“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare”
—Audre Lorde, A Burst of Light
We’ve all experienced it, those feelings of undeserving. Where instead of thinking of what I need to do to make myself better, I start thinking of all the things I’ve been neglecting, or all the other people I should be helping. Or even perhaps you’ve experienced those dark convoluted thoughts that whisper, “I’m not worth it.” The reality is we are not equipped to take care of others until we first acknowledge, prioritize and have compassion for ourselves.
If you’ve been following along, you know I have personally battled with those feelings. I pushed myself aside for over twenty years ignoring signs of stress that manifested as severe migraines. I suffered in silence, because I was ashamed of myself for not being able to help myself.
This self-sabotaging stigma is not new, this belief that says maybe we should stop focusing on ourselves for once. That’s the culture I grew-up in. And I believe because many of us grew up learning, that to take care of yourself is to be selfish.
While there have been great strides in transforming this attitude, it is still deeply ingrained within our culture.
YOU CAN’T POUR FROM AN EMPTY CUP
We’ve all heard the saying before. I challenge you to sit and reflect on those moments where you haven’t been eating well or your sleep is off. Perhaps you snapped at someone? Felt nauseous or bloated? Or experience chronic migraines? All these seemingly isolated events build up as stress in your body. It leaves you unable to be the best version of yourself. I’ve personally struggled with how I was raised versus what I know as a healer: putting the individual first is the key to true healing.
According to the Pew Research Center, more millennials report making an investment in personal care and commitments than any generation before them. They spend twice as much as boomers on self-care essentials. Meaning workout regimes, diet plans, life coaching, therapy and even apps to improve their personal well-being. And it’s all this good stuff that I call self-care:
C: Clean Eating
A: Adequate Sleep
R: Reducing Stress
Here’s the catch: These activities will of course make a general positive impact on your health, but to actually understand the why will require more. If you really want to know why you are experiencing fatigue, sleep issues, focus issues, digestive issues, immunity deficiencies, fertility issues… these acts will not reverse them, and you will continue every day perpetually fighting-off the symptoms of those issues as opposed to understanding why they are there to begin with.
Today self-care is an assumption that says we’re okay, we just need to take care of ourselves. The reality? Self-care alone is not enough. You need to have an openness and willingness to put yourself first. It’s the realization that self-care and self-awareness equals self-love and healing.
UNDERSTANDING STRESS PATTERNS
Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or change. This means that there are many different forms and types of stress. The most commonly associated events of stress would be a death, divorce, or a big move. But there are also many stressors that we overlook or push aside. Such as not getting enough sleep, eating too much sugar, exposing our body to inflammatory foods, or even the toxins exposed in our environment or our personal care products.
It wasn’t until I became a doula and a midwife that I first understood the effects of stress. What I found most interesting was that stress is actually necessary for labor to progress effectively. That’s when the contradiction struck me most, the irony being that in order to properly harness stress we need an equal or appropriate balance of support to that stress.
There is this strange belief that we are supposed to channel a super human quality and ignore stress. But we’re not robots or machines. We are human. Not only is stress inevitable it is a necessary response. And you can learn how to harness stress to empower you, but it starts with acknowledging and understanding its existence and purpose.
THE THREE STAGES OF SELYE’S THEORY
Hans Selye was a Hungarian endocrinologist, who was the first person to give a scientific explanation for biological stress. Selye also explained the three-stage bodily response everyone experiences when exposed to stress.
STAGE 1: ALARM
- Upon interaction with a stressor, your body will react with a “fight-or-flight” response and your sympathetic nervous system will activate.
- Stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline will release into the bloodstream to meet the “threat or danger.”
- Your body’s resources mobilize.
STAGE 2: RESISTANCE
- Your blood glucose levels will remain high.
- Cortisol and adrenaline will continue to circulate at elevated levels, even if by outward appearances you feel “normal.”
- This in turn may increase your heart rate, blood pressure and/or breathing.
- Your body remains hyper-alert.
STAGE 3: EXHAUSTION
- If this stressor continues beyond the resources deployed by your body, you become exhausted.
- This leaves you more susceptible to health issues, diseases and even a shorter life.
WHERE IT FALLS SHORT
The problem with Selye’s Theory is that it really doesn’t help anyone to look at a generalized model of how stress affects the body over time, because everybody is unique in terms of how and when they progress through these stages. That’s why this model isn’t helpful clinically, because there are key distinctions that need to be identified in order to get the most benefit for patients. We need a cross-sectional view of how stress is affecting you. And to get that, we need to measure your cortisol and adrenaline levels at this point in time.
Can you believe that we didn’t even have adrenaline or neurotransmitter testing until around 2004? And most practitioners still don’t check adrenaline levels. Yet both cortisol and adrenaline are an integral component in our body’s reaction to stress. It’s no wonder the generally practiced approach to treating stress is ineffective.
WHAT I DO DIFFERENT
The first key difference in my approach to treating and helping patients heal is by putting focus on the individual. The second is identifying where each individual’s cortisol, neurotransmitter, and adrenaline levels are at this moment in time. It’s by conducting these tests that “stress patterns” emerge and you can begin to understand why this is happening.
How your body in particular responds to stress and goes to a certain pattern of cortisol and adrenaline levels is based on your genetics and your stress exposure. So these are completely unique stress patterns – different people under similar stress may even end up in an entirely different place.
By knowing your stress pattern, or what I refer to as your stress type, it’s much easier to address what your body actually needs in order to recover from stress. So that you find yourself feeling like a stress warrior, resilient and charged as opposed to drained, exhausted, and showing symptoms of other issues.
During my healing journey, I realized how improperly educated we are on how stress manifests in the body. I was fueled to create my own method because there is no one-way fits all approach.
When we understand how stress affects each one of us, we can begin to make modifications to increase our resiliency to stress.
NOT A MAGIC-PILL APPROACH
It’s important to re-frame your approach to addressing your health. We cannot be our best without investing in and having compassion for ourselves. There has to be a genuine desire and willingness to explore what internal and external stressors are affecting you.
Feeling your best will mean having to work through the things that don’t align with your body’s optimal health. Learning how to heal means treating the cause and not just the symptoms.
These are my critical steps into understanding how to heal your body:
- Understanding how stress is affecting you as an individual based on your stress type.
- Analyzing genetics and stress patterns related to cortisol, adrenaline, and relative vitamin deficiencies, as well as hormone and microbiome imbalances.
- Implement a personalized phase approach to rebalance your cortisol and adrenaline, and build your body’s resilience level.
- Building the blueprint for health success on a daily basis to maintain your health over time, even when exposed to stress.
It’s not about perfection, it’s about acceptance of yourself and embracing your stress. Being proactive of your health, accepting yourself and embracing the new journey in front of you. And I will be with you the whole way!
If you’re ready to take the next step, I offer several options for meeting with me by phone (or video), no matter where you are in the world. I’ll review your situation and your specific stress patterns, and provide suggestions on how best to proceed.
Read about my Stress Recovery approach in the Stress Warrior book – online here for free or get the paperback free when you pay shipping.
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Wellness wishes to you, as always!
2nd July 2020