This Journal has general comments about stress. Some of the Reference Reading material at the end offers extended commentary and considerations.
Stress is an unavoidable component of our daily lives which can be mitigated by a variety of approaches which include proper nutrition, exercise, sleep hygiene, and a vast number of mind-body techniques. Stress always has biochemical and psycho-emotional components to consider.
Not all stress is bad stress (distress). Much of the stress in our lives is good stress (eustress) because it helps develop resilience and adaptability and trust that we can go forward in the face of it. One of the most important considerations about stress is the notion of “perceived stress.” Each one of us will probably perceive the same stressors in entirely different ways.
Dr. Hans Selye’s Stress Adaptation Response
Some important historical footnotes about stress may be helpful.
Prior to the work of Dr. Hans Selye, stress was a word terminology which was used in physics to describe mechano-structural considerations as they pertained to engineering and building materials.
Selye was born in Vienna in 1907, received his degree of Doctor of Medicine and Chemistry in Prague in 1929, came to train at Johns Hopkins University, and then went on to research and teach at McGill University in Montreal. Influenced by the works of physiologists Claude Bernard (the “internal milieu”) and Walter Cannon (homeostasis), he authored some 1700 papers and 7 books on the subject of stress and physiology, which he explained in physiologic terms as the general adaptation syndrome.
In a pictorial graph of Selye’s conceptualization of the subject, we would see Performance plotted on the vertical Y axis (ordinate) and Stress Level plotted on the horizontal X axis (abscissa). Below is the picture from my office that I have used for over 20 years to help people understand these concepts.
As Performance and Stress Level increase, a bell shaped curve is achieved. On the rising left hand side of the curve we have Selye’s depiction of what he called eustress, or, true stress. The prefix “eu” is Greek, and it means “true.” Eustress is good stress. It makes us strong, faithful, resilient, resourceful, able to face the mirror of life, and continue performing at a high level even as stress may be increasing.
At the top of the bell shaped curve is the STL, the Stress Tolerance Level. Many peak performers know how to access and perform at the STL indefinitely, being so filled as they are with the frequencies of their passions and what they want to manifest.
If the Stress Level continues to mount, we go farther out on the horizontal axis and Performance eventually begins to decline. We may reach the burnout exhaustion point where the Stress Level is large, Performance is nil, and we are thoroughly overwhelmed and withdrawn.
This can be a state of both high sympathetic nervous system activity and also high parasympathetic nervous system activity. This chaotic feeling is likened to a foot on the gas and a foot on the brake at the same time. We are going nowhere and everything is overwhelming. The HPA axis and downstream physiology are negatively affected.
Under these conditions the electromagnetic signaling from the heart is both high volume sympathetic and high volume parasympathetic. It is easy to show someone this with a biofeedback analysis of heart resonance and heart rate variability, such as has been developed from the science which has been brought forward at the HeartMath Institute. Such a pattern is very common in sufferings from severe and unresolved PTSD, which we all carry to some degree.
If we are at exhaustion, it is important to restore resiliency by helping the individual find hope, passionate motivators from one’s heart, and to relieve the trauma imprints which are driving this pattern. External and internal resourcing is very helpful. One should know one’s external and internal resources, and practice accessing them when feeling overwhelmed.
Examples of internal resources are meditation and creative efforts and wonderful memories with loved ones as well as your own private personal peak experiences. An example of an external resource which requires an internal resource (willpower) is exercise. An example of an external resource is counselors and good healers.
A good healer has been where the patient has been, and even deeper into the hole. A good healer will guide you into the chaos without re-triggering your trauma, and then guide you back out after you have forgiven the source of the pain and stress, recovering those splintered off parts of who you are. If the healer does not know the path and the destination, then….well, you may just keep going back to them and keep paying their consultant fee.
Finally, regarding Selye’s model, people who underachieve with a rather flat bell shaped curve (a curve that is not tall and strong) of Performance vs. Stress have been conditioned to let life’s challenges override their desire to cross over into what Joseph Campbell described as the threshold of adventure. Lacking depth and resourcefulness such people have developed neither courage or a good inventory of peak experiences to draw from.
Many Americans are becoming like this, being dumbed down as we are by legal and illegal drugs, the misinformation of the media, our addiction to electronic formats, the misguiding influence of our social institutions, the inaccuracies of how our history is taught, our consumerism, our sense of entitlement, and what I would refer to our societal PTSD. We are taught to live in fear. This is obviously a form of distress.
Our modern day lifestyle is missing the key elements of resilience and recovery. While there is usually a recovery for certain life threatening events like getting chased by a wild animal, we have not been taught to culture an ongoing recovery for recurring and relentless events like dealing with traffic congestion, relationship troubles, financial pressures, job stresses, negative self-talk, negative self-image, poor physical conditioning, artificial lighting, malnourished diet, inadequate sleep, processed and genetically modified foods, environmental toxin accumulation, being addicted to electronic gadgetry and information, and many many other negative stressors which are present in our compressed modern day lifestyles.
We have to learn to cultivate resilience and recovery on an ongoing daily basis by buffering and mitigating the negative life stressors listed in the preceding paragraph. Each one of us must learn how to regulate our lives for the sake of peace, calm, happiness, and health. In these times it becomes very important to practice an anti-stress lifestyle at the psycho-emotional and physiological levels.
Biochemistry and Nutritional Approaches
In response to stress, the hormone corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF) is released from the hypothalamus. A primary function of CRF is to act on the anterior pituitary to stimulate the release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which in turn stimulates the synthesis of cortisol, glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids, and DHEA in the adrenal gland.
The causes of stress must be addressed or there will be no improvement. Some general causal considerations to address include such things as blood sugar dysregulation, inflammation, and circadian rhythm disruption. There are lifestyle mindsets and choices which accompany these considerations.
I utilize recommendations for food and lifestyle improvements, adrenal adaptogenic herbs, adrenal glandular preparations, omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, appropriate bioidentical hormones, and neurotransmitter balancing to assist restoring balance and resilience in the system via the adrenal and brain chemistry connections. Such efforts help to restore the primacy of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis to health and resilience. A listing of some effective nutritional supplements which help restore the HPA axis are listed in Reference #5 which follows this reading.
Regarding nutrition, the best approach is to consider correct nutrient biochemistry as can be organized around one’s exact individual biochemical needs. Individual needs can be approached as an improvement of genetic blueprint mutations by way of nutrigenomics, as well as other measures to assist current disease conditions and aging dynamics. All types of diet can be considered: Mediterranean, Paleo, Keto, and others. All processed foods should be avoided. It is best to source one’s food from organic growers. This will reduce more negative chemical stress from exogenous sources.
HPA axis restoration mitigates negative physiologic consequences of stress, which are translated into the flesh via imbalances of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS consists of the 2 counterbalancing divisions known as the sympathetic nervous system (SNS, also known as “fight/flight”), and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS, also known as “freeze”).
Dietary recommendations can be accurately streamlined by a variety of advanced biochemical testings which are available from a variety of specialized labs like Cyrex Labs and Genova Diagnostics.
In all cases the issue of perceived stress must be considered and addressed. This can open the door for better lifestyle adjustments.
Exercise is one of the best mind-body techniques which can be utilized by anyone. In addition to physical exercise, which we designed to do, please consider meditation as another form of exercise…one which we are also designed to do. The biochemical effects of exercise and meditation are almost identical in our body. Our psyche benefits from both practices.
For the sake of stress relief, exercise is a means of releasing the pent up fight-flight energy of the sympathetic division which we go about suppressing daily, like trying to hold a basketball underwater. Exercise will also help with normalizing stagnated parasympathetic nervous system energetic, the freeze energetic.
Exercise will assist in reestablishing and coordinating the rhythmic homeostasis of a normal gentle wave form of activity in our ongoing daily inner terrain of sympathetic and parasympathetic activity.
The wide swings from the triggered, startled, alarmed sympathetic nervous system (manic high) to the overwhelmed, alienated, isolated feeling states of the parasympathetic nervous system (depressed low) is mitigated by proper breathing, exercise, meditation, nutrition, forgiveness, and trauma release.
The practice of correct breathing is an important life enhancing experience. A correct breath can be practiced and built into your coordinated and reflexive series of body movements.This is often called the normal breath, the yogic breath, and the relaxing breath. Correct breathing accompanies both meditation and good exercise.
The steps of the normal breath are as follows:
Relax the perineal diaphragm, which is the pelvic floor. Allow the belly wall to relax and move out on the in breath. This creates more abdominal space for the thoracic diaphragm to descend into the abdominal cavity. Full descent of the thoracic diaphragm enables full pulmonary tidal volume to commence.
Take in the in breath by filling the lungs from the bottom to the top. The belly wall is moving outward. The rib intercostal spaces expand outward. Keep your sternum in the up and out position. This will assist your breath, your posture, and your lower back.
There is a pause, or gap, between the in breath and the out breath. In meditation, this gap space is important. In this gap the brain mind begins to become quiet. As the brain mind becomes quieter, inherent heart electromagnetics come forward and begins to open our consciousness into a wider field of experience.
The motion of belly wall as well as intercostal rib space expansion creates an induction current in the vagus nerve, causing it to flood the body with a balanced parasympathetic energetic. Balanced parasympathetic nerve flow is very relaxing. And so, the correct breath is also called a relaxing breath, or a cleansing breath.
The vagus nerve is the 10th cranial nerve and is named from the Latin word for “vagrant’ because it wanders all over the body. It arises bilaterally from the base of the skull, descends down through the neck and chest and out to the arms, and also ventures through the esophageal diaphragmatic hiatus to provide parasympathetic innervation to the abdominal and pelvic organs and spaces, and then on down into the legs as well.
An important global consideration is that we were entrained in the stress frequencies and stress chemistry of the mother while we were in utero. We were floating inside of our mother, inches from her heart’s large electromagnetic propagations, absorbing into our sensitive unboundaried bodies the nonverbal feeling of what it feels like to be me through electromagnetic entrainment of our infant heart with the mother’s heart.
Think about how your mother is. Do you sometimes repeat her stress patterns in your own dramas and crises?
Another important point to consider in this regard is a biological fact which needs further scientific and electrophysiological research. This point has to do with the make-up of our mitochondria, the energy producing organelles which are in the cytoplasm of our trillions of cells. The function of the mitochondria is to take the oxygen which we are carefully intentionally breathing, or not, and run it, along with protein, fats, and carbohydrates, down the Kreb’s cycle and electron transport chain of biochemistry to come up with the energy molecule of life which we call ATP.
ATP is adenosine tri phosphate, and this is the molecule in our lives which allows for every cell to function coherently and to its fullest intelligence. It is the energy molecule of the cell. The energy which is utilized exists in the phosphate bond, which is broken down in the cell’s workings into a packet of energy and the byproduct adenosine di phosphate (ADP). The ADP is then recycled to get that phosphorous back for another round of energy release.
The very interesting point about the mitochondria is that these organelles are so specialized in the matrix of the cell, and so peculiar and important in our cellular evolution, that they have their own DNA. No other organelle has its own DNA for its own survival and function.
Mitochondrial DNA comes from the mother. The mitochondrial organelle which makes your central cellular pathways run with the ATP molecule of energy is being informed into service by something your mother gave you, maternal DNA.
Do you have your mother’s stress responses? If you do, then you are training those mitochondria to deliver your cellular energy just like she does, or did. It is a perfect set-up for the passage of negative patterns down through the generations. It says in the Torah that the sins of the parents shall be visited on 7 generations. This old Biblical truth from the Book of Exodus is now actually being researched via the science of the exposome.
The point of this information about the mother and you, of course, is for all of us to make peace with, and acceptance of, our mother. For some people this prospect can be difficult, but it should be attempted, especially if your mother is still on earth side in a human body. And if you are a mother who is reading this passage, I invite you to open into healing with your children by allowing for vulnerability and authenticity.
Where do we learn stress? Where does stress originate in our lives?
I’ll attempt to leave you with a few answers which may serve to stimulate your inner meditations about the origins of your stress. If you try to take these points all the way home you will wind up in the uterus even though you cannot actually consciously remember that time of your life. Indeed, the most important origin of our learned distress begins in the days of our childhood; especially in the preverbal period and the period of the toddler when we were first learning from caregivers what it feels like to be me.
As later periods of life continue, we learn to incorporate, or not, the buffering psycho-emotional attributes which help to make our human journey more palatable and fulfilling.
In one of his better works Dr. Wayne Dyer, Ph.D., describes 7 characteristics of the Divinity which should become our characteristics also. Dr. Dyer defined these 7 characteristics of Source as creative, kind, loving, beautiful, expanding, abundant, and receptive. You might write these 7 words down on a piece of paper, and think on these words from time to time as that which you are. At the level of our truest essence, these descriptive fit us well. We are that.
Anytime we are separated from these characteristics, we are going to be experiencing some form of distress. That is the way that I understand this. We usually separate from Source energy to the point that we feel separate from everything.
Our problems begin, when, as dependent unboundaried infants we take on the trappings of the stress responses of the mother in utero, and then, after birth, we also have to experience the stress responses of the biological family of origin.
It is an inherent feature of being born into a human body that we will begin to develop a sense of separation during our pre-verbal period. It may be helpful to pick up a review of Parenting, Parts II and III written some months back in the archives of this Journal.
This sense of separation is an extraordinary feature of human life on earth side that we totally buy into. It is called the illusion of separation.
The Illusion of Separation creates this set of 4 Fears
- The Fear of Scarcity, or Lack
- The Fear of not being Good Enough
- The Fear of Rejection
- The Fear of Loss of Control
Let yourself feel these fears inside of youself, and begin to track them without judgment. Take them all the way home to the earlier illusions of separation. Feel your sense of separateness without further judgment. Don’t push your feelings away. If you can feel it, you can heal it.
Know that you cannot be, and you are not, separate from this entire quantum hologram, the Mind of God, as the quantum physicists are beginning to now call it. How could we be separate from Creation in any way whatsoever?
If you are running the illusion of separation to the hilt, and if you are practicing the ensuing and subsequent 4 fears, then you are in daily PTSD mode, and you are the ideal set up for the final fear….the fear of death.
Just like the primordial illusion of separation is present as a given in our early conditioning, an equally life robbing illusion of death has been promoted for the past thousand years by some highly misguided individuals and social institutions. The fear of death is the greatest and most unnecessary stress that I know of. This stress may lead to all of the other ones that we embrace.
The art of living well and the art of dying well are one. If you can practice the normal breath, and then consider a practice of co-creating with your Universe, you will begin to mitigate your stress, and you will begin to feel connected, you will begin to release on your triggering fears, and you will begin to feel good.
You might create an outbreak of wellness.
Signing off from Crestone and Beyond.
- Minding your Meditation…a writing on this website about the value of meditation.
- Documentary Investigates the Causes and Ramifications of Stress Related Burnout…more perspectives on stress.
- Understanding Samskaras in Order to Break Free, Yoga Journal…thoughts and techniques to deal with our vast repository of karmic imprints.
- Challenges of Stress Management
- HPA Axis Supplements Which Support Optimization…a nice and brief summary of well regarded nutritional adrenal adaptogens. Designs for Health has several good supplement formulations which contain the compounds mentioned in this article, namely: 1) Adrenotone, 2) CatecholaCalm, and 3) Mood-Stasis. There are also a number of products which contain 5 HTP, such as 1) NeuroCalm, 2) Insomnitol Chewables, 3) 5HTP Synergy, and 4) 5HTP Supreme.
- Minding your Mitochondria…a writing on this website about the most important thing in our biochemistry to learn how to nourish with food, supplements, and exercise.
- The Myth of Adrenal Fatigue…a nice review by Chris Kresser about the shortcomings of the “adrenal fatigue” descriptive is addressed here with the more accurate designation of HPA-D, which is hypothalamic pituitary axis dysregulation. Causes and solutions are addressed.
- Resilience–A Key to Fulfillment…a 4.5 minute video from the HeartMath Institute about the importance of developing resilience.
- UCLA Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research…under the directorship of George Slavich, Ph.D., this lab is the cutting edge of stress research.