Life is full of changes and transitions. Sometimes we perceive them as stressful, sometimes we view them as exciting. Regardless, what happens around us effects the body systems within us. We can use tools to modulate our emotional and our physical responses during these shifts. From the holidays to hormones, in this article, you will learn some tips on how to support your mood and body through various periods of transitions.
Simple Definition of change
: to become different
: to make (someone or something) different
: to become something else
The Times, They Are a Changin’
Transitions. They are everywhere. With change always comes a response. With the recent United States’ presidential election over, a turbulence is occurring that is impacting not just its citizens, but the world. Interestingly, as these undertones of political unrest are simmering, the nation is also preparing for a holiday that signifies our coming together in gratitude.
Regardless of the type of change, it can be transformative, transitional, a critical opportunity, and/or very stressful. Whether it is the new year, a new political party, or the maturation of the physical body, transformation is inevitable.
In this article, we will be focusing on how to deal with the response of change when it evokes stress in a way that can impact our health.
The Dirty “S” Word Is Everywhere: S T R E S S
Stress has become commonplace and accepted in our society. It infuses our everyday activities such as when we are waiting in long lines and stuck in traffic jams. It accompanies us when prepping for life events. It also rears its ugly head in heated disputes with the boss or among friends discussing politics.
The stress response is intended to be an adaptive reaction to real physical danger that is mitigated when out of harm’s way. However, today our brains never let our bodies shut off this “alarm.” The result is a life in distress. It is not healthy.
According to the American Institute of Stress, this invisible response pattern is hard to precisely define due to its subjectivity, but it is a major contributor to many symptoms that plague modern man:
Stress is not a useful term for scientists because it is such a highly subjective phenomenon that it defies definition. And if you can’t define stress, how can you possibly measure it? The term “stress”, as it is currently used was coined by Hans Selye in 1936, who defined it as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change”…
Selye struggled unsuccessfully all his life to find a satisfactory definition of stress. In attempting to extrapolate his animal studies to humans so that people would understand what he meant, he redefined stress as “The rate of wear and tear on the body”. This is actually a pretty good description of biological aging so it is not surprising that increased stress can accelerate many aspects of the aging process. In his later years, when asked to define stress, he told reporters, “Everyone knows what stress is, but nobody really knows.” As noted, stress is difficult to define because it is so different for each of us…
The last point is very important. Our life events, parental influence, environmental exposures (including prenatally), and our genetics all interact to determine how our nervous system is wired to handle stress. What can be construed as a mild annoyance by one could be the thing that completely “ruins” another’s day. This is biology, not just temperament.
These dynamics are explained by “epigenetics,” which can have several different meanings. In my own simple definition, “Epigenetics is a broad term that ultimately describes the response of our genes to the environmental exposures of our lives.”
For the geeks, a 2016 article, “Transgenerational Epigenetic Contributions to Stress Responses: Fact or Fiction?,” expands on this (bold emphasis mine):
The term epigenetics is used in at least three different ways, each referring to a fundamentally different mode of biological regulation, which has contributed to considerable confusion in the field. Epigenetics, in its broadest meaning, is used by some to denote stable changes in gene expression that are mediated via mechanisms that do not involve modification of DNA sequence. In the field of stress responses, such epigenetically induced stable changes in gene expression likely result from any number of environmental stresses that occur throughout a lifetime. For example, chronic stress may induce epigenetic mechanisms that alter gene expression in the adult brain . Likewise, it’s thought that environmental exposures to stress and other behavioral experience early in life (i.e., in utero and during childhood and adolescence) may produce epigenetic changes that determine how susceptible or resilient an individual is to those or other stresses later in life. There is now robust and growing evidence supporting a role for epigenetic modification as a key mechanism underlying lifelong regulation of gene expression and, consequently, of stress vulnerability [2–12].
The term epigenetic is also used to describe two additional phenomena for which the evidence base is less solid. One concerns stochastic changes during development, whereby random epigenetic modifications in the developing brain generate variations in an individual’s traits, including differences in stress vulnerability, without changes in either genomic sequence or environmental exposures. The other relates to epigenetic inheritance across multiple generations, whereby epigenetic modifications induced in an individual’s germ cells in response to stress or other environmental exposures are transmitted to offspring to control their stress vulnerability. The degree to which these two forms of epigenetic regulation contribute to the lasting consequences of stress, including stress-related syndromes such as depression, remains more controversial.
As mentioned in the article excerpt above (if you didn’t read it), the various mechanisms in epigenetics are quite involved and somewhat controversial. For example, below are just three articles I’ve recently read on epigenetics, stress, and the body’s response patterns. Seriously, just reading the titles may make you cross-eyed!
- Epigenetic signaling in psychiatric disorders: stress and depression
- Epigenetic Influence of Stress and the Social Environment
- Stress and the dynamic genome: Steroids, epigenetics, and the transposome
Five Tips to Deal with Stress
Regardless of the complexity of HOW stress impacts our stress response, the solutions are generally quite simple. Here are five tips to help you cope and even conquer stress.
1. Make Sure Your Basics Are Rock Solid:
During times of stress the last thing you may want to do is make time for meal prep and nurturing activities, but it’s when you need to the most. Here’s your health check-list for keeping your health foundation strong:
- Fulfilling and supporting relationships
- Sleep and Rest
- Healthy belief patterns
- A sense of purpose
- A Safe Environment (for optimal oxygenation to the brain to make clear decisions)
This article is a wonderful summary of the basics. It dives deeper into the stress physiology and the use of nutritional and herbal support. The abstract states:
Prolonged stress, whether a result of mental/emotional upset or due to physical factors such as malnutrition, surgery, chemical exposure, excessive exercise, sleep deprivation, or a host of other environmental causes, results in predictable systemic effects. The systemic effects of stress include increased levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, a decline in certain aspects of immune system function such as natural killer cell cytotoxicity or secretory-IgA levels, and a disruption of gastrointestinal microflora balance. These systemic changes might be a substantial contributor to many of the stress-associated declines in health. Based on human and animal research, it appears a variety of nutritional and botanical substances – such as adaptogenic herbs, specific vitamins including ascorbic acid, vitamins B1 and B6, the coenzyme forms of vitamin B5 (pantethine) and B12 (methylcobalamin), the amino acid tyrosine, and other nutrients such as lipoic acid, phosphatidylserine, and plant sterol/sterolin combinations – may allow individuals to sustain an adaptive response and minimize some of the systemic effects of stress.
I have set up a dispensary of quality nutritional support which you can access here. All you have to do is create a free account and click on “product catalog” then “wellness essentials” in the dropdown menu for baseline support.
2. Use Essential Oils…For Many Reasons!
Brain and Biochemistry Balance: As I wrote last week:
“… I have written on how essential oils can help calm our moods and brain. The amazing benefits of essential oils aren’t just related to their “relaxation” effect on our psychology, but also due to the benefits they have on our physiology and biochemistry. For example, lavender, probably one of the most recognized essential oil for calmness, has other uses. These include acting as an antioxidant, being neuroprotective (in rodents), and as microbe-inhibitor.”
They balance our body responses that are impacted by stress, including:
- Detoxification (& Environmental Purifying)
- Immune and Respiratory System
- Digestive Health
- Dental Support
They are an ancient medicine that integrates the best of the art and science of medicine.
Now, click here to read the E-blast that I sent out last week to my essential oils subscribers and reposted on Saratoga.com “Aromatherapy”- More Than Relaxing Scents.”
In fact, it is now proven that resilience and health outcomes is not so much related to stress, but how we deal with it. For example, Dr. Kelly McGongial, a psychologist from Stanford University whose research has been published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Motivation and Emotion, The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, and The Journal of Happiness Studies, found that those who make stress their friend actually have better health outcomes than those who have negative responses to the same overstress or little stress at all!
Click on the link to listen to Dr. Kelly.
4. Get a Hold of Hormonal Havoc
If your hormones are off, so is everything else! Here are some articles on how to ensure your hormones stay balanced:
- This is a blog that is short and sweet. It gives a good overview of how to modulate hormones in your favor. For example, taking control of your stress (love on those adrenals), supporting your liver, and making sure blood sugar is balanced all have profound effects on your hormones.
- Remember, the basics apply to hormones too, which I discuss here! You also want to consider the testing caveats that come with different methods of hormone assessments.
- Here, you can learn healthy ways to hack your hormones.
- Use those oils! Dr. Z wrote a great blog on essential oils and menopause.
- Consider Phytoestrogens
5. Consider Tapping It Away
Stress and change, the two can go hand and hand, but it doesn’t have to wear away your vitality and health. Getting back to the “basics” and getting familiar with your sensitivity to stress will help you better cope with life transitions. Furthermore, using tools such as essential oils, nutrition, and emotional techniques can help you conquer and respond better to the transformations that are occurring.
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This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.