What Causes Stress?
If you or a loved one has been in a chronic state of stress and can’t break out of it, I’m going to share with you a powerful insight that the Chinese discovered over 3,000 years ago. First, let’s break stress down so we can develop an awareness of what it really is. Once you’re crystal clear on what to look for, you can then find the right strategies to handle it!
There are only three kinds of stress. The first is physical stress. What’s physical stress? Things like accidents, injuries, traumas, and falls. Second, we have chemical stress. This includes things like pesticides, heavy metals, toxins, hormonal imbalance, and blood sugar issues. Third and last is emotional stress such as traffic jams, 401K plans, Internet connections, family tragedies, divorce, single parenting, and maybe your job. When these stressors chronically bombard you, they start to break down your body.
Short-term, we can handle it! In fact, we have a life saving system called the fight or flight response, which is an amazing system to have. Why? Because it protects us from danger! Think about this, if you step off a curb and a car is coming right at you, this system turns on immediately. It gets your heart racing and it gets blood flowing to the legs to jump out of the way. Right? You don’t stand there and determine the angle at which the car is coming. You move, and you move fast! This system can even give you superhuman powers. Really! You’ve heard of the scenario where the child who’s stuck under the car and the mother goes and picks the car up just enough to get the child out from underneath it. Right? You can take that same mother, bring her into the gym the next day, and she can’t even budge 1/10 the weight of that car. Why? Because that stress response was not turned on. There was no threat to her survival or her child’s. So this is a life saving system when it’s working correctly.
All animals have this. Let’s say that you watch a zebra running from a tiger, and that stress response turns on and the zebra outruns the tiger. In about 15 minutes that zebra’s stress response is turned off and the zebra is back to grazing like normal – on and off. Humans on the other hand are a whole other story! We can think about the worst-case scenario, and to the exclusion of everything else we can make that thought so real and focus on it to such a degree, that we can cause our body to physiologically change. Our body then perceives that event is happening, and boom, the body gets knocked out of balance because it believes it’s living in that future event. Let’s stop here for a moment to ask you a question: How often do you or others you know get stuck in this place? If you do this often, this is a major fuel source of your stress.
You can also get stuck in a past bitter memory with all those emotions attached to that memory, and just like magic, in that moment, your brain believes it’s living in that past event. When that happens, your body responds as if it’s living in that past event. This is the state of mind that drives the highest amount of stress in the body. So again, “How often do you or someone you care about, get stuck in this cycle of stress?”
Now, just making you aware that this is one of the primary drivers of stress will not really change anything in and of itself. What I have found is that by going deeper into the process of why we do this in the first place, we begin to uncover the seed of these chronic patterns of stress. And by going to the source of these issues, it then begins to give you the opportunity to make profound changes in your health. Why? Because we are addressing the root cause of your chronic stress instead of just the effects.
Would it not be absurd to mow your lawn and say, “Okay! Now that I cut the lawn, I don’t need to cut that again!” Of course you don’t say that! If the seed is still there, you’ll be cutting it again and again every week for the rest of your life. If you want to stop the grass from growing, we all know that you need to kill it at its roots. And more importantly, what feeds the root. If you cut off the feeding source, the root dies. That is what our outcome is. So, let’s break these patterns down to what I like to call the major fuel sources that feed the root of stress.
Stress Fueler #1
This fuel source is the degree that you are stuck in a stress cycle consistent with how much of your attention is focused on past bitter memories or future worries. You’re probably thinking, “No, I’m stressed now!” Yes you are stressed now, but whatever you’re stressed about is probably about a past negative event or a future worry. You may be saying, “Okay you got me there, I get it about the past, but I have to think about the future…” It’s true that you must think about it, but the more you chronically replay a future that generates worry and anxiety, it generates stress in the body NOW!
I learned about this fueler of stress early on when I was training to fight full contact martial arts. I initially had a lot of anxiety about the opponents I had to fight. But once I learned specific strategies – which we now teach patients at our Center every day – I was able to strategize the fight and at the same time not generate worry and anxiety from my thought process. You might be thinking, “Well I’m not going to fight in the ring, so this is not for me. I’m just going to turn this off and listen to some cool music.” However, fighting in the ring is really not much different than the real world when it comes to how the mind responds to the future. Yes, in the ring you get those physical hits. But in life, you get those emotional hits, which often hurt just as bad and sometimes more.
Stress Fueler #2
Your brain cannot differentiate between what is real and what is vividly imagined or perceived. Now you might be thinking, “No, I know the difference!” Well, let’s think about it. Have you ever had a nightmare or a dream that startled you or woke you up in fear or in a sweat? Or have you ever watched a movie that put enough fear in you that in that same evening, you locked the door to your bedroom that you NEVER lock, or you double-check all the doors to the house and you pull up the sheets just enough so you can breath? Remember, your brain cannot differentiate between what is real and what is vividly imagined or perceived.
Stress Fueler #3
This has by far the most profound impact. Your body believes whatever your brain is thinking, as if it’s happening right now. You may be thinking, “My body can’t be that gullible.” But it is!
Let’s illustrate an example. If you’re depressed or angry about a past bitter experience, when do you feel depressed or anger in your body – in the past or in the present? In the present! If you’re worried or anxious about a future event, when do you feel that worry or that anxiety in body? Now! Your body does not know the difference between the past, the future, or the present. It simply believes your brain as if it’s happening when? That’s right, NOW!
And what’s amazing is that the Chinese figured this out over 3,000 years ago. In doing so, they developed very specific strategies and techniques that not only interrupt this process but more importantly support recovery from years of these chronic stress patterns. These principles are not only used in Chinese medicine, but also in a new field of health care called functional medicine. In fact, functional medicine is an evolution of Chinese medicine’s view of looking upstream at diffusing physical, chemical, and emotional stress.
To address these issues, we use strategies such as biomedical acupuncture, diet, lifestyle, exercise, nutrition, along with blood tests, hormone panels and other diagnostic tests your medical doctor would prescribe pharmaceuticals. When you begin to interrupt patterns of stress at the level of what feeds the root cause, you’re dealing less with constantly pulling out those weeds called symptoms, signs, and disease, and you’re dealing more with the direct source!
Here at the Center for Integrative Care, we provide these natural medical modalities along with a new technology called neurofeedback brain training. This technology has a dramatic impact on interrupting stress in the brain.
Now, I’d like to leave you with a simple yet powerful reminder. That is, the quality of your life is the quality of your brain function. Chronic stress has been shown to actually shrink and degenerate the brain. When that happens, the ability to experience life declines. So please, do something not only for yourself, but also for those you care about, who need to hear this information.
If you would like to find out more about how we can assist you or someone you know with specific health concerns, in a safe and effective way, contact our office at (619) 287-4005 to schedule a free consultation with one of our functional medicine specialists where they can answer any questions you have to find out if and how we can help you with your healthcare needs.