I have worked with Melissa in several capacities now, and she excels at them all. My husband and I worked with her on some health issues and cleansing. She was compassionate and understanding and most of all provided the flexibility he needed to get through.
Recently, I’ve studied hypnotherapy with her. She is a gentle and effective teacher and mentor, helping each person in the class to master the skills and mindset needed to become board-certified hypnotherapists.
I plan to continue my learning journey with her.
Getting to the root cause is a topic that you hear a lot about in functional medicine, and all it means is getting to the bottom of what is triggering your health issue.
There can be a myriad of different things triggering your health issue, but one that is very common to all of them is stress, so that’s the focus of today’s article. Now, I have talked about stress before back in 2021, in my earlier articles. It’s such an important topic that I want to come back to it today because I’ve have new readers and we all need to hear things more than once for them to really land!
I’m approaching it from a slightly different point of view this time as well. Stress can have significant effects on your health and longevity. When you experience stress, your body goes into fight or flight response, releasing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. While this response is helpful in short bursts, chronic or long term stress can have detrimental effects on various aspects of your health and wellbeing.
Here are some ways in which stress can impact your health and longevity. I don’t share these with you to be all doom and gloom about it, but rather because I believe when you understand how stress is impacting your health, you are then able to make better choices. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know. Until now, you may not have realized how stress has been impacting your health. You’ve just known that you were stressed. However, so is everyone else in life. So, you accept it as normal, and now that you are reading this article, and learning how stress negatively impacts your health, you will be more motivated to actually take action to reduce your stress. That is my motivation in sharing this information with you.
What Types of Issues Can Chronic Stress Cause?
First of all, cardiovascular health. Chronic stress can contribute to high blood pressure, increased heart rate and elevated cholesterol levels over time. These factors can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks, heart disease and strokes, and these are the number one and number three causes of mortality in North America right now, with number two being cancer.
Stress Impacts Your Immune System
The second way stress can impact your health is it impacts your immune system. Stress weakens the immune system, making you more susceptible to infections and illnesses. It can also exacerbate existing autoimmune conditions, allergies, and inflammatory diseases. Prolonged stress may impair the body’s ability to heal and recover from illness, and we do know that the body does not heal in a stressed-out state. It needs to be in the parasympathetic nervous system, the rest and digest state in order to be able to heal. Stress impacts your mental health. It can have profound impact on mental health, leading to depression and other mood disorders. It can interfere with your sleep patterns, disrupt your ability to concentrate, make decisions and decrease your overall quality of life.
Stress Can Cause Mental Health Conditions
Persistent stress may increase the risk of developing more severe mental health conditions over time. We all saw this through the recent pandemic. It was a very stressful time for everyone. Our lives got turned upside down and we could no longer do all the things that we wanted to do when we wanted to do them, and there were so many restrictions and that caused stress. Then on top of that, was the fact that we were in social distancing, and many people were living alone, and that’s very isolating. The stress of that combined with the restrictions, just exacerbated the number of mental health issues that we are dealing with today.
Stress Impacts Our Digestive System
Another impact of stress is on our digestive system. Stress can affect your digestive system, leading to issues like indigestion, stomach ulcers, acid reflux, IBS, irritable bowel syndrome, because it can alter our gut microbiota. Those are the microbes in our gut that disrupt the normal functioning of our digestive tract. It can cause an imbalance. Our gut wants to live symbiotically with us. Imbalance, helping us to digest our food, break it down and get the nutrients into our cells for the energy that we need to get through our day. However, high stress kills off that balance and it will kill off the good gut bacteria and allow the bad gut bacteria to flourish, creating an imbalance in our gut. Then our digestive system doesn’t function properly, and we have all of these other issues start to develop. This can also cause changes in appetite which can lead to weight gain or loss. Stress impacts our aging and our longevity. Chronic stress may accelerate the aging process, and nobody wants to age faster and potentially shorten our lifespan.
Stress Can Cause Cellular Damage and Age Related Diseases
The constant release of stress hormones can have negative effects at the cellular level, including oxidative stress and inflammation, which can contribute to cellular damage and age-related diseases. I consider oxidative stress to be like the rust that you might get on the exhaust pipe of your car. What’s happening inside our body is we’re getting this oxidation of our organs and we need to be eating more antioxidants to help counter that effect.
We also need to be lowering our stress to help counter that effect. You don’t want rust on the exhaust pipe of your car. You don’t want oxidation to be happening to the organs inside your body and then shortening your lifespan as a result. Stress can trigger hormonal imbalances, and I’ve talked about this many times before, and what can happen is we end up in an estrogen dominant stage, which can then slow the thyroid and trigger weight gain among other symptoms. It also puts us at risk of Type 2 diabetes, as this can trigger blood sugar imbalances and it can even lead us down the path of breast cancer, too.
Again, none of which anybody wants, but we just don’t realize how intricately connected we are and how stress is having this effect on our body and our health as we go about our daily lives. Stress has also been associated with the worsening of respiratory conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD. While stress may not directly cause these conditions, it can trigger or intensify symptoms leading to exacerbations. Smoking and vaping can also cause COPD, and interestingly enough, it is the number five killer on the list of top ten mortalities in North America right now.
Lifestyle Factors and What To Do About Changing Them
Stress can also influence lifestyle behaviors that impact health and longevity. Some individuals may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as overeating, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking or drug abuse, which can further compromise their well-being and decrease their longevity.
According to the American Psychological Association, stress is a factor in many health problems, and it is estimated that up to 80% of doctors visits may be attributed to stress related issues. These issues can range from mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression to physical conditions like we’ve discussed above cardiovascular diseases, gastrointestinal problems, chronic pain.
It’s worth noting that stress may not always be the sole cause of these doctor’s visits, as there can be underlying conditions or comorbidities involved. Additionally, stress can exacerbate existing health conditions, leading individuals to seek medical care. Now that’s 80%. I’ve had doctors tell me that they think it’s as high as 90% of doctor’s visits are triggered or exacerbate by the stress in our lives. I’ve also been told that 60% of “dis-ease” in the body is triggered by stress. When we know stress is such a problem, what more can we be doing to assist people in their daily lives in order to be able to counter their stress? We will always have stress. It needs to be in balance. So, if you know you’re going to have a more stressful day, what can you be doing to balance that out at the end of your day or even the day before?
This is really important to think about. Think of it like a legal scale. When the stress goes up, you also need to bring up your coping mechanisms in order to help balance out your stress. There are several effective strategies to help lower stress levels. It’s important to find techniques that work best for you that you enjoy. This is not something that should be made into a work project that you feel you have to do.
You need to find something that will bring you joy and you want to integrate these activities into your daily routine. The best way that I found to do this was literally to put it into my calendar and make that time for me in my calendar first, and then after that, my clients can book in. Family activities can go in, etc., etc. but I just block every morning an hour of time for me to do something for me, whether it’s get out on my paddleboard, whether it’s do a workout, whether it’s go for a walk, whether it’s go outside and breathe.Those are the things I love to do.
What Do You Love To Do?
Here are some great widely recognized methods for reducing stress that I’m going to share with you, and like I said, you don’t have to do all of them. Just pick one or two that you can do and then add them into your calendar in 15-minute increments, because I know you’re going to tell me you’re busy. You have no time, however if you add them in 15-minute increments, you get up 15 minutes earlier, maybe you take 15-minutes of your lunch break that you can start to find time in your calendar to do this, spend 15-minutes less time on social media, 15-minutes less time watching television, and you’ll find an hour of time in your day.
You could do four, 15-minute increments. Then you’ll notice that as you start to do this in a dedicated way, that you feel calmer, that your stress levels coming down, that you’re more tolerant of others, that you’re not flying off the handle. You’ll also notice that you’re better able to focus, because when we’re in a stressed state, our ability to focus is not there because we’ve got all these things pinging in our head and we’re not getting anything done. When we can focus, we get things done at work more effectively, which means it takes less time to get things done. Guess what that does? That creates more time for you to engage in more stress reducing activities, and this really is important because taking care of you is the most important thing you can do. You can’t look after your family, your loved ones without first taking care of you. Serve from a full cup rather than an empty cup, in order to be able to look after everybody else in your life. This was new to me when I got into health coaching, I learned for the very first time that self-care is not selfish, and that was a huge a-ha!
It is not selfish to take care of yourself. If you don’t, who’s going to? No one else. I made a mantra. Self-care is the most selfless act because it allows you to show up and give the world the best of you instead of what’s left of you. I want to share some options for you.
These are merely options. You might think of other things that you enjoy. You don’t have to do all of them. Just pick one and put it in your calendar each and every day. Just start with 15 minutes a day for the first week and then build on that. Notice over the next month or so how much better you’re feeling in your body and know that you are impacting your long term health, your longevity by choosing to do this now.
When you have a strong, healthy immune system, because stress hasn’t broken it down, you are less likely to get sick in the first place. Let’s dive in to these activities.
First of all, exercise. Engaging in regular physical exercise is a powerful way to reduce stress. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood boosting chemicals. Aim to work up to about 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise most days of the week, such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling, or dancing.
Turn on your favorite music and dance like nobody’s watching. You don’t have to go to a gym. This can be done outdoors in your neighborhood. It doesn’t have to cost anything. Just do what you enjoy.
Number two, relaxation techniques. There are so many of these, but some common ones to help calm the mind and reduce your stress are deep breathing exercises.
I’ve talked about these many times on my show, and in articles here on my website. I have a particular technique I love called five, five, seven breathing, where you inhale for a count of five, you hold your breath for five, you exhale for seven, and you do ten cycles of that. This will trick your brain into going, “Huh? I thought I was stressed out, but I’m breathing like a safe person. I must be safe.”
Using this technique will switch you out of your fight or flight feelings and into your parasympathetic nervous system. You can do that before eating because it’s the rest and digest state. It will turn on digestion as well and help your body better digest your meal. You can also engage in meditation and there’s lots of free apps that you can use to have some guided meditation and help you get started if that’s new to you.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Again, free apps you can find online, and that’s where you just simply get really present with your body and you start at the top of your head. You work all the way down to your toes and you gently talk yourself through relaxing all of the muscles in your forehead, then your eyebrows, your eyes, your cheeks, around your mouth and in your neck.
You work your all the way down to your toes as you feel your muscles relax. As a result, your entire body relaxes. Guided imagery, is another option and is also used in hypnosis. These are all very effective methods. These practices promote relaxation of course, and they also help improve your focus and provide a sense of calm. That is because when you are going ping, ping, ping, ping, ping in that stressed out state, you are not able to focus well. When you calm your mental body, you will improve your focus.
Mindfulness and Meditation
The third one is mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness involves being fully present in the current moment and nonjudgmental, acknowledging one’s thoughts and feelings.
Regular mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce stress and improve overall well-being. There are, again, numerous apps and guided meditation resources available to assist beginners. When we step into a place of non-judgment, acknowledging our thoughts and our feelings, allowing them to flow through us instead of squashing them down and not wanting to feel them, that also improves our health and longevity.
When we squash those feelings down over years, they build up and become toxic. Whereas when we just say, I’m feeling this, it’s okay to feel this. I have a right to feel this. I’m going to just feel it until I don’t feel it anymore because it’s flowing through me. It only takes 90 seconds for an emotion to have a chemical response in our body. It’s us dwelling on it that makes it last, and it makes it much longer and builds the stress around that feeling.
Number four, social support. Connecting with loved ones, friends or support groups can provide emotional support and help alleviate stress. Sharing your feelings and experiences with others can provide a fresh perspective, empathy, and a sense of belonging. We humans were never meant to do life alone.
We are supposed to live in community with the support of other like-minded people and tap into that, especially if you are feeling highly stressed and you need support. Sometimes we feel like we can’t ask someone for support, and yet we all want to give. When you don’t allow yourself to receive, you’re blocking that energy cycle of giving and receiving for you to be able to receive what someone else has to give.
For you to be able to give, someone else has to receive. When you’re that person that’s always give, give, then other people are receiving. However if you are not the person that’s receiving and is able to ask for help, then you’re disallowing other people from being able to give. And guess what people like to give, they like to help. All you need to do is ask and people will help.
The next one is time management. Without time management your life can lead to increased stress. Prioritize your tasks, set realistic goals of completing them, and break them into manageable steps, creating a schedule or a to do list can help you stay organized and reduce feelings of overwhelm. When you try to keep it all in your head, it just gets to be too much, especially when you’re stressed because then you can’t focus and you’re like, I got to do this and then, ping, you’re over here and you’ve forgotten what that was, and now you’re wasting energy trying to hold on to it all.
Make a schedule, write it down. It’s all there on paper which helps keep you organized, and you may not get it all done today. That’s okay. Tomorrow’s a new day and you can come back and continue working on your list. I’m sure that if you put this into action, you will find that you get a lot more done than you thought you could when you’re keeping it all in your head.
Number six is a healthy lifestyle. Prioritizing self-care by adopting a healthy lifestyle, ensure you get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet, limit your caffeine and alcohol intake. Good nutrition and adequate rest can better equip your body to handle stress. The more sleep we get, the more we can handle the daily stresses that are thrown at us. Think about it in your life.
When you’re feeling tired and something stressful comes up, are you quick to get cranky and anger and feel irritated? Whereas if you’re well-rested, does it just kind of wash over you like water off a duck’s back? You know it to be true. We all need 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. When you’re not getting that, you need to look at what shifts you can make in your life in order to be able to give yourself that additional rest so you can better handle the stress. Find hobbies and leisure activities, engage in activities you can enjoy, this will help distract you from the stress and provide a sense of fulfillment.
Pursue hobbies, engage in creative outlets, read, listen to music, or spend more time in nature, that is my favourite. When we get out in nature, and we walk, we are naturally breathing more. Nature has such a calming effect on our nervous system, so it will naturally drop us out of chronic flight and into our parasympathetic nervous system. Not to mention the wind is blowing dirt and microbes onto our skin that get into our bodies that are helping create a healthy gut. If you’ve ever spent any time in nature, you’ll notice that you feel a sense of calm, and you also have that sense of awe and wonder. The beauty of Mother Nature is you enjoy the scenery all around you, so get out in nature, it is incredibly helpful at lowering your stress levels.
Next is cognitive techniques. This is when you challenge negative thinking patterns and replace them with positive and realistic thoughts. You practice self-compassion and remind yourself of your strengths and achievements. How often are we beating ourselves up? We have 70,000 thoughts inside our head every single day. How many of them are lifting you up, telling you how amazing you are, how you are going to achieve everything you set your mind on?
Not many, right? So often they’re telling you you’re not good enough, you’re not smart enough, you’re not pretty enough, you can’t do that. Cancel, cancel, cancel! They’re bringing you down. Those are all the toxic thoughts that I help people release using Timeline Therapy, but you can start creating awareness around the toxic thoughts that you have daily. Some of them are deeply buried in our unconscious mind, from when we were a child, and those are the ones I help release. You can start changing your thoughts coming in and not allowing those negative ones in by reframng them into a positive thought. When you become aware of the negative one, say, “Nope, that’s not true. I know that’s not true.” Then you say to yourself “I am amazing. I am incredible. I can do whatever I set my mind to.”
I saw a post recently on social media that I absolutely loved, and it was a little kid, perhaps three-years-old just skipping along the shore of a lake and there was a dock out into the water. It was a sunny day, beautiful scenery, and it popped up with the caption saying, “For personal reasons, I choose to be successful at everything I do.”
I thought that was wonderful and it is something we can all say to ourselves, and at three years old, you probably did, but do you still say it today? Maybe you can consider keeping a gratitude journal to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This is really powerful tool. I started my gratitude journal over five years ago, and in the first six months I noticed a shift because I knew every night, I was going to write in my journal the things that I was grateful for that day. By writing in my gratitude journal, it had my mind focusing on the good all day so that I could have something to write down. Whereas our minds are preprogramed to focus on the bad, to keep us safe, in today’s world, we don’t have to worry about that. We’re not going to have lions and tigers attacking us. We have homes to live in, we have food to eat, we have clothing to wear.
Let’s stop focusing on the negative and let’s transition to focusing on the positive. What are you grateful for today? Write down three things. Maybe in the beginning you won’t find three things because you’re looking too hard. You could just write that you’re grateful for the day, you’re grateful for your home, your warm, comfy bed. You’re grateful for the sound of the rain outside your window because it’s been dry, and you don’t want forest fires and you want it to rain.
Whatever it is, find what you’re grateful for and write that down before you go to bed, and if you do it before you go to bed, the last thing you feed your unconscious mind before you go to bed is what your unconscious mind will work on all night long.
You’re now putting your brain to sleep on happy thoughts, which means you have a more restorative sleep, which means you are better able to cope with the stress the following day throws at you.
Finally Set Boundaries and Practice Self-Care
You also want to set boundaries and again practice self care. I cannot say that enough! You need to learn to say no when you feel overwhelmed and set healthy boundaries in your personal and professional life. Prioritize self-care activities that rejuvenate and replenishes your energy. So often we use the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’ backwards, and we say ‘yes’ to everybody else, and each time we do that, we’re saying ‘no’ to us. What we really need to start doing is we need to start saying ‘no’ to other people so that we can say ‘yes’ to ourselves, so we have time to be able to prioritize our self-care activities. This doesn’t mean you say ‘no’ to everything. You just get a little bit more critical around what you’re saying ‘yes’ to, and instead of saying ‘yes’ right off the bat, you give yourself a little bit of a window and say, “thanks for asking, let me get back to you after I check my calendar” and that gives you that space.
Then you can start thinking, is this something I really want to do? Do I have the time, the money, and the energy to do this? If you do, that’s great. Then you want to ask yourself, do I want to? Just because you have the time, the money and the energy to do something doesn’t mean you want to do it, however if you do want to, that’s great. You can go back to that person now and say, “Yes, I would love to do that. Thanks for asking.”
You might want to set some boundaries around that though, around the length of time that you need to be there volunteering or whatever it is that you’re doing to make sure that you’re really clear on that and let them know the hours you are available, which may not be all of the hours they want you.
If you don’t have the time, money, or energy, or if you do, but you don’t even want to do this, it’s okay to say no. However, for those of you who say yes, all the time, considering saying ‘no” as it takes practice to say no. I challenge my clients to do this all the time and I had to learn this myself. The first time I said no to someone, my brain was like, “What are you doing? You know, you could do this with your eyes closed, and your hands tied behind your back. Why are you saying no?” I talked back to my brain. I said “I’m saying no because I need to practice learning to say no, and this is a perfect opportunity to practice it.”
I walked away and my brain was so confused, but I felt good because I said no. That meant I said yes to myself! I also want you to know that ‘No’ is a complete sentence! You don’t have to justify why you are saying no. You can simply say “No.” You don’t have to give any added justification at all.
Lastly, I just want to say seek professional help when it comes to managing your stress. If your stress becomes overwhelming or persist despite your efforts, do seek support. We can run labs to see where your hormones are at, where your vitamin levels are at, where your adrenals are at, where your minerals are at, so that together we can bring your body back into balance while holding you accountable to creating new lifestyle habits that support your health and longevity.
You Need to Take Responsibility for Your Health
The work needs to be done by you. Nobody can do it for you. When you take the responsibility, when you decide that you are worth it, that your health is worth it, that you have lots to do in this lifetime and you want to live vitally right to the end and you want to have longevity, then you can start choosing today to bring your stress levels back into balance through any of these tools that I’ve recommended.
If you feel like you want some extra support, please do reach out because this is what I help my clients with repeatedly. Why? Because over and over again it comes up as being an underlying root cause of whatever chronic illness or other health condition they are struggling with. So, remember that managing stress is an ongoing process.
It’s something you are going to do every day for the rest of your life and that what works for one person may not work for another. It’s essential to explore different techniques and approaches to find the ones that resonate with you and make a positive impact on your well-being. My question to you is: what is your health worth to you? Every day that you put off prioritizing it, you are allowing it to decline.
Don’t become another statistic receiving some diagnosis and wishing you’d done things differently. Start doing things differently now. It doesn’t have to be hard, especially when you seek the support you need to get started.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope there’s something that you can take away. I would love to hear from you, what one or two things are you going to do to balance out your stress? Please email me and let me know.
Did this article resonate with you? Please share it with others that you know need to hear it as well. Thank you.