Dr. Noe's 10 Steps to Optimal Health
Step 9: Watch Your Stress
Stress can be acute or chronic. Acute stress is an adaptive mechanism that can save our lives such as the classic “running from a saber tooth tiger.” In acute stress blood is diverted away from the digestive tract to the muscles. Blood sugar is increased to create more energy for the muscles, as is blood pressure. Non essential functions such as digestion, immune function, growth, and reproduction are temporarily suppressed. All of these same things happen in chronic stress as well, except the adaptive mechanisms of stress become maladaptive. Suppressing immune function and digestion and increasing blood sugar and blood pressure over an extended period of time, unfortunately, can lead to a wide variety of diseases.
Chronic stress can cause high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, headaches, insomnia, substance abuse, and poor appetite. It also suppresses immune function and can increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, and some gastrointestinal diseases such as ulcers.
As chronic stress progresses, the production of adrenal hormones (our stress hormones) such as cortisol and DHEA tend to decrease over time. As the adrenal glands become more fatigued and produce less of these hormones, fatigue tends to set in and allergic or inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, heart disease, and auto-immune diseases can begin or worsen.
The human stress response is a combination of the degree of exposure to stressful situations and an individual’s response to those situations. Stressful situations can include trauma, loss, major life events, and financial, job, family, or relationship stress among others. To measure the degree of stressful events in your life, go to www.webmd.com/hw-popup/life-change-stress-test. Different people respond differently to the same situations, however. A useful and widely used measure of one’s response to stressful situations is the Perceived Stress Scale. This 10-item questionnaire can be taken online at www.roadtowellbeing.ca/questionnaires/perceived-stress.html.
There are many ways to help manage your stress response. The two most important are reducing your exposure to stress and increasing physical activity. In addition to reducing the stress response, physical activity reduces nearly all of the stress risks identified above. For more information on the importance and appropriate forms of physical activity, see Step 1 of Dr. Noe’s 10 Steps to Optimal Health. Other effective stress reduction techniques include:
- Meditation – mindfulness meditation is one of many forms for which information and resources are readily available. For a video on this technique, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nwwKbM_vJc. For CDs and tapes by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn go to www.mindfulnesstapes.com/.
- Low glycemic eating (see Step 2 of Dr. Noe’s 10 Steps to Optimal Health)
- Yoga, tai-chi
- Deep abdominal/diaphragmatic breathing – Put one hand on your chest and the other hand on your belly button. When you breathe, try to move the hand on your belly button and not the one on your chest. Practice this frequently until it becomes your natural way of breathing.
- Progressive relaxation – Muscle groups are progressively tensed and relaxed. For a sample of this technique, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFwCKKa–18.
- Neurofeedback – Using an EEG to provide biofeedback of brain wave patterns/states can allow the individual to gain control over these states.
Naturopathic doctors are physician experts in treating the underlying cause of disease and using natural medicines to help people get and stay well. To see a naturopathic doctor for help in determining whether your health problems are related to stress, diet, or other causes, and for guidance in how to make changes in your dietary habits, improve nutrition, and in the appropriate use of natural medicines, please make a selection below.