We are all in a rough time. No Joke. The world feels very unstable, our future undetermined, and everyone is feeling that instability. Americans are incredibly politically charged, with differing opinions and voices. As a parent, I am rattled by the potential instability that may occur in our nation. I worry about our children, my future, and the future of my patients. What tipped us off as a united nation? What made us separate and not work together in unity? No, I am not attempting to start a political argument, this is simply a metaphor. Our bodies also need unity and balance. They need predictability. They need security. If they don’t have it, they are in disarray! Our bodies feel unbalanced, unstable and chaotic – which results in a variety of symptoms that don’t measure up to any particular diagnosis.
For those of you who have experienced an office visit with me, or read my book, you know that I commonly refer to this situation as the “bear in the woods” scenario. You are in the woods, hiking along, minding your own business and BAM! out pops a bear. You panic. Your blood pressure adjusts, eyes focus and you run. You run so fast that you get away from the bear. You are safe. And your body calms back down. Now during this time of running, your body turns off its parasympathetic activities, such as digestion, cellular repair, reproduction (low sex drive), clearing toxins etc. It focuses on sending blood flow to the muscles so you can run. It alters how we metabolize sugar, fat and protein.
So lets imagine now that the minute you get away from the bear, another one appears. You run. Then another, you run again. Soon bears are popping up everywhere and it seems you can never get a break. And we are smart beings, so guess what – over time, our brains will anticipate a “bear” even when their isn’t one, based on previous pattern. What do you suppose that the constant “stimulation” of the sympathetic nervous system does to your regular, healing daily functions? It Adapts to a stressful situation by anticipating more stress. Recall back to high school biology – the strongest will survive, and adapt. So what are some of these possible adaptations?
Cardiovascular function is altered, blood pressure changes, and over time, cholesterol elevations will occur due to cortisol and hormone imbalances due to this adaptation.
Gastrointestinal function: digestion will slow, bowel movements can constipate, and are occasionally accompanied by significant diarrhea – if you are running from that bear – you are going to “hold it all in” or get rid of it as fast as you can. Slowed digestion results in heartburn or GERD, malabsorption of food (nutrients), intestinal overgrowths and imbalances. This, over time, all results in food allergies, leaky gut, immune imbalances and more. That dreaded IBS.
Immune function: imagine the immune system as an army. You have the front line, waiting for attack. They are alert and focused. Now imagine that they are distracted because bears keep running by. Every distraction puts you at risk for the “bad guy” to invade. This bad guy could be viruses, bacterial infections, autoimmunity or that dreaded C word. (Cancer).
Neurotransmitter function: So if the body is constantly predicting a bear, you aren’t sleeping well. You may wake in panic or be unable to fall asleep because you think you hear a bear, or are debating in your head how to get away from it. Those GI issues mentioned above cause flora imbalances, resulting in changes in serotonin production. This results in depression and anxiety. Not to mention, that dang bear makes you anxious. And the things you miss in life (smelling the flowers, breathing the air, enjoying the journey) cause you depression. You just aren’t who you used to be.
Blood sugar: If you are always running, you shift to carbohydrate as your primary source of energy, instead of protein and fat. So guess what? You crave sugar. You skip meals (due to running), you overeat when you can. Long term, this impacts insulin and glucose regulation, resulting in weight gain and ultimately diabetes. Wait – I got ya at weight gain, huh? Welcome back.
Hormone: Oh geez, imagine what your poor hormones are doing? You are running from a bear, so should you reproduce? Why should the body choose to make testosterone, progesterone or estrogen when it has an option to make cortisol to run? Which situation is better survival? Estrogen storage (in both men and women) is common, and deficiencies in progesterone and testosterone are also prevalent. Is it menopause or simply stress?
Wow. Lets recap. Now you are now depressed, anxious, gaining weight, not interested in sex, bloated, constipated, not sleeping, and this whole thing is EXHAUSTING. All of this from that darn bear.
Be honest with yourself, where is your cell phone at night? Does it sit by your head during times of rest? Do you allow people to text or email you at all hours of the night and respond immediately? How many of you work beyond a normal 8-9 hour day, when you are home with your family? Do you take on other peoples stress unnecessarily? Are you full excuses as to why you are obligated to take other peoples stress?
Look, we all have bears. They live in the forest and there isn’t much we can do about their presence. In times of frustration and anger, we may think that simply hunting them is this answer. We attack. But here is a better option. We can change how we deal with them. We can leave the forest in the evening and go somewhere safe to rest. We can take the time to enjoy the flowers, the lake, the journey and appreciate life and those we are blessed to enjoy life with. We can learn to say NO and value our own time (and other peoples time). You cannot control the things that are out of your control, so don’t try. All of this worry, hate, anger, stress, and perceptions of control are causing imbalance. Is it worth it? At what point will you unify your body again and allow it to work together, not as separate entities? Your future is dependent on it.