Stress - Striking the Right Balance
When spoken colloquially, the words “I’m stressed” are seldom meant in a positive light. The truth is, stress is neutral in the sense that it is made up of eustress and distress. Eustress is the type that has a positive outcome and propels us forward. Distress is the type we want to avoid as it is corrosive and debilitating. As such, the right amount of stress in our lives is a good thing, as long as it’s the right type! Trying to avoid stress is neither smart nor desirable. How we go about striking the right balance is as important as the results we hope to achieve. To make headway, the conversation has to cover a better understanding of stress, attitudes, lifestyles and 21st century living.
Opportunities to get stressed are easy to come by in a world where stimulation is everywhere. Besides the old types of stimulation that lead to stress we have more environmental and technological age stress, borne of the times we live in. Whatever kind of stress you are under the Hans Selye General Adaptation Syndrome (G.A.S) is a good model to use to understand how the body responds. It divides the experience into three steps, the alarm stage, the resistance stage and the exhaustion stage. Going through all three of these stages is exhaustive and consumptive of the body’s resources. The ability to recognise what stage you’re at in the syndrome is helpful to enable remedial action.
Before we can get to the solutions though, it is important to note that part of the challenge is that with so much going on in our lives we don’t always check-in with our stress levels. This makes it easier to flip from a useful level of stress to chronic distress. Besides the pain and suffering stress causes, science is now confirming the effects it has on genetics1, and it is not good. Stress incites an inflammatory response from the body acutely and chronically. The more it is left untended the worse it becomes through its ability to influence inflammatory gene expression long-term.
In searching for a solution it is important to use a variety of tools and make sure they are a good fit for your lifestyle and ability. Oftentimes we take the maxim that, more is always better and apply it to finding solutions. A key distinction with stress is that doing less can be equally beneficial and is often the better remedy. Reducing extraneous stimulus when we are stressed is also important as we only have one central nervous system to manage every type of stress. In other words, sometimes we suffer because we like to compartmentalise the stress in our lives, particularly when we don’t check-in with how we feel as often as we should.
Striking the right balance from my naturopathic perspective, involves using any kind of physical, mental and personal development tool available. All in all, these measures aim to help facilitate change. A useful tool in this regard is a change in biochemistry. This is where the use of adaptogens2 is highly effective. The beauty of adaptogens is that they are described as having intelligence, they have the ability to tilt the nervous system towards balance irrespective of the degree of under or over functioning it may be experiencing. Furthermore, if used continuously adaptogens will help build resilience and increased adaptability.
Alongside adaptogens, getting back to nature and freeing our minds of the mental clutter we carry about ourselves is invaluable. More scientific literature is also confirming theeffectiveness of music3 and physical exercise4 as curative when it comes to dealing with stress. The way I understand their usefulness is aptly described by David Allen the creator of the Getting Things Done methodology. According to David, to be successful at managing tasks and life, it is key to get everything out of your head, in order to create psychic space. Space to relax, reflect, be creative and ultimately be at peace with oneself and pursue balance.
It is noteworthy that as individual as we are, we have differing constitutions and different abilities to cope with stress. What is stressful for person A may be commonplace for person B and therefore lead to different responses. The starting point for all of us is being sensitive enough of our own thresholds and being able to reach for the appropriate tool to help us find that balance again.
Note - Previously published on IAMYIAM Blog.
1 Powella D, Sloan E, Bailey M, Arevalo J, Miller G, Chen E, Kobor M, Reader B, Sheridan J, Cole S. Social stress up-regulates inflammatory gene expression in the leukocyte transcriptome via B-adrenergic induction of myelopoiesis, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2013.
2 Brekhman, I. I.; Dardymov, I. V. (1969). "New Substances of Plant Origin which Increase Nonspecific Resistance". Annual Review of Pharmacology 9: 419–430. doi:10.1146/ annurev.pa.09.040169.002223. PMID 4892434.
3 Knight W, Rickard N. Relaxing Music Prevents Stress-Induced Increases in Subjective Anxiety, Systolic Blood Pressure, and Heart Rate in Healthy Males and Females, Journal of Music Therapy, 2001.
4 Schoenfeld T, Rada P, Pieruzzini P, Hsueh B, Gould E. Physical Exercise Prevents Stress- Induced Activation of Granule Neurons and Enhances Local Inhibitory Mechanisms in the Dentate Gyrus, Journal of Neuroscience, 2013.