There was a time when a search for a topic would display the number of search results available. You could then narrow down the search results to find information closer to your needs. Apparently, Google sees no need to continue that practice. Needless to say, I’ll bet there’s a lot.
But searching for “stress” led to a few unique subtopics, from management, causes, types, stress by work or home, and so forth.
I found a definition that made sense to me.
“Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.”
Sounds reasonable. But I will tell you a secret.
Nothing outside of you is stress.
You can’t walk into a room, point to something and declare, “That’s stress. No, stress is over here.” The snake that frightens you, others will pick up and wear around their necks. I know people terrified of spiders, even the smallest ones. Yet in Australia there are these monsters called Huntsman Spiders that are the size of a dinner plate. They hang on the walls and ceilings. Aussies aren’t concerned about them at all.
Stress is a condition you create. It is a reaction to your environment.
Let’s give an example. You’re at work, trying to finish a task. You’re interrupted by several coworkers who need help finishing their tasks. Energy in the workplace is electric. You’re wrung out already and still trying to do 11 different things.
Then the boss appears and needs an update.
Let’s talk about how this scenario affects most people. The appearance of the supervisor adds a new level of tension to an already frenetic situation. The brain senses impending doom. Sights and sounds interpreted by your brain equate to an attack. A threat. The equivalent to the caveman’s saber-toothed tiger. The brain sends a frequency to several places at once. The first recipient is the Vagus nerve, which goes on high alert. The second location is a series of glands at the bottom of the brain. It’s their job to create homeostasis, or peaceful balance. The brain tells the hippocampus the situation, which alerts the pituitary to change the output levels of numerous glands throughout the body.
The primary set of glands is the adrenals. They sit over the kidneys and produce a number of corticosteroids and stress hormones, namely epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol. When these are released, the body prepares for fight or flight.
It is important to take a moment here to explain the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). It operates mostly on its own unless interrupted by new signals from the brain. It is chiefly composed of two parts, the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). The SNS is our fight or flight mode. Several physiological changes occur in the body to prepare for fighting, which I’ll get to in a minute. The PNS is called the rest and digest mode. It operates in homeostasis until the ANS switches over to the SNS side of the equation.
Genetically, our ANS is supposed to operate like such. You see a tiger, the brain alerts the ANS to switch from PNS to SNS, you fight or run or climb a tree. If you survive, the ANS switches back to PNS and you go back to normal operation.
The PNS keeps all functions of the body operating smoothly, like digestion and the immune system. When called upon to fight or run, digestion and immune functions are turned off. Energy is needed for survival. Let’s face it, if you’ve just eaten some berries when you see that tiger, failing to outrun the tiger will make digesting the berries moot. Same with the immune system. If you’re fighting a cold when the tiger appears, if you don’t win the fight with the tiger, your head cold simply no longer matters.
Now let’s add the Vagus nerve to the equation. It helps the ANS perform the functions of switching back and forth from PNS to SNS and back. When it is on alert, it causes the diaphragm to lock up. It causes digestion and the immune system to halt activity. The Vagus nerve is the largest nerve in the body and connects the gut to the brain. Ever notice that drawings of the intestines look like drawings of the brain? It’s the feeling mind while the brain is the thinking mind.
Where do you feel emotions? Anger, fear, hurt, dread, embarrassment, remorse, guilt? In the gut. The Vagus nerve connects the FEELING mind to the THINKING mind. But when the tiger appears, this connection is severed.
In the workplace situation I’ve described, all hell is breaking loose. Your brain tells the hippocampus to tell the pituitary to send all the rest of the glands into high gear. The adrenals dump out substantial amounts of stress hormones, the liver dumps sugar into the bloodstream. (Sugar is the favored fuel for muscles, and you’ll need a lot of it to “outrun your tiger-boss”) Vision narrows, breathing becomes shallow and rapid, auditory blocking occurs. Digestion and the immune system are shut down. You are in full fight mode now. You’ve gone Hulk mode. Except it’s just the boss. What do you do?
This is where the adrenals come in, and why we get sick.
The adrenals are supposed to be a bucket. You’re moving along in your day, nothing serious. Then suddenly something happens, like a kid runs out in front of your car. The adrenals dump massive amounts of adrenaline and cortisol into your system. You react like a ninja. You steer the car just enough, brake just enough, give it just enough gas, and narrowly escape hitting the kid.
A block down the road, your legs start shaking and you start having trouble breathing. This is because adrenaline is very acidic and caustic. It will burn up your muscles. Your muscles are now filled with adrenaline and sugar. It must be burned off, so you start shaking. Your Vagus nerve has shut down your diaphragm, so your breathing has become shallow, or has even stopped altogether. You burn off all the excess hormones and go back to normal life. In ancient times, you would run very fast and fight very hard for your existence. This would burn off all the adrenaline. Ever hear those stories about women who pull a car off their kid? I once read a story about a woman who pulled a concrete bollard out of the ground to fight off a shark that had grabbed her kid at a beach. That’s adrenaline in action.
But at the office, there are no cars or bollards. It’s just an uncomfortable conversation. No one to fight or run from. But your digestion and immune system have shut off just the same. When the boss leaves, you are still on high alert, and still have to go back to performing several tasks at once, pleasing everyone at work all at the same time. No break for the adrenals. They have just converted from a bucket to a faucet.
If the adrenals are running all the time, and your breathing, digestion, and immune system are always shut down, what does this mean for your health?
This is why there are so many articles on Google about stress and your health.
Running your adrenals like a faucet will destroy your digestion, your immune function, your breathing, and burn your muscles up. Eventually, your adrenal glands will just give out. Just like your pancreas will give out when you eat processed sugar all day.
Speaking of food, this adds another wrinkle to our situation.
I wrote previously about the four horsemen of the food apocalypse.
Fake flour, fake sugar, fake oils, and fake flavoring and preservatives comprise all manufactured foods – despite how healthy the label says they are.
If you are stressed all day, and begin stress eating, and you are eating junk processed foods, your body is fighting too fronts at once.
These fake chemicals hit the bloodstream when absorbed through the small intestine (remember that second brain I mentioned earlier?). The body does not recognize these chemicals and considers them a foreign invasion (because they are). Then the body mounts an immune response to the food you just ate, and after that Hostess fruit pie, you go right back to the environment that caused you to react with a stress response. This immune response results in inflammation, which is how the body responds to injury or invasion. The body endures systemic inflammation until something breaks down.
This is where mindfulness comes in.
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing your awareness on where you are, and what you are doing, and what is happening within and without you.
Start by focusing on your breathing. Don’t hold the breath, count the breath, or try to establish any pattern. Simply be mindful of how the air feels while moving through your body. Aim the incoming air to a place referred to in Chinese medicine and martial arts as the Dan Tien. Dan Tien means elixir field, or sea of energy. Think of it as a balloon between your belly button and pubic bone and in the middle of your body, directly in front of the spine. As you inhale, the balloon grows bigger, and your lower belly expands. As you release your breath and empty the lungs you will notice your belly moves softly towards the spine.
Breathe through your nose only, and take your inhale across the top of your sinuses and down the back of your throat. Do this by moving the base of your tongue slightly. When done correctly, you will hear the sound of the wind moving through the middle of your brain.
Breathing this way activates the diaphragm, which then sedates the Vagus nerve. You may notice your nervous system calming down almost immediately. As the air moves across the top of the sinuses, it activates the olfactory nerve. The olfactory nerve runs to the middle of the brain without going through the spinal cord. It passes those six glands at the bottom of the brain which tell the body how to behave as a result of how your mind interprets your surroundings.
Continue to breathe this way until you feel calm again.
There’s so much more to this. I'll get to it in time.
In every Tai Chi class, we perform this simple meditation. Then I add things to it to make it even more powerful and stress-reducing. After a few minutes, we begin our practice. The body and mind are now connected and act as one. The mind is aware of the body, the breath is centered, and all other distractions are forgotten.
There’s more to this lecture, I mean, -- uh, article. These are the things I teach my clients. How to deal with environments that cause us to stress out. How to deal with feeling like a victim, like the world is out to get us. How to get out the trunk of victimhood and become empowered to take the wheel and steer our vehicle down the highway of life with purpose.
Your adrenals are supposed to be like a bucket, not a faucet. While allopathic medicine doesn’t yet recognize it, alternative health sources are becoming increasingly aware of a condition called Adrenal Exhaustion, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome.
Symptoms include feeling tired regardless of amount of sleep, digestive problems, trouble breathing or pain in the shoulder girdle or sides of the chest, consistent sickness or colds, and some autoimmune disorder symptoms.
Return your adrenals to their rightful function in your body. Let your body heal.
I’ll write more about this. I think I’ve bored you long enough, my dear reader. Thank you for sticking around this long.
Joe “Weeg” Weigant is a Holistic Health Practitioner, Metaphysician, and Empowerment Coach. He combines bodywork, energy work, and coaching to relieve anxiety and depression and balance the nervous system. Weeg coaches his clients to drop the white flag of victimhood and pick up the banner of empowerment, inspiring them to stop riding in life’s trunk and take the wheel of their lives.
Weeg sells herbal products by Nature’s Sunshine, Pure Herbs Ltd. and Juice Plus. He teaches Karate and Tai Chi, Reiki Certification, as well as seminars and workshops in metaphysical and spiritual matters. Weeg is available for sessions at Tri State Holistic Wellness by appointment only.
Contact by text 812.568.5356, or Facebook Messenger to set an appointment.