These Challenging Times
Many of us have heard the expression, “the power of positive thinking.” For a lot of people, being optimistic is a lot easier said than done in times such as these. In fact, due to the current crises, much of the world is in trauma, grief, and perpetual anxiety, which is the exact opposite. (source, source, source)
On top of the “major event,” the everyday stressors of life, increased awareness of prejudices and injustices, environmental havoc (source, source), intense political divisions, back to school transitions, (source) and financial downturns (source, source, source, source, source) are making 2020 a very challenging year to stay emotionally and mentally balanced. While some may be thriving, most are simply trying to survive, and this has a biological basis.
How the Brain Rewires from Chronic Stress & The Body Takes a Hit
It has been demonstrated that stress causes functional changes of the brain resulting in enlargement of the “fight or flight” area (the amygdala) and shrinkage of the memory center (the hippocampus). (source, source) A bombardment of emotional triggers can also “shut-down” the area of the executive function, the prefrontal cortex (PFC). (source, source) These effects result in negative thinking and “brain fog” that make rational decision-making, planning, organization, focus, and follow through more difficult. (source, source) Hence the expression, “stress makes you stupid.”
Long-term stress also has physical implications. Studies have shown that it depletes immune function and is associated with autoimmunity. Stress has been linked to gastrointestinal disorders, fatigue, hormonal imbalances, and practically every symptom of every organ system.
Furthermore, this connection between our brain and body is reciprocal. In other words, there is a feedback loop of mental stress causing physical symptoms that in turn leads to further emotional strain. For example, the gut and brain have shared neural pathways. Referred to as the gut-brain axis, this concept describes how the microbes in our bellies impact our mood and how our brain impacts our digestive function. (source) A bit more “far out,” is recent research that “microbiome transplants,” aka “fecal transplants” have caused changes in personality and behavior in the recipient that mirrors their donor. (source) You may have heard of this occurring in heart transplant recipients, but it seems like the microbiome is an organ system that also influences our personality and health in more than just one way.
The Mental Health of a Society in Constant Trauma
Not only are our brains and bodies impacted by chronic turmoil, so is our mental health and social integration.
The experience of adverse events changes how one reacts and interacts with others and impacts their own self-perception. Depending on how resilient one is, excessive strain can cause the nervous system to become hyperactive and the brain “hypervigilant” as a result. (source, source, source, source, source) Many experience nightmares, anxiety, sadness, guilt, avoidance, and become self-critical as a result.
This means that as a collective whole, people aren’t necessarily dealing with their full executive capacities and we are not as empathetic as a global community. For this reason, compassion and understanding for ourselves and others is imperative to heal the nation.
What Can We Do to Combat Such High Stress?
A naturopathic and/or functional medicine doctor can work within one’s integrative health team to balance the gut-brain and assess for all the physical and brain factors contributing to emotional instability. This often results in positive shifts in mental health.
Today, as a naturopathic doctor, I am not as concerned about using approaches to mend the gut, balance oxidative stress, modulate neurotransmitters, or support any other physical manifestations of stress. Rather, I am very disturbed by the fact that this reciprocal mind-body feedback stress loop is in a state of continuation that is not letting up due to the world’s events.
Unless one is actively tackling overwhelm at home with self-soothing techniques, relief from addressing bodily symptoms will be fleeting or simply band aided. The body and mind need time to rejuvenate and rest to fully recover.
You’ve heard me speak ad nauseum on the importance of self-care. This is not to be “cute” or in vogue. There is solid evidence that nurturing our body with healing foods, rest, social connections, play, and movement can help combat the stress attack on our brain, mental state, and physical structure. (source)
Previously, I discussed how essential oils are an easily accessible and perfect companion to assist us with changing our perception for the better and to move forward more courageously. They are also supportive for mental health, brain support, and cognition. Several studies have shown how aromatherapy and essential oils can lower cortisol, the stress hormone, and rebalance physiology. For these reasons, essential oils are my favorite tool to use for soothing the nerves of my naturopathic clients.(If you’d like more details, this video summarizes how essential oils can soothe stress and support mental health.)
Other self-care and mind-body practices that are helpful include EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), mindfulness, deep breathing, and others that you can access here.
Summary & Conclusion
Once a threat is gone, the body should return to homeostasis and recuperate. Unfortunately, at this time, events of the day are not subsiding.
There are lifestyle factors and self-care techniques we can be incorporating daily to help us and our loved ones cope more effectively with this torrent of stress. Essential oils are one of my go-to modalities that compliments most personalized, naturopathic medicine wellness plans.
Please take advantage of the free resources and self-care tips on my site and other experts you trust. Also, please don’t hesitate to reach out for more emotional and mental health if it is needed. Resources are listed at the end of this post.
Please share your thoughts below.
Mental Health Resources
If you are in need of additional support and professional health, please reach out!
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (U.S.) — Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Crisis Text Line — Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor
- Lifeline Crisis Chat — Chat online with a specialist who can provide emotional support, crisis intervention and suicide prevention services at www.crisischat.org
Other Uplifting Resources
The Tapping Solution, A Technique to Lower Cortisol and Reduce Stress- Podcast interview by Dr. Kara Fitzgerald with Nick Ortner.
Stress management tips and resources
Feel free to use the many free resources on this website. If you need more individualized attention, I am also available to support you through essential oils or naturopathic consults.
Disclaimer: 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. (Affiliation link.)
According to experts and the World Health Organization (WHO), there is no approved standard of care treatment, cure, or preventative for COVID-19. Supportive measures and containment are in full force as a result. Please see the CDC website and your state’s website for more information and updates. They also state when to contact your physician related to symptoms and travel history, exposures. Please read my more detailed article on this subject here.
This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
Thanks Pixabay and Canva.