We all have stress, the natural body response to protect itself when assessing unsafe situations. Forms of stress are primal instincts to protect ourselves from danger, so what happens when you are forced to live within danger for longer periods of time, magnifying negative and chronic stress?
When living in chronic stressful situations, that tip the scale to survival mode, noticeable changes in the body will begin to happen such as stomach upsets, hives and constant dry mouth. This is the brain’s way of saying, “Stop! I can’t take it anymore.” and in retaliation organs of the body begin to malfunction, immunity dwindles and the nervous system becomes unbalanced.
This is because the consistent high cortisol levels flowing through the body are moving toward the brain and muscles (fight or flight mode) and away from the digestive tract. The body doesn’t feel digestion is important in these conditions and will actually put digestion on “rest mode.” When your body becomes unbalanced your “good” gut bacteria becomes compromised. When there is not enough good bacteria in the body immunity defenses are minimized. Your brain’s main source of food is derived from the gut, in simple terms, when compromised with bad bacteria your brain is becoming malnurtured.
The brain is not equipped to handle high levels of stress on a consistent basis. High cortisol levels harm the hippocampus of the brain (memory center) and when a part of your brain isn’t able to function properly other parts of the body are going to begin malfunctioning. Think of your body as a car. If a car begins to break down and is not fixed what happens? Other parts of the car begin to not work properly.
The fact is, our bodies aren’t built for long term stressful situations. Being able to access your situation and taking action can save your life, literally. This type of stress has been known to, but not limited to, cause everything from breakouts, to leaky gut, arthritis, ulcers, thyroid, auto-immune disorders, Alzheimer’s, dementia, high blood pressure, heart problems and cancer.
It’s been a year since I’ve started the BBLC (Brain Boosting Lifestyle Change), a healthy way to fight depression naturally, elevate memory, regulate gut and the list goes on. By changing what I put in my body, amount of sleep and daily activity to name a few, I have been able to beat depression naturally and live a healthier life everyday. I felt like the BBLC works even under a “basic” chronic stress environment… until the scale tipped.
Then, the stressful environment upped the ante on me and I needed more help gaining control and helping my brain and body stay balanced.
I first noticed increased symptoms of dry mouth and some loss of taste. With Covid jumping around I became slightly concerned with the “lost of taste” symptom… However when I researched further I found evidence of other stress symptoms (along with the dry mouth). My rosacea was kicking in overdrive, breakouts and dry patches began covering my cheeks. My stomach began to cramp and loss of appetite became common. I knew and understood from research that I could be headed toward more serious health concerns.
From my studies on the brain through informative books and podcasts from the professionals, I knew I could probably ease these symptoms if I could re- regulate my gut. The extremities of the elevated stress were knocking my gut bacteria off balance, even while eating healthy, less processed and the eighty/twenty mantra (eighty percent unprocessed natural foods/ twenty percent processed). My brain needed help and it was communicating this with uncomfortable changes in the body. Never ignore your body changes, they are happening because of imbalance and I will repeat it again, this is your brain’s way of screaming, “Something isn’t right! I need help!”
In hindsight, adding some stress fighting foods and workouts is a lot cheaper than mounting doctor or hospital visits later.
I know I do not want to go down that path and I’m hoping you don’t either.
Let’s all choose the path which tries to avoid body breakdown.
So now, how do we do that?
I googled and read all the options of prebiotic foods, probiotic foods, herbs and spices that help fight stress and regulate the gut. Since the brain gets most of its power and strength, to balance the rest of the body, through the gut, this is always the best place to start when trying to stay healthy.
The tricky thing about the gut, is all people and gut bacteria are different. So, what might work for one person might not work for another. It might be some trial and error.
I’m going to start off with a list of my normal routine, care of BBLC, and then how I tweaked it to regulate my normal, healthy gut during this chronic, stressful time in my life. Hopefully this list will help guide you to beat the stress that is hijacking your health and keep you on a healthier path to wellness.
BBLC: Eating Process Less: Think of an 80/20 lifestyle change. Eighty percent of what you eat is non-processed and natural and twenty percent are things like coffee, condiments, snacks etc. The more organic you are able to go the better. (‘Regular’ United States’ food products are often loaded with harmful additives and overly processed. These then tend to knock your gut balance off and cause other health problems. Read labels, knowledge and moderation is key.)
Tipping The Stress Scale: I added organic (grass fed is best) probiotic yogurt everyday and banana, a prebiotic. I also add fermented food every week such as sauerkraut. I try to add as many prebiotic foods and probiotic foods into my weekly diet to provide additional help to the gut regulation. Print a list and hang it on your refrigerator if you think it will help.
BBLC: Add Fighting Spices: Spices are my glitter. A rack of organic spices literally excites me like a chicken finding a cob of corn. From cinnamon to turmeric, I can’t express enough how powerful spices are for your brain and body. The health benefits are endless. Add them to EVERYTHING.
Tipping The Stress Scale: I’ve begun adding teas in my daily ritual (with spices) that help the stomach, gut, stress and immune system. Ginger, lavender, cinnamon, peppermint,elderberry, rosemary etc. You can also add these spices to dishes along with dill, caraway and fennel.
BBLC: Drink Lots of Water: Your body is made of about sixty percent of water and needs to be continuously hydrated to thrive. Drinking lots of water helps flush harmful toxins out of the body and keeps your body hydrated.
Tipping The Stress Scale: I didn’t think it was possible that I could drink any more water, I feel like I drink a gallon a day (which I probably do, one reason I was confused by ‘dry mouth’) Here’s what I learned in addition to stress: Your brain is about three-quarters water. You are constantly soaking up water like a sponge during stress because your heart rate is up and your breathing more rapidly (rather if your realize it or not) Without enough water for the brain, stress heightens, headaches (migraines), sleep issues, tiredness and loss of mental clarity can occur. Try buying some waters with minerals such as Smart Water or using drops like RAE Hydration Drops which contain electrolytes. Don’t drink water with added sugar or coloring. (While keeping your body hydrated it is important to make sure your body’s sodium levels stay balanced <or you could end up in the hospital> if you are flushing much needed sodium levels from the body. Mineral and electrolyte waters along with eating balanced meals will keep this from happening.)
BBLC: Vitamins: I take flaxseed (though I eat it everyday too), D, B, 5HTP, Ginkgo, and collagen (vegan). After having bloodwork done, ask your doctor what vitamins you might need. The wonderful thing about vitamins is usually your body will naturally expose what it doesn’t need. Reach for organic products and check hidden ingredients on all labels so you know exactly what you are putting in your body on a daily basis.
Tipping The Stress Scale: Vitamins can be very important during stress to ensure your body is getting what it needs when loss of appetite arises and digestive track suffers. I now add vitamins such as a probiotic, elderberry (boost immunity), Holy Basil (stress & anxiety reducer) and I also heard one of the best for the gut is Equilibrium Probiotic, though I have not personally tried it yet. If you have a history of health problems it’s best to check with your doctor before adding these vitamins into your routine.
BBLC: Lessen or Eliminate Alcohol: As history shows I love a nice glass of dry red wine more than anyone but in early stages of the lifestyle change I knew a bottle a night was just a little too much. (Eek!) It was my stress relief go to and a horrible habit I had to break. Luckily, with the guidance of Dr Amen’s book Change Your Brain Change Your Life, I was able to teach myself how to form new habits. The truth is, alcohol reduces blood flow to the brain and in doing so it is inhibiting some good brain power. It also causes us to make other unhealthy choices like snacking and overeating unhealthy food options. Moderation and limiting yourself is key.
Tipping The Stress Scale: For those (like me) who have relied on alcohol as a stress reducer, partaking in more alcohol during stressful times can be a spiraling downfall. Your brain will begin relying on this as your stress reducer and you will continuously drink more to receive the same desired effect. This will lead to bad sleep, weight gain, liver damage and dependency among other things. Take control of this early on and limit yourself to one drink during dinner or two to three hours before bedtime so you can still get good rest. Tread lightly when around alcohol during chronic stress.
BBLC: Lessen Coffee Intake: Like wine in the pm, I love my coffee in the am. There is nothing like the smell of fresh brewing coffee to start my morning. However, I’ve learned to limit myself to one cup a day. While the coffee itself has found to have some positive health benefits, the caffeine dehydrates you and causes lack of oxygen to the brain.
Tipping The Stress Scale: Like alcohol, I didn’t think I could drink any “less” coffee then what I had changed for the BBLC. However, since the stress and anxiety have worsened coffee easily throws my blood sugar levels off and gives me the shakes. I’ve minimized it to a smaller cup a day or half a mega mug.( “I like big mugs and I can not lie.”) and then substitute for tea for the rest of the day. (which has lots of health benefits and you can even buy herbal teas geared toward stress, added probiotics and help boost immunity.) Additionally, coffee dehydrates you so if you are already dealing with symptoms such as dry mouth or stomach issues it’s likely to add to these problems.
BBLC: Get Enough Sleep: Getting enough sleep is crucial for the brain to function properly. Lack of sleep causes irritability, depression, over eating etc. To help regulate my sleep I began taking 5HTP with B in the morning and a melatonin at night (As recommended by Michael Breus, PHD on The Genius Life interview with Max Lugavere) I Also usually have a cup of chamomile tea, sometimes with lavender before bed. Other things that can help is hot bath and relaxation music. Room temps also matter and 68 degrees is the magic number.
Tipping The Stress Scale: To work at staying sane while extreme stress it is important to get the rest you need. Without proper rest depression can kick in, struggle with higher levels of irritability, immunity breaks down and the list goes on. While all these things also happen without being under chronic stress, the imbalance is higher under extreme stress. It’s also important to not get too much sleep, which leaves the body sluggish and the mind tired. The right amount of sleep for an adult is an average of seven to eight hours of sleep a day. If the above regiment isn’t working to turn your mind off, try guided meditation or hot bath. If you can’t fall asleep in your bed after about twenty minutes do something low key like reading (from a book or magazine – no cell phones) while sipping on some hot tea until you begin feeling tired.
BBLC: Keep A Daily Activity Routine: At least thirty minutes of high intense activity has benefits such as eliminating stress, warding off depression and improving memory.
Tipping The Stress Scale: While activity is really important to keep the brain balanced and the body healthy I understand how a daily routine can suddenly become a real struggle. During chronic stress, the body is constantly in survival mode which can make you feel more broken down and beaten after a completely normal, essential task. The next section, Finding Weekly Motivation, can assist in trying to lift your spirits and keep your body active. Some days it will take some real Mind Over Body Power so keep your expectations lower and you will be rewarded higher when completing a longer brisk walk for the day. Also, consider taking on Thai Chi or Yoga through somewhere local or find a Youtube mentor. These types of workouts are proven to reduce stress.
BBLC: Finding Weekly Inspirational Motivation: With inspirational books, podcasts, people, religion, the possibilities are endless, you are activating the happy chemicals in your brain because you are creating a reward system for yourself. Dopamine levels actually heighten when you are kind and inspired.
Tipping The Stress Scale: Add to your motivation with inspirational quotes around your home, car and workplace. (I keep them in my closet so I see them in the morning when I get dressed.) Listening and seeking inspiration becomes more difficult as you shut down to survival mode so you want to clearly place ‘words of motivation’ in areas you can’t ignore. If or when you have darker days make sure to reach out to family and friends for support. Do not feel shame or embarrassment for asking for help. They’re help can keep you from floating into a dark depression. If you don’t feel you have friends or family then find online or local support groups who are also going through similar situations and can relate to the stress. It’s also good to find a professional therapist where you can seek guidance and stay on a positive path. Shop around for a therapist and find a professional that understands and specializes in what you are dealing with.
Lastly, find an escape strategy and plan from your chronic stress. Living in chronic stress is slowly killing yourself. Planning how to come out from your situation by finding positive aspects for the future is crucial in staying in an optimistic mind frame. Make a dream board of plans for the future, a travel bucket list or a goal chart to allow your mind to escape the darkness and turn on some light. If you can’t see a boat in miles of ocean you feel alone and begin wondering if you can actually survive. Give yourself a boat.
Feeling alone in chronic stress is common but you are not alone. There are ways to rise above, stay healthy and choose a sunny path to guide you through the darkness. As my new motto has become, “ ‘Lax, Peace, Release Positivity. Breathe and repeat, “ I know you will find a good motto too and until you do, you are welcome to use mine. You’ve got this.
(I am not a licensed professional and all knowledge is based on my experiences and personal research. I recommend any changes in your health or diet should be approved by your doctor)