Everyone's idea of good health is different. To me, it is having four things in balance: diet, rest, movement and happiness. If any one of these are out of balance, it creates stress. Stress in our minds and bodies.
We all know the word stress. And our assumption is that stress is something we experience when we become overwhelmed mentally and psychologically. However, did you know that eating the wrong food for YOU can cause stress to your body? Did you realise that by not getting enough sleep, or ‘switch-off’ time, that you are also causing stress to your body? We are bombarded every day by external stressors like electromagnetic frequencies from mobile phones, electricity pylons, airborne parasites and pesticides and fumes, amongst other things. These are the unseen stressors to our body. However, even though they’re unseen by us, they are mostly seen in our body. Happiness and love, or not being happy or in love or feeling loved causes us stress too. So, you can see why it’s important to have the 4 pillars of health in balance. To limit or reduce our stress levels.
Perhaps you’re asking how?
Well, stress causes in increase in our ‘fight or flight’ responses. This is controlled by our nervous system – the ANS – autonomous nervous system. There are two branches to this nervous system: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. It’s our sympathetic nervous system that kicks in when we’re excited – and stressed. You know that feeling of butterflies in your tummy? Well, that’s caused by the sympathetic nervous system. It puts our brain and body into high alert, ready for action. In ancient times, our ancestors would have been ‘primed’ to run away from a viscous animal, or to fight in a battle and the reason why it’s called the ‘fight or flight’ response.
As everything in life has an opposite, like Yin and Yang, night and day, wet and dry, the need for the parasympathetic nervous system to take over once the threat has gone kicks in. This is the ‘rest and digest’ part of our very clever ANS. This enables us to relax, chill out and when we’re sleeping, repairs our body and our brain. And, after eating, enables us to digest our food properly.
When you are in a sympathetic nervous system response, the stress hormone cortisol is produced. This is what keeps you alert and primed for action. In short bursts, this is great. But when you are in a constant sympathetic state, it’s not good for you. It’s not how our bodies are meant to work. You need to have your parasympathetic times too – those times of repair, rest and digest. Over long periods of prolonged stress or being in a sympathetic state for a prolonged length of time, it’s likely that eventually you will get adrenal fatigue. This can cause all sorts of issues like being unable to lose weight, feeling constantly fatigued, low mood or depression, low motivation and very often illness and disease.
We have been conditioned to think that when we are in this stressed state that we MUST go and exercise. We’ve been programmed to think that fast, furious exercise is the way to beat stress. It’s how we lose weight, isn’t it? We must get to the gym and work out like crazy to combat the stress and lose the weight we’ve gained because of our stress. However, in fact, this is completely wrong. It is in fact increasing our stress levels and our poor old bodies just don’t like it. You are having to produce more cortisol on top of your already high levels of cortisol, and that is NOT good for you. When you’re super stressed, these are the times when you should be taking it easy. Doing a less stressful exercise, like going for a walk, doing Tai Chi or Qi Gong. Instead of working out, do some working in – working on becoming calm. Slowing your breathing, switching off your brain and letting your body repair itself from stress. However, it’s not easy to change thought patterns and years of conditioned habits. It takes work.
So, how do you reduce your stress?
Well, this is quite easy, when you know how. Becoming stressed is our perception of and reaction to an event. So, when you feel yourself becoming stressed in a situation, take a step back and re-evaluate. Look at it from a different, positive perspective. Being stressed is a choice. This might sound odd but often you choose to put yourself into that stressed state. So, you can change how you react. You can choose a different reaction. For instance, if you’re driving somewhere, the traffic is bad, you haven’t given yourself enough time and so you’re going to be late. You’re annoyed with yourself for leaving late. You’re annoyed and verging on angry at the traffic. You can feel your stress levels rising, your breathing becomes shorter and shallower, you’re getting the old road rage and you're now well and truly in your sympathetic nervous system’s fight or flight response state. You are full on stressed! How do you change this? Well, it’s about accepting the situation for what it is. You can’t change it. You accept that you left later than you wanted. What’s done is done – you can’t change that. The traffic is also something you can’t control. Again, you need to accept it, it is what it is. And, you’re going to be late. Well, being late it’s not the end of the world, is it really? There are many worse things to happen in life than being late. It’s all about switching your perception.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? However, putting it into practice isn’t so easy. It takes you to acknowledge that you’re feeling stressed. To know the feeling of being stressed and to recognise it. Then, be aware of your breathing. Start to take deeper, slower breaths so that you’re moving from breathing high up in your chest, to more belly breathing. When you do this, you’ll notice your tummy relaxing – which often becomes tight in times of stress (causing bad digestion and constipation). Plus, if you start to think of something or someplace that makes you happy, you will be able to switch off your stress, and move into a calmer, more parasympathetic state. Try it next time you’re stressed. I bet it’ll work.
So, that is for stress you can feel. The stress that you’re aware of. Now, what about the stress you can’t feel, like your bodies response to eating the wrong foods for your body type? Ah, now this will be a new one for many of you reading this. And will no doubt be a wee bit controversial. But here we go.
What you eat should be based on your primal pattern, or metabolic typing. Not what you are conditioned to believe; the one size fits all suggestions that the media and other sources feed us – excuse the pun – ISN'T right! You should not be limiting your fats, your carbs or your proteins because you’ve been told that’s how you lose weight. Yes, you’ll lose weight in the short term, but most people cannot stick to limiting what their body needs, so you will simply gain that weight again. And often more than you lost.
We all need fats – proper fats, not low-fat stuff. We all need carbohydrates. They are what make our brains function. And we all need protein. These are the building blocks to our body's tissues. However, the amount of each you digest is be based on whether you’re a Polar (protein) type which is approx. 70% protein and fats and 30% carbs. An Equatorial (carb) type which is approx. 60% carbs (veg – not pasta and bread), 40% protein and fats, or Variable which is somewhere in the middle. So, what if your primal pattern is a Polar/Protein type person but someone has encouraged you to dramatically reduce your protein intake and increase your carbs – the complex ones like fruits and vegetables. And cut out fat. Imagine what your body is doing. It’s going into a state of stress because what you’re eating doesn’t suit your body type – your metabolism. And, you will mostly be able to feel that stress. Some people will feel fatigued and sluggish, others feel hungry immediately after eating, you might feel ‘high’ and full of energy, then have a slump an hour later. You might find that even though you’re eating ‘healthily’ that you CANNOT lose weight around your middle and it’s put down to a hormone imbalance or stress, which is exactly what it is. Your body is stressed over the fact it’s not being fed what it should. It’s gone into starvation mode and your body is telling your metabolism to slow down to compensate. It needs to store fat for energy, so will break down and eat your muscle instead. So, although you THINK you’re losing weight – you’re in fact losing muscle.
Speaking from personal experience, it’s NOT easy to change your habits. Your conditioned beliefs that you SHOULD eat more fruit and veg. Not eat as much meat. I’ve spent the last 30 years believing that I should eat lots of salads and not eat too much fat. It’s what my mum told me, and she must be right, right? We are regularly told we MUST eat our 5 portions of fruit and veg very day and that if we don’t, we’re going to unhealthy and get a disease. But what if your metabolic type isn’t good with carbs? I thought that by becoming vegetarian and cutting out meat, that it would be better, healthier for me. These are conditioned beliefs and because I’ve been told them, I believe them. They must be right. I didn’t know until recently that, maybe I should be eating MORE meat or fish and fat and less fruit and veg. I didn’t realise that there was a metabolic typing system and that I might be more of a Polar/Protein type than the Equatorial/Carbohydrate type that I was eating for for the past 49 years. Since my past ways of eating have been a lifetime of habits, it has been difficult to accept that what I was doing is wrong. But, I’m going to continue with my metabolic type eating because I believe it is right for ME. I’m not going to eat a certain diet because I’ve been told by someone it’s the right thing, that it’ll give me energy, that it’ll make me lose weight. How do they know my body and my metabolic type? They don’t. Because one size doesn’t fit all.
Perhaps you’re also a protein type and you’re following a rigid, calorie counting diet which isn’t right for YOU. Or perhaps you’re a vegetarian and maybe you should be eating more protein because your ancestors didn’t come from equatorial regions and too many carbs aren’t right for you. Has it got you wondering?
So, now when you think of stress, you know what other factors contribute to it. It’s not just from working too hard or juggling family life and work life. It’s not just that you’re working long hours and are tired. Its all the other factors added to it: the food you eat and when you eat it. The exercise you’re taking. Is it the right exercise for YOU? The amount of sleep you’re getting. Are you getting enough sleep for your body and mind to repair itself? And, most importantly, the time you’re taking to be quiet. To relax and breathe deeply, properly. To just be. If all these things are in balance, that is when you’ll be healthy.