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Surviving Stress

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Surviving Stress

Have you ever pushed yourself for so long that you feel as though your resources are depleted and there is little or nothing left to draw on? When stress becomes as much a part of everyday life as breathing and eat.

Have you ever pushed yourself for so long that you feel as though your resources are depleted and there is little or nothing left to draw on?

When stress becomes as much a part of everyday life as breathing and eating, we sometimes feel that we can continue in the long run at the same high intensity level as we use to get through short-term difficulties. But we can only draw on the energy banks of our bodies for so long. We need to do intensive rebuilding. That means rest-and relaxing herbs.

The parasympathetic nervous system’s "rest and digest" mode is when we replenish stores used up in the "fight or flight" reaction. However, long-term, low-level stressors (such as feeling the need to function at our peak performance level on a long-term basis) can keep us in the fight or flight mode more than is healthy for us. In the Chinese way of analyzing, this is an imbalance of excess yang and insufficient yin. In addition, when we are stressed at work or home we can usually neither fight nor flee. The result is tension and frustration.

The Body’s Stress Response

Sympathetic nervous system stimulation causes the brain to produce the hormone norepinephrine. It causes an increase in the rate and strength of our heartbeat and increased blood supply to our muscles. At the same time it constricts blood vessels to decrease blood supply to the digestive system, skin and kidneys. (Historically, if we didn’t manage to run away from our predators fast enough, we would never get the chance to digest our last meal anyway!)

Meanwhile, the adrenal glands produce more of the "stress hormones" epinephrine and norepineprine (previously known as adrenaline and noradrenaline). These have the same effects as the epinephrine from the brain, but the effects last five to 10 times as long.

In addition, they cause blood sugar levels to rise, muscles to use sugar faster to make more energy and increased muscle strength.

Also, our mental activity increases and the internal workings of cells throughout our bodies speed up.

Spending too much time in this state can result in palpitations and/or high blood pressure; panic reactions (from bursts of adrenal over-function); nervous exhaustion (as a tired nervous system becomes over-reactive and "jumpy"); or chronic depletion and exhaustion, even to the extent of chronic fatigue syndrome.

Nervous Imbalance

If we eat when the sympathetic nervous system is dominant, we don’t digest well. We take in less nutrients and produce more toxins. Lower nutrient levels, especially at a time of increased cellular function, depletes the body’s nutrient stores. Increased toxins congest the liver and so reduce its ability to process foods, hormones and other toxins taken in the normal course of modern life. A congested liver tends to cause a sluggish feeling, especially first thing in the morning, dull headaches and irritability or anger.

Stress causes us to become more acidic, which uses up our minerals. Low mineral levels limit the rate of essential biochemical reactions in the body. This reduces our ability to function normally and makes us tired and achy.

Overstressed women may not ovulate, which leads to lower progesterone levels. In turn this can cause a variety of problems, including a shorter time between periods.

In my practice I find that the appropriate homeopathic remedy is often the most useful treatment to refurbish under-active or depleted systems quickly and smoothly, either alone or in combination with a nutrient support. Likewise, homeopathic remedies for the effects of burn-out or those supportive to the individual’s constitution can increase energy and well-being levels wonderfully, depending on which is indicated by the symptoms the person is experiencing.

And of course, attitude is all-important. As Shakespeare said "there’s nothing good nor bad, but thinking makes it so." I have also heard it said that "the first sign of madness is thinking that your job is important." So don’t try to be everything to everybody.

And remember, it takes time to rebuild and rebalance. Be kind and patient with yourself.

Cool The Fire

  1. For the adrenal glands:
    • Licorice gives excellent adrenal support, but should not be taken by people with high blood pressure. It also has a diuretic effect, lowering potassium levels, so eat a banana or two per day.
    • Vitamin C is used up faster in times of stress, but less so when vitamin B5 is added. Vitamin B3 has been shown to reduce ulcers in lab rats. So 1,000 mg of vitamin C three times a day and a B-complex high in B3 and B5 once or twice a day are beneficial.
    • Borage has antidepressant and anti-inflammatory effects in addition to increasing energy levels and immunity. Ginseng is a stronger adrenal stimulant. If using ginseng it is important to get the right kind for your symptoms: Korean (red) ginseng is more yang, Siberian and American ginsengs are more yin.
  2. For the thyroid gland:
    • Kelp is important because of its iodine content.
    • Bladderwrack has a particularly special affinity for the thyroid.
    • Zinc can also be important as its activity in the body is reduced when the thyroid is underactive.
  3. For the nervous system:
    • B vitamins
    • Herbs such as valerian, hops, passion flower, vervain, lemon balm and catnip. These herbs can cause a relaxed and drowsy state, so it is best to take these before bed to feed the nervous system while you sleep.
  4. For excess acidity in the body:
    • Increase vegetable intake, drink vegetable broths or greens drinks and use mineral supplements. The effect of taking these is generally centering and calming. Organic vegetables are best due to their higher mineral levels.
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