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Science Says Stress Is Killing Us. Do You Know Why?

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Stress is a word that haunts us. It inundates our lives. Its dangers seep through the nooks and crannies of our minds. We’re bombarded through TV, newspapers and the internet with the idea that stress kills! It is said to be responsible for a myriad of diseases from which we suffer: heart disease, cancer, headaches, depression, dementia and anxiety.(1) Our daily conversations are strewn with references to the stress we experience: the job, the kids, finances, terrorism, college educations, crime, etc. Life has become a balancing act of endless multitasking. Our sleep is punctuated with “what if’s.”  What if I lose my job?  What if I’m sicker than I thought? What if our child doesn’t make it to that special school? What if…?

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Given the importance stress plays in our lives, what is stress? Is it increasing? Is it something we’re doing that is fostering stress’ effect on our lives? Can it be managed? Is it as dangerous as they say?

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Let’s explore what stress is and why it seems to be so universal and on the rise.

The Nature of Things

Medical science now recognizes that our biology is intimately intertwined with our emotions, thoughts and lifestyles. Science has admitted, after long denials, that the emotional challenges we face can make us ill. There is even a bonafide scientific discipline, Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), dedicated to studying mind/body interactions.(2) But more about that later. For now, let’s learn about the nature of stress. There are, generally speaking, three types of stress that Robert Sapolsky(3) an American neuroendocrinologist, professor of biology, neuroscience and neurosurgery at Stanford University has summarized: acute physical crises, chronic physical challenges and psychological and social problems.

Acute physical crises make up much of what animals face on any given day. They may be stalked by a predator or they may be hungry and doing the stalking. It can involve long running battles across the plains or through trees. One fleeing for his life, the other hungry and needing to feed her young.  Homo sapiens through most of our history have been either the hunters or the hunted.

Chronic physical challenges such as storms, famines, droughts and earthquakes have plagued animals all throughout natural history. Humans have had to recognize the seasons, cope with weather disruptions and the like. When it stops raining and water is scarce large herds of animals and humans have had to travel far and wide to survive.

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Psychological and social problems are reserved mostly for humans, other social primates and some animals. If I asked you to make a list of the things that worry you, what might they be? For most of us reading this article, much of what worries us would not be the fear of starvation because the crops have failed or whether or not we will be attacked by a predator while out searching for food. Mostly, we create stress through our own thinking.  I’m sure you have worked yourself up into a frenzy over some perceived interpersonal issue (the boss, the spouse, the traffic, the news) while sitting alone in a room. And, we can carry that frenzy around inside of us for hours, days, years and even entire lifetimes. This ability is what science has found can make us, in the long run, sick.

Sapolsky (4), in his acclaimed book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers states:

A large body of evidence suggests that stress-related disease emerges, predominantly, out of the fact that we often activate a physiological system that has evolved for responding to acute physical emergencies, but we turn it on for months on end, worrying about mortgages, relationships, and promotions. (p. 6)

Our social position in society adds to this long term stress. Are we closer to the winners at the top of the hierarchy or closer to the perceived losers at the bottom? Epidemiologists have demonstrated that societies with the greatest status inequalities are the least healthy. Not surprisingly, poverty is a sure predictor of disease. But social status alone and its accompanying stigma also is a predictor of ill health. In the famous UK Whitehall studies, conducted by Michael Marmot, (5) Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London, the health of 18,000 British civil servants was tracked from 1968 to the late 1990’s. Marmot, in his groundbreaking work The Status Syndrome, found that:

The men at the bottom of the office hierarchy have, at ages forty to sixty four, four times the risk of death as administrators at the top of the hierarchy. More dramatic than the difference between top and bottom is the gradient.  The group second from the top has higher mortality than those above them in the ranking. (p. 39)

Although we suffer from all three forms of stress, it is the psychological and social aspects that we experience most in modern society. There are still physical threats, like gangs on the subway, and physical challenges, like hurricanes, but most of our stress comes from long-term psychological stress that we create in our minds and is the result of living in a hierarchical, competitive society. Our built-in coping capacities, inherited from our ancient ancestors, enables us to deal very well with physical crises and challenges but unfortunately is not as good at the stresses we face today.

What was once meant to help us survive is now killing us.

An excellent summary of the work of Sapolsky and Marmot appears in the National Geographic documentary Stress, Portrait of a Killer. (6)

Let’s take a look at how our ability to deal with stress is compromised in the modern world.

The Physiology of Stress

Our ability to deal with stress grew out of hundreds of thousands if not millions of years of evolution. When facing a threat or challenge Saplosky (4) indicates that the mind/body makes a “rapid mobilization of energy from storage sites…Glucose…and fats come pouring out of your fat cells, liver and muscles, all to stoke whichever muscles are struggling to save your neck.”(p. 11) To do this our heart rate increases, along with blood pressure and respiration.  Digestion stops, as does the sex drive and all growth related functions. A myriad of stress hormones flood the body, cortisol, epinephrine,  glucocorticoids, etc. The sensation of pain diminishes. Our immune system becomes compromised. When you’re running for your life there’s no time to worry about healing a wound or infection. This is all done to support our survival and maintain allostasis, the dynamic equilibrium of our body/mind.

In the end, it is the suppression of the immune system that does us in.

stress and illness

Stress and Modern Living

So now we come to the crux of the matter.  Our modern lifestyles burden our bodies and minds in ways very different from that experienced by our ancestors. Our stress response system was not intended to deal over the long-term with the psychological and social stressors we have created. Chronic, long-term stress is killing us. Saplosky says it succinctly:

It’s not so much that the stress response runs out, but rather, with sufficient activation, that the stress-response can become more damaging than the stressor itself, especially when the stress is purely psychological.  This is the critical concept, because it underlies the emergence of much stress-related disease. (4)

Put another way by John Ratey and Richard Manning in Go Wild: Free Your Body and Mind from the Afflictions of Civilization (7):

…the real problem, the killer, is the chronic, unrelenting, unremitting series of regular events that wears us down. (p. 237)

Regular events that remain perpetually unresolved and over which we feel little control, such as hours in traffic, the unfair boss, monthly mortgage payments, boring sex and relationships, lousy food day after day, addictions, lack of sleep, crime, etc. Our stress response never rests. In a fashion similar to the pancreas producing more and more insulin in response to excess exposure to glucose “If we repeatedly turn on the stress response, or if you cannot turn off the stress-response at the end of a stressful event, the stress-response can eventually become damaging.” (4) (p. 16)

Our stress response is always in the “on” position. We find it hard, if not impossible, to turn off our autonomic nervous system. We can’t relax. We need constant stimulation. Our blood pressure never returns to normal, our stress hormones remain high, our blood vessels are constricted and our blood thickens. Our moods fluctuate with anxiety or depression. The Mayo Clinic conservatively states that: “Stress that’s left unchecked can contribute to…high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.” (8) I would add Irritable Bowel Syndrome, insomnia, chronic fatigue, rosacea, allergies, asthma, anxiety, depression, anger, drug abuse, social and interpersonal problems and more.

Modern lifestyles predispose us to disease. Our ancestral health is compromised. Combined with sedentary behaviors, industrialized diets, Western hygienic practices (9) and certain vaccinations (10) stress creates the perfect storm of degenerative disease and psychiatric disorder. Although evolution designed us to meet a wide variety of conditions, modern living places us in a perpetual state of stress that exhausts our immune systems. This sets the stage for chronic disease.

In the next article, I will explore what we can do to reduce stress, restore our ancestral health and remain productive within modern society.  Meditation, fostering positive relationships and affiliations, successful aging, cognitive re framing, and “Going Wild” will be covered.

References

  1. http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/10-fixable-stress-related-health-problems
  2. http://www.stressforskning.su.se/english/research/research-areas/psychoneuroimmunology
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Sapolsky
  4. Sapolsky, Robert M., Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. (2004). Henry Holt and Company, LLC.
  5. Marmot, Michael, The Status Syndrome. (2004). Holt Paperbacks.
  6. National Geographic. (2008). Stress: Portrait of a Killer. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYG0ZuTv5rs
  7. Ratey, John & Manning, Richard, Go Wild: Free Your Body and Mind From the Afflictions of Civilization. (2014). Hachette Book Group, Inc.
  8. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987
  9. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-unintended-and-deadly-consequences-of-living-in-the-industrialized-world-5324305/?no-ist
  10. http://www.utsandiego.com/uniontrib/20080304/news_1n4immune.html

 

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3 Powerful Tools to Help Overcome the Emotional Toll of the Pandemic

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    The pandemic has had a significant effect on our lives. Possibly without realizing it, many are suffering from a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

  • Reflect On:

    If you feel stressed or feel that you have PTSD resulting from this pandemic, try these suggestions before resorting to medication or maladaptive coping strategies.

Before you begin...

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Take a moment and breathe. Place your hand over your chest area, near your heart. Breathe slowly into the area for about a minute, focusing on a sense of ease entering your mind and body. Click here to learn why we suggest this.

The pandemic has had a significant effect on our lives. Possibly without realizing it, many are suffering from a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Every news cycle paralyzes us with fear of a new variant. Some feel grief over who or what they have lost or continue to have feelings of social disconnectedness. Despite what we have all been through, we need to start moving forward with our lives and truly live again. We must recognize that we have more control over our physical and mental health than advertised. The truth is that there are many helpful things that we can do.

PTSD is a stress-related disorder that may develop after exposure to a traumatic event or ordeal in which death or severe physical harm was a threat or occurred. Those with PTSD may experience agitation, irritability, hostility, hypervigilance, self-destructive behavior, social isolation, flashbacks, fear, anxiety, depression, attention difficulty, loneliness, insomnia, or nightmares.

Trauma can lead to feelings of powerlessness, but powerlessness can also keep us trapped in a PTSD cycle. The psychological imprint of trauma rewires the brain. There’s an old saying in neuroscience: “neurons that fire together wire together.” Our brain neurons begin firing in the amygdala, the emotional part of our brains, during a traumatic event. People can get stuck in an emotional loop, and the rational voice in their heads does not weigh in. This looping can cause a person to respond disproportionately to stress – freezing, panicking, or acting out in anger. Some dissociate or enter a trance-like state. Maladaptive coping skills can sometimes develop. Cutting, burning, overeating, drinking, drugs, overspending, etc., is all an attempt to dampen our painful emotional feelings. So, to avoid getting stuck in a PTSD cycle, we must act and take our power back.

Time to seek out the most effective help so that we can feel calm and in control again. What can we do?

1. Boost Your Immune System

If you fear getting sick, it’s time to live a healthier lifestyle and boost your immune system. Sadly, we are taught (with the help of pharmaceutical dollars) that health comes from a needle or a pill. Our “experts” recommend masks, hand-washing, social distancing, and mRNA vaccines. Still, they seldom suggest a healthy diet, supplements, and other natural remedies to help improve our health and support the body to fight off illness and disease. Click here for my article that includes 16 Tips on Boosting Immunity.

2. Embrace Spirituality

Over the last 20 years, I have been honored to have worked with many great therapists, healers, spiritual leaders, and trauma survivors to witness the power of Spirituality in healing. Spirituality is an inner belief system providing an individual with meaning and purpose in life. Whether it involves a higher power, nature, religious rituals, meditation, mindfulness, or prayer, the premise is to stay connected to the core of who we are. That place of stillness within us holding the memory of wholeness, peace, inner strength, and balance – despite what has happened. A spiritual philosophy or practice can provide us with a bigger context for our experiences and clarify our purpose. Spiritual methods also connect us with a sense of community and support. Finding our tribe is essential in the face of trauma and loss. The spiritual journey often allows us to go inside ourselves and listen to our inner guidance and “knowingness.” The inner voice may know, for instance, that the virus will not hurt us, or what we are being told by the media is untrue. Spirituality also helps us shift our perspective from “why me” to “what can I do about it. It brings us a sense of power and control.

3. Guided Imagery & Bilateral Stimulation

Both tools are essential for the trauma therapy toolbox. They are noninvasive and helpful for overcoming the effects of trauma. Guided imagery can help us alter the negative or stressful pictures and thoughts in our minds and help us create new, more peaceful ones—a form of instilling positive affirmations. Before you read on, I thought you might like to download my 10-minute exercise. This science-based, comprehensive video will help you to cultivate a sense of inner peace and give you a way to help overcome the effects of this pandemic – GET IT HERE

Is There Science Behind This?

Science, yes. Magic, no. This method requires regular practice if you want to make lasting, long-term changes to the ways that you think and feel. The good news is that both guided imagery and bilateral stimulation are widely practiced and well-established practices. However, I recommend that if you are still struggling after repeated listening, you find a qualified trauma therapist to continue the work you have already started.

A Look At The Research

Guided imagery is a behavioral technique using a series of verbal suggestions to guide oneself or others in visualizing an image in the mind to bring a desired response in the way of a reduction in stress, anxiety, or pain. A growing list of empirical literature supports the use of these techniques in various physical and emotional conditions. Guided imagery resulted in a clinically significant reduction in PTSD and related symptoms in a returning, combat-exposed active-duty military population. Positive affirmations can positively affect the brain’s circuitry. There is MRI evidence suggesting that specific neural pathways are increased when people practice self-affirmation tasks.

Numerous research articles have established that bilateral stimulation is one of the most effective treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some therapists practice Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), a combination of psychotherapy and bilateral stimulation. EMDR is very effective for treating a wide range of mental health issues due to emotional and physical trauma. During bilateral stimulation, patients tend to “process” the memory in a way that leads to a peaceful resolution. And, often results in increased insight regarding both previously disturbing events and long-held negative thoughts about the self.

“Bilateral Stimulation induces a fundamental change in brain circuitry, similar to what happens in REM sleep. It allows the person undergoing treatment to process and incorporate traumatic memories into general association networks in the brain. This therapy helps the individual integrate and understand the memories within the larger context of their life experience.” – Robert Stickgold, Ph.D., Harvard Medical School

Takeaway

If you feel stressed or feel that you have PTSD resulting from this pandemic, try the above suggestions and download my helpful video before resorting to medication or maladaptive coping strategies. Also, you can discover the many mind-body practices you can do at home to help manage stress more successfully and so much more. SIGN UP HERE to receive your free download today. To purchase my book Healing Without Hurting, click here.

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Click below to watch a sneak peek of our brand new course!

Our new course is called 'Overcoming Bias & Improving Critical Thinking.' This 5 week course is instructed by Dr. Madhava Setty & Joe Martino

If you have been wanting to build your self awareness, improve your.critical thinking, become more heart centered and be more aware of bias, this is the perfect course!

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Awareness

Boosting Your Mood and Improving Your Health With Vitamin D

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Vitamin D is essential for proper immune functioning and alleviation of inflammation.

  • Reflect On:

    Are you or someone you love suffering from depression or an autoimmune disorder? When is the last time you checked your Vitamin D levels?

Before you begin...

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Take a moment and breathe. Place your hand over your chest area, near your heart. Breathe slowly into the area for about a minute, focusing on a sense of ease entering your mind and body. Click here to learn why we suggest this.

Are you or someone you love suffering from depression or an autoimmune disorder? It appears vitamin D deficiency may be to blame.

Vitamin D is essential for proper immune functioning and alleviation of inflammation. The beneficial effects of vitamin D on protective immunity are due in part to its impact on the innate immune system and has numerous effects on cells within the immune system. Vitamin D is also involved in maintaining the proper balance of several minerals in the body. And, it helps to ward off the flu and many viruses and treat them. The latest research links vitamin D deficiency to many disease states. These disease states include cancer, osteoporosis, heart disease, depression, arthritis, and just about every other degenerative disease.

 “Vitamin D reduces depression. In a randomized, double-blind study, People with depression who received vitamin D supplements noticed a marked improvement in their symptoms.” – Journal of Internal Medicine

According to the Nutrition Research Journal, as many as 80% of people are deficient in vitamin D. Inadequate exposure to sunshine, poor eating habits, malabsorption, the VDR genetic mutation, and accelerated catabolism due to certain medications, dark skin pigment color, and too much sunscreen can be to blame. 

A doctor can check vitamin D levels with a simple blood test. Many mainstream doctors will suggest that you are within normal limits if your levels are 20-30ng/mL. However, for optimal health, the Endocrine Society and many functional medicine M.D.s and naturopaths will recommend levels of between 40-70 ng/mL for both children and adults. These doctors will also recommend a more aggressive replenishment program. For example, at age five, my son’s level was 24. The pediatrician recommended 500iu daily of supplementation, while our naturopath recommended 5,000iu daily for six months before retesting. Six months later, his levels were almost normal. 

“Through several mechanisms, vitamin D can reduce risk of infections. Those mechanisms include inducing cathelicidins and defensins that can lower viral replication rates and reducing concentrations of pro-inflammatory cytokines that produce the inflammation that injures the lining of the lungs, leading to pneumonia, as well as increasing concentrations of anti-inflammatory cytokines” – PubMed

How to Increase Your Vitamin D Levels

Get enough sun. Vitamin D3, “the sunshine vitamin,” is the only vitamin your body that is made, with the help of the sun. So be sure to get enough sun exposure to help the body make this essential nutrient. Hold off trying to protect ourselves from the rays of the sun at every turn by slathering sunscreen. Allow yourself to play outside, garden, and enjoy the rays in moderation.

If you must use some sunscreen, avoid chemical sunscreens made with toxic chemicals that cause thyroid dysfunction, endocrine disruption, allergies, organ toxicity, reproductive toxicity, skin cancer, development, brain, and metabolism problems. Shop for natural mineral-zinc-based certified products instead. When exposed to scorching climates or in the sun for extended periods, we use sunscreens by Babyganics, Badger, Babo Botanicals, and Goddess Garden products.

Eat a well-balanced diet, with foods higher in vitamin D. Although it is believed that we only get twenty percent from the foods we eat. Some foods higher in D include cod liver oil, fish, oysters, eggs, and mushrooms. 

Get checked for the VDR mutation. A blood test will determine if you have mutations in the vitamin D receptor. The consequence can be lower vitamin D levels and the inability to absorb vitamin calcium and many other minerals properly. According to a 2020 scientific report, supplementation of vitamin D can help improve VDR gene expression, so more supplementation may be necessary if you have this mutation.

“Something so simple. Vitamin D supplementation could improve the health status of millions and so becomes an elegant solution to many of our health problems today.” – Carol L. Wagner, MD – Medical University of South Carolina

Supplementation 101. Supplementation is often critical if you cannot properly metabolize or absorb enough vitamin D or not get enough sunshine. In areas with long winters and specific populations of people with darker skin color, supplementation may be even more critical. There are many supplements on the market. However, many tablet forms are not as bioavailable and harder to absorb. Therefore, it has been recommended that liquid forms are better. In addition, liquid D is often suspended in olive oil, which helps the vitamins to absorb more easily since it is fat soluble. One of my favorite brands is by Seeking Health. It does not contain any impurities or allergy-inducing ingredients. 

Final Thoughts

Boosting the immune system naturally works on your body’s innate wisdom. It supports the body to operate like a well-oiled machine, protects it from unwanted pathogens and disease, and helps ensure a healthy body and mind.

To receive more info on how you and your family can overcome ADHD, apraxia, anxiety, and more without medication SIGN UP HERE or purchase my book Healing without Hurting.

Dive Deeper

Click below to watch a sneak peek of our brand new course!

Our new course is called 'Overcoming Bias & Improving Critical Thinking.' This 5 week course is instructed by Dr. Madhava Setty & Joe Martino

If you have been wanting to build your self awareness, improve your.critical thinking, become more heart centered and be more aware of bias, this is the perfect course!

Click here to check out a sneak peek and learn more.

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General

Are Lockdowns Affecting Children?

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CE Staff Writer 2 minute read

In Brief

  • The Facts:

    We spoke to activist and mother Stephanie Sibbio about her co-creation of an organization called 100 Million Moms which seeks to empower women to stand up against injustices.

  • Reflect On:

    Are we choosing virus mitigation methods that are short sighted and harmful over the long term? Are they more harmful than the virus itself?

Before you begin...

Coherent icon

Take a moment and breathe. Place your hand over your chest area, near your heart. Breathe slowly into the area for about a minute, focusing on a sense of ease entering your mind and body. Click here to learn why we suggest this.

The potential downsides of lockdowns during pandemics have been explored quite a bit – and the truth is the scientific community is quite divided on whether it’s the right move. On one hand a case can be made for effectiveness of lockdowns, but at quite a cost, while on the other hand many have shown lockdowns to be ineffective in slowing spread. How a study is organized and conducted can also dramatically change results.

Interestingly a study in Nature showed that “less disruptive and costly NPIs can be as effective as more intrusive, drastic, ones (for example, a national lockdown).” This essentially states that governments could choose effective ways to mitigate virus spread effectively without inducing unwanted and long term side effects on society as a whole via lockdowns – regardless, lockdowns are still widely being used.

One question we might have is, what about factors that are not so easy to measure right away? Things like long term psychological damage of being constantly stressed, out of touch with community and friends, and confined to our homes. What affects are children experiencing in their development and learning? We may not know exactly for quite some time.

I felt inspired to speak to a mother who has not only be asking this question with regards to her child, but who has decided to do something to push back against government measures, like lockdowns, that many citizens and scientist don’t agree with.

Along with another activist, Stephanie Sibbio created a movement called 100 Million Moms who, as their Instagram states, are a rights-based movement empowering moms all over the world to stand up against injustice. We advocate for natural health & medical freedom.

I spoke to Stephanie about how she has seen lockdowns affecting children, and her story in co-creating 100 Million Moms. In this discussion you will learn how you can get involved as well.

Further Discussion

A large meta analysis on mask wearing has shown that children are having physiological issues and learning challenges with prolonged mask wearing.

A group of doctors did a panel worth considering that discusses the potential harms of lockdowns and the science that supports the idea.

Dive Deeper

Click below to watch a sneak peek of our brand new course!

Our new course is called 'Overcoming Bias & Improving Critical Thinking.' This 5 week course is instructed by Dr. Madhava Setty & Joe Martino

If you have been wanting to build your self awareness, improve your.critical thinking, become more heart centered and be more aware of bias, this is the perfect course!

Click here to check out a sneak peek and learn more.

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