16 Feb
2010

Physician Heal Thyself

Our bodies are designed to heal themselves, but not without our help. Unfortunately most of us do not know what’s causing the illness or don’t know what to do to assist the healing process. And we get sicker and sicker as is evidenced by the fact that 86-95% of our population suffers from long-term exposure to unresolved stress. That was true for me up until about 7 years ago. The nineties were an extremely stressful period in my life and slowly my body starting to show the ravages of all that stress as I experienced symptoms (high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, high cholesterol, unexplained weight gain, depression) that if not checked could lead to serious, even life-threatening illnesses. Even though I was a Performance Psychologist helping people overcome performance issues related to stress I did what most people do when they experience stress. I ignored, suppressed, and repressed it. I kept a stiff upper lip as the British would say.

My physician prescribed medications to deal with the symptoms without ever telling me what their cause was. At the suggestion of a friend I sought a second opinion from an M.D. who also had a Ph.D. in Natural Medicine, Dr. Rita Ellithorpe. After an exhaustive battery of tests she told me that my symptoms were all stress related. I raised my eye brows, shook my head, and smiled, then told her that I was a Performance Psychologist and helped people deal with stress-related performance issues. She shook her finger at me and said, “Physician heal thyself.”

After that I began doing all the things I prescribed for my clients as well as all of the interventions (no pills) suggested by Dr. Ellithorpe. In Less than six months all of my symptoms had abated and was told by my traditional physician that I now had the blood chemistry of a healthy 25-year old. Since then I spent several years researching all the causes and ramifications of exposure to unresolved stress. My academic education only taught me about performance issues related to stress, not health issues. From this research I have put together plans to not only assist my clients perform better but to help them live healthier and happier. The plans include all the actions referred to in my last blog like deep breathing, exercise, and rest. These actions help remove the toxic by-products of the hormones released into your bloodstream to help you survive the threat. Remember, your body thinks your life is in danger and releases these hormones to save you. However, in social situations, the hormones interfere with your performance and remain in your body until you deliberately remove them.

There are other actions you can take at the time of any stressful event which will help remove the hormones from your body. I will describe these in future blogs. If you’ve been exposed to unresolved stress for any length time these harmful chemicals have already began accumulating in your body. And if you’re not yet experiencing illness or symptoms of more serious conditions, you will be. So it’s imperative that you take actions that alter your physical, psychological, and emotional responses to stress. You must also eliminate the build-up of toxic waste resulting from all these hormones accumulating in your body. In addition, there are environmental factors and lifestyle choices adding to the stress you may experience in your everyday life that need attention. Don’t worry. You don’t have to completely change your lifestyle or live on some secluded mountain top and meditate all day, but you will have to make some changes. It could be fun.

8 Feb
2010

What is Stress

Stress is just a signal that we are being threatened in some way. So how do you spell relief when you get stressed out? Most people prefer to take a pill. It’s easy and quick. Not me, especially since the side effects of all anti-anxiety and anti depression (depression is a side effect of long term exposure to unresolved stress) medications include deeper depression, suicidal thoughts and death. Just watch TV commercials for these products. They’re scary and enlightening. Besides, once you understand stress, controlling it without medication is not much more difficult than taking pills. So let’s look at what happens when we get stressed out.

In fact, let’s look at how stress evolved in the human species. Our early ancestors lived in very hostile environments. Danger lurked around every corner. Our ancestors survived because, at the first hint of danger, their nervous systems automatically increased the supply of specific chemicals (hormones) to help them respond to the threat. These hormones increased the supply of oxygen to their brain, arms, and legs, dilated their pupils, and increased their blood pressure. These same hormones also shut down their reproductive and digestive systems. I guess one doesn’t need to think about romance or what’s for dinner when being chased by a saber-toothed tiger. This made them stronger and faster, able to see the danger better, helped them react to the danger quicker, and improved their stamina.

So how does that help us understand what to do when we get stressed out? In the process of responding to the threat our ancestors exerted a lot of energy either in physically confronting the threat or fleeing from it. Because all of our systems speed up when we engage in intense physical activity they probably had to urinate shortly after surviving the threat. And then they either took a nap to recover from the intense exercise or slept really well that night. Experts state that ninety percent of stress hormones and their byproducts are eliminated from the body through the breath. The other 10% is eliminated through urination and sweat. Rest then helps the nervous system go back to a normal state and recover from fright and intense physical activity. In a moment you’ll see why that’s important.

Today we face very few life-threatening events yet experience stress on an almost constant basis. Now, the threat is to our life-style, happiness, or sense of security. This is known as mental or psycho-social stress. The same hormones released in the case of life-threatening events flood our bodies when our life-style, happiness, or sense of security are deemed threatened. Unfortunately, the chemicals that signify any type of threat are not naturally or easily eliminated from the body. They must be deliberately forced out. Now what did our ancestors do when their lives where threatened? They exercised, sweated, breathed deeply, and rested. I’ll give you three guesses what we have to do when we get stressed out at home, work, school, or in any social situation and the first two don’t count.

Next time we’ll look at some options for eliminating the destructive effects of stress immediately and over the long-term and why these actions are important. For now, get some exercise, breathe deeply, and get sufficient rest.

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