout the day, and become aware of what made me stressed that I wasn’t even realizing.
- Get active, exercise, or a sport you love (if you have adrenal fatigue be moderate with your exercise)
- Yoga, tai chi, qigong
- Immerse yourself in something you love (which will often bring you to presence)
- Other forms of meditation
- Challenging brain games that force you to think rationally
- Massage, warm bath, a sauna or some other relaxation inducing method
- Get out and be with nature, garden
- Music – singing, playing, dancing to it.
- Help someone else out in need
- This one is super powerful in my opinion, a guaranteed make you feel better.
Again not all stress is emotional. It’s also a good idea to be working on removing all the non emotional stressors that can impact your health. Many of which are covered by this roadmap.
- Toxins – in food and your environment (home and worldly)
- Blue light at night
- Disconnection from nature
- Food sensitivities
- Poor sleep
The Energy Takeaway:
Stress, because there are so many different kinds is the biggest energy zapper there is. It messes with your cortisol levels which is so important to optimal energy, as well as just being a mental drain.
Check out my free webinar: The 5 Keys to Optimal Energy for my biggest and best tips to shortcut getting back and sustaining optimal energy.
The Short of It:
1) The American Institute of Stress. “What is Stress?” http://www.stress.org/what-is-stress/. 2) University of Texax Counseling and Mental Health Center. Division of Student Affairs. “Fight or Flight.” http://cmhc.utexas.edu/stressrecess/Level_One/fof.html . 3) Mountain State Centers of Independent Living. “Understanding and Dealing with Stress.” http://www.mtstcil.org/skills/stress-definition-1.html. 4) The American Institute of Stress. “What is Stress?” http://www.stress.org/what-is-stress/
1) The American Institute of Stress. “What is Stress?” http://www.stress.org/what-is-stress/.
2) University of Texax Counseling and Mental Health Center. Division of Student Affairs. “Fight or Flight.” http://cmhc.utexas.edu/stressrecess/Level_One/fof.html .
3) Mountain State Centers of Independent Living. “Understanding and Dealing with Stress.” http://www.mtstcil.org/skills/stress-definition-1.html.
4) The American Institute of Stress. “What is Stress?” http://www.stress.org/what-is-stress/
I am not capable of diagnosing or treating diseases. Nor is that my intention. These statements have not been FDA approved. I’m a girl that has been studying holistic wellness for over 10 years, working on my own health, and feel compelled to share the information I have learned, that I believe in, and that has changed my vitality, performance, resilience, and health for the better. I of course can not guarantee its accuracy, though most has supporting scientific studies, it is always important to note that scientific studies are fallible and some are completed much more stringently than others. Again I’m only sharing information that I believe has improved my life. Further this article contains affiliate links (TOS) and I truly appreciate your support.