According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, stress is a “state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life, work, etc.; something that causes strong feelings of worry or anxiety; a physical force or pressure.” Stress is a feeling of being out of control, overwhelmed and unable to make changes. You may feel on edge and tend to react rather than respond to situations. If this has gone on for years you may not remember what peace and contentment feel like. Do you know anyone who is close to the breaking point? By this I mean someone who loses control over the smallest irritations with exaggerated results?
Often we think of this as an adult problem because of our responsibilities in life, our jobs, school, bill payments and family commitments. However, this can affect children too. If parents are stressed, children pick up that energy and are helpless to change it.
Often these feelings of stress and anxiety are felt in the neck and shoulders, solar plexus or stomach area of the body. This may be present in the form of headaches, neck tension, digestive problems, pain in joints and muscles. Stress can lead to inflammation in the body causing pain. It can also cause hair loss and skin irritations. It is not just your brain that is stressed. It is your entire physical, mental and emotional being that is stressed.
Stress can lead to fatigue. Do you have enough energy to live the life you want? To fully enjoy your kids, your friends? Fatigue is often associated with poor sleep or insufficient sleep. Initially, most of my clients fall into one of three categories.
- They may have difficulty falling asleep.
- They fall asleep easily but wake frequently finding it necessary to make multiple trips to the bathroom.
- They fall sleep easily and stay asleep. However, they find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning and lack energy during the day.
The problem as I see it, is long term stress on the body causes high cortisol levels making it difficult to relax.
Cortisol is referred to as the stress hormone. High cortisol levels over a period of time affect adrenal and thyroid function decreasing metabolism and causing us to put extra weight around the middle. It also keeps us awake at night. This effects our digestion making it more difficult for us to absorb the nutrients in our diet. This is associated with certain vitamin and minerals deficiencies causing further hormone imbalances. One of these hormones is melatonin, the sleep hormone.
Melatonin plays a major role in our circadian rhythms regulating the balance of many other hormones. Melatonin is a major antioxidant, has anti-inflammatory properties and supports our immunity. I am not suggesting you take melatonin as a supplement although many do and find it helpful. This is a simplistic approach that does not address the many factors involved.
My approach is to help your body make the hormones and enzymes that run the chemical reactions to support organ systems for greater balance to improve sleep, increase energy and well being. Where there is chronic stress there is fatigue. Where there is fatigue there is often depression. Good quality sleep is important for the brain to work effectively. If you have long term sleep issues it is likely all that information that is collected during the day is not filed properly and when you wake up the files are chaotic and unsorted. I found this out as a student. There was a period of time when my sleep was very light or non- existent. After I dragged myself out of bed in the morning, my memory was poor and I found it difficult to access the information I had been studying the night before. When you have a good sleep it is like the filing fairies come in during the night and organize that information so you have access to it the next day. Our creative processes need a rested brain. Foggy brains are not creative or focused. If you experience any part of this cycle there are ways to change this pattern and live a better quality of life.
Where to Start?
Fatigue, stress and depression are all connected. To break the cycle, we must start at the level of the digestive track. Yet, diet is not the first change I suggest for my clients. I find that most people experiencing this cycle do not have the energy or the interest to make major diet changes. In 2-3 months they are usually asking the question, “What about diet?” At this point, they have the interest and the energy to take the next step. They are thinking differently. Most new clients fear their naturopathic doctor will first make them change their diet and this is too daunting for someone who is already stressed, tired and depressed.
Breaking the Cycle of Stress, Fatigue and Depression
My approach is to do a gentle elimination of harmful bacteria, viruses and Candida in the body over several weeks. I refer to these pathogens as the “road blocks” to the chemical reactions in the body. By using certain supplements your body can eliminate these pathogens that can cause high stress levels. In time, many experience improved sleep, decreased perception of stress in their lives, improved mood and greater interest in their daily lives. This also helps decrease pain and inflammation in the body thereby decreasing potential for disease in the future.
Our health is something we must continually be aware of and strive for improvement. Our environment has many pathogens and toxic chemicals that we take on unknowingly. Ideally, we want to support our body to eliminate, that which does
not support us physically, mentally and emotionally.
How do we maintain good health? First, strive to feel good so you have an idea of what better health feels like. If you feel “off” talk this over with your naturopathic
physician to see where you might make changes to improve how you feel physically, mentally and emotionally. Often, a small, easy change can make all the difference.