Since the last time that we talked, I’ve had a few weeks off and made some space for myself. Mmmm time off to do nothing… sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Did you just imagine long walks on the beach, flipping through magazines, reading books, being served tea from a cup and saucer, and a shaken martini at dusk, dahling? Yea, I wish. Not only can our perception and expectation of what life ‘should’ look so far off, but it’s a shock to hear that life isn’t like the pictures in magazines and in our minds, aren’t just that. My few weeks off have in fact given me space to fall apart. To feel feelings that I don’t make time for while I’m doing all the usual life things that I’ve designed for myself – you know the ‘busy’ life. Being busy and stressed is part of a bigger problem that I see in myself, clients and friends, and now see in my teenage kids. A busy life was modeled to me by my mum who did not sit down and put her feet up, and whether the life that I’ve designed for myself now includes having a very hard time stopping to smell the roses came from that or not, it is where I find my awareness these days. Summer brings a change in routine, which can be quite welcome, but the predictability of being busy, numbing what needs to be seen and felt, living off the stress hormones, and cycle high stress needs to be looked at from being in the periphery of our vision and awareness, voluntarily or I believe it will come at some point, whether we give it the space or not. What I found during my experience over the last few weeks is that I needed a certain level of structure – a baseline of actions to follow that created a foundation for dealing with my insanely high cortisol or stress hormone levels and emotions that I wasn’t quite sure what to do with. Stress can be present at various levels; from physical stress like from pain, aches, headaches, gut issues to name a few, to emotional stress like intense negative thoughts, anxiety, depression and personality disorders are all part of a phenomenon of stress that we are all living no matter where it comes from, no matter when it started or the trigger. So what can you do when you’re under a more intense and acute amount of stress to coast with a baseline of support?
That’s what we are going to talk about today on EAT THIS with Lianne – five ways to navigate stressful times and come out the other side better off, because this too shall pass.
Perhaps you can relate…? I work a full-time job, am a mum to two teens, I’m divorced so dealing with them on my own, and don’t have their dad as an active co-parent. I somehow pack in clients, radio segments, and this podcast that involves a lot of research and then promotion. Chris thankfully handles all the production. On the ‘fun’ side, I go sailing and in my head, I put my daily walks and yoga into that category of fun when really it’s deserving of the boundary of self-care. It’s a full life and the demands that I put on my body and mind, well I need them to keep up. But how it is supposed to do that when the body’s response to all this is raised cortisol? Sure sometimes it yells at me with a juicy migraine, a stiff neck, or some kind of sickness – yes that’s the body saying to slow down or else. The stress response of high cortisol levels has an impact that we all need to understand. Inflammation and a weakened immune system happen. So any damage to joints, past injuries or trauma can show up as quite literal pain. We talked about pain with Dr B in episode 127 and also inflammation with fellow nutritionist Julie Daniluk in episode 67, so you can head back there for more specifics. Weakened immunity leaves us open to anything – not just the dreaded Covid, but to autoimmune disease, food intolerances, and allergies. I have a friend whose arm blows up when she gets a bug bite now that she’s in perimenopause – yep, a sign of a dysregulated immune system to be pumping all that histamine to a bug bite.
High cortisol can cause high blood pressure, the silent killer as it’s called, increasing the chance of heart attack and stroke. We talked about that also with Dr B in episode 114.
Then there’s how cortisol raises blood sugar by releasing stored glucose, so having chronically high cortisol levels can lead to persistent high blood sugar (hyperglycemia), and then the counterbalance of the pancreas makes insulin work harder to lower those high levels, leading to insulin resistance, and then type 2 diabetes. From episode 111, I learned that this is my genetic profile and where I need to be most aware. While I don’t eat sugar – or much of it, what I’m doing to my body with all my busyness and stress, is sending me down this road further to what I put in my mouth.
According to a juicy list on the Cleveland Clinic’s website, high cortisol is also associated with
- Weight gain, especially in your face and abdomen.
- Fatty deposits between your shoulder blades.
- Wide, purple stretch marks on your belly.
- Muscle weakness in your upper arms and thighs.
- High blood sugar, which often turns into Type 2 diabetes.
- High blood pressure (hypertension).
- Excessive hair growth (hirsutism) in people assigned female at birth.
- Weak bones (osteoporosis) and fractures.
I don’t know about you, but while I understand the benefits of meditation, I do find it difficult to meditate my way out of a period of stress, because my worried mind takes over. One physical effect of stress not listed yet is that your digestive system slooooows right down. From digesting foods, assimilating those nutrients and then elimination can really head off the rails – yes, I’m talking to those IBS sufferers out there. So how do you deal with nourishing yourself from your diet during times of stress. I have yet to figure out eating while meditating, so let’s look at the five things that I did to get myself past this acute phase that I’ve just been in.
Yes, that feeling of wanting to hide under the duvet when things feel too much is a survival tactic. Go to bed. Head down, pillow, covers, whatever that looks like for you, but just do it even if it’s 9pm and you don’t think you’ll sleep through, just go to bed and do your best to sleep. Magnesium is used up in a nanosecond during times of stress so up your game with that. I’ve been taking 400mg of magnesium bis-glycinate before sleep – the one that you’ll find on sproutright.com and some melatonin spray to top that off. Not enough sleep is a double edge sword – chronic sleep issues like obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia or working a night shift, well they’re associated with higher cortisol levels. And stress and high cortisol levels mess up your sleep. I’ve been using the Brain Tap app and device that Dr Patrick Porter talked about in ep 129 as well as Dr B in the Pain episode 127. I do think that it’s helping. After a few weeks of disrupted sleep from overactive mind and hot flashes (thanks perimenopause) that have ramped up because of all this stress, my sleep tanked. I would crawl into bed at 9pm and Brain Tap to sleep and as soon as I woke.
2. Finding support for negative thought patterns
Your overthinking mind, the worried mind. This could be a therapist, a coach like Carolyn Monden from episode 106, using Brain Tap app and mediation can all help. YouTube has a million people helping you realize your thought patterns, how to deal with your triggers and how to shift from the stuck places and dark corners that we find ourselves in.
3. Eat only cooked food
Yes, I just said cook it all. Your gut brain axis is a thing and while you are in full flight or flight, your gut isn’t’ going to digest as it knows how to, when you’re not stressed. Lightly wilt your greens, because you need them now more than ever. Makeup foods when you have a moment to, so that you aren’t heading for the drive-thru and you’re eating as many anti-inflammatory, colourful foods that you can. I’ve relied on clean canned tuna that’s super fast. I make my salads up for the week on Sunday after hitting the market. I do eat raw berries which seem to be ok, but sometimes my salads don’t sit right because I need too many enzymes to digest the raw and my body can’t get there. Digestive enzymes like HypoZymase on sproutright.com is a lifesaver of that heartburn, constipation and bloated feeling that you might be feeling. Probiotics to help support the second brain within the gut and microbiome. Also taking b vitamins as they are needed for stress, energy and making the digestive enzymes in the first place. During this time it’s ok to rely more on your supplements. I doubled my Kid Boost intake, would take handfuls of spirulina from Giddy Yo when we talked about adaptogens in episode 113 and I take all the rhodiola, ashwagandha, and adaptogenic support I can get my hands on. I eat power bites made with soaked nuts and powders that also are easy and mindless to put in my mouth that keep me going as I don’t tend to eat when stressed.
4. Move your body
Studies have shown that regular exercise helps improve sleep quality and reduce stress, which can help lower cortisol levels over time. Another double edge sword here though too. Intense exercise creates stress in the body, and oxidative damage to cells. Protecting with superfoods and helps, which is where Kid Boost superfood powder and Alka C vitamin C comes in. nutrients that are zapped during stressful times need to be supplemented. Hit that yoga mat and move in gentle and easy ways. Go for a walk or if you need to box or go for a run, do, but with less intensity or time so you don’t stress those adrenals any more than they are now.
5. Breath work
I’ve dabbled with this at different times, but of late it has become the only way that I can get myself back into the moment. Not ahead of myself, not to all those dark corners, but to right here and now. In my brain tap recording today, Dr Porter Guided me to breathe in for a count of 5, hold for 6 and let out for 7. My osteopath has me doing focused breathing for 10 minutes a day by breathing on through my left nostril while holding the right. It’s a yogic breathing technique that’s also known as a “subtle energy clearing breathing technique.” Any time you focus on your breath you bring yourself as in you bring your focus to the here and now. Typically thoughts and worries are in the future, the past, involving others and what they think of us or you think of them, and all that can create a level of stress while you’re just sitting. When you visualize air going in and coming out, that’s all you can focus on. If they creep back in between breaths, add in the counting. There’s only so much multitasking that can be done.
What I’ve realized is that I have a lack of fun, meeting up with friends regularly enough and connecting with people outside of myself. The phenomenon of navel-gazing, the poor me, or victim mentality is self-created stress that deserves attention with all these steps that I’ve mentioned. So let’s recap: it’s hard to get out of this stress pattern without enough sleep. Those negative thoughts and cyclone of to-do’s and should need a pattern interrupt with some therapy support, brain strengthening and balancing with meditation or Brain Tapping as I’ve been trying out – check out liannephilipson.com and the show notes of how you can get your device or try out 15 days of the app for free. Then the food you eat – keep it simple, colourful and cook it all. That drive-thru, a pint of ice cream, or bag of chips as my go-to won’t solve the problem long term but create more issues, so just know that. Get those supplements sorted – probiotics for gut-brain axis, adaptogens for stress support from HPA Axis, Bio A curcumin for anti-inflammatory effects vitamin C – my Alka C is easily added to Kid Boost, and Liposome B Complex and magnesium are my essentials right now.
Move your body in any way that’s a regular routine. Walk or do yoga in the morning or before bed. Both help your sleep and that’s a good thing.
Try out breathwork, focusing on that breathing, and see what comes of that. And find some fun.
Head back to various episodes to deepen your understanding and know that you’re not alone in this. We just don’t talk about it enough, so I hope this starts a much-needed conversation with yourself and your loved ones. Hang in there, that’s what I am doing, I know this will pass and I’ll be stronger for it all no matter how uncomfortable I feel in the moment. So with that, reach out on social media….. And please remember to eat this one mouthful at a time.