Stress, Panic and Self Care

By Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

March 30, 2020

Stress, Panic and Self Care
In recent days, stress levels have raised to unprecedented levels across the country. As we face concerns, we must not let fear, panic, worry, discouragement, and isolation take over. I encourage you to take a step back from the emotional stressors of all battles. Whether it is related with health concerns, market volatility, toilet paper and cleaning supply shortages, kids having melt-downs, refrigerators going out, natural disasters, or whatever “grizzly bear” you have running after you, you will get through this.

We encourage you to take appropriate precautions and measures as instructed by world health leaders, government officials, health professionals, and first responders as they work hard in these unprecedented times. Focus on ways to help the most vulnerable. Provide encouragement, patience, kind words and pay it forward as you can. We are all in this together.

Here are some things to ponder and consider:

Fear is a natural reaction to something that causes threat. Panic and fear are contagious. You must find ways to displace the fear and stress.

Reacting with fear causes your brain, nervous system, and adrenal glands to send out enormous amounts of stress chemicals. As a result, blood vessels constrict which elevates blood pressure and stresses the heart and lungs.

Stress impacts your neuro-immuno-endocrine system (HPA axis) which affects daily repair and depletes your reserves making it harder to cope with the added impact in the event of an illness.

Stress significantly affects digestion and gut health as it affects stomach acid and pancreatic enzyme production making it harder to absorb nourishment from food. In addition, your gut flora changes, opening the door to germ overgrowth, immune challenges, increased gut permeability, gastritis, poor digestion, food allergies and intolerances. Stress and high cortisol elevates blood sugar making it more difficult to manage.

Thyroid health suffers with significant stress. Other hormones are affected too making it harder to manage normal hormone fluctuations with menses, pregnancy, menopause and andropause (men).

Stress causes muscles to tighten which diminishes blood flow into tissues, while more cell debris is retained. This makes muscles and joints stiff, tight, achy, and more fatigued.

Stress, anxiety, panic, and fear cause your breath to become short and shallow, rather than relaxed and deep from the diaphragm or belly. For healthy individuals, this may not impair breathing, but for someone with a respiratory condition, this can be problematic. Breath is the fastest way to change your body and the tone of your nervous system from stress to relaxed or sympathetic dominance (fight/flight) to parasympathetic dominance (rest/repair/digest).

Significant stress during pregnancy and early childhood can lead to dysfunctional stress chemistry and wiring in the child’s brain that can last for years or even a lifetime. Consider limiting or turn off the news and limit stressful conversations when your children are present. Explain to them in terms that they can understand what is going on but don’t flood them with information. They need to know that they are safe and cared for.

During this time, especially with social distancing and shut down, make sure you engage in physical activity as you are able. Vacuuming, cleaning under furniture, washing windows are great ways to stay active and to do a little spring cleaning. Push-ups, sit-ups, knee-bends, or isometrics can easily be done in a small space if you live in an apartment.

If you are in lock-down mode, make activities fun and connect with your kids. Devise an obstacle course or a hide & seek game in your home with your kids or make up games besides video games, etc. Clean out a closet or the garage; paint a room that needs an update. Pick up winter debris in your yard. Put a puzzle together with your kids or spouse. Play a board game or finish that knitting project that you’ve been waiting to find some time to get done. Put on a “couch or porch concert”. Do some bird watching.

Plan ahead for spring gardens and sunny days and maybe plant some seeds indoors. Pull out your photo albums or scrap books and catch up on those “rainy day” projects. Get some of the paperwork done that you haven’t had time to complete. Find something creative or productive to help take the focus off the fear.

Find a way to help someone else even if it is just a phone call or a text to check in with them. Keep connected with someone. Send a letter or card in the mail to your grandparents or an elderly individual as they may be on shut down in a senior care facility without the tech gadgets you are using. If all you do is listen to the news reports seeing the devastation in parts of the world, the stress makes your brain’s amygdala (emotional reactivity center) go on high alert which ramps up fear, panic, and distress.

Take time for prayer, meditation, and feed your soul to find the quiet and peace amidst the chaos and fear.

Nutrition and Stress

Nutritional fortification and rest helps you better interpret, manage and recover from stress. A balanced diet with protein, whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and healthy oils helps your body and mind much more than the quick sugar fix or starchy comfort food. It is easy to reach for these foods when you feel stressed, but in the long run it does not help you and further stresses your immune system. If you consume unhealthy choices in times of duress, have them in moderation in context with other foods. Strive for making healthy food choices at least 80 percent of the time or more. If you don’t have access to fresh food, use frozen foods. If that isn’t available, use canned foods without added sugar. Try making some new homemade recipes.

Support for Stress Management

Use a high quality multiple vitamin like Daily Energy Multiple Vitamin to help support basic nutritional needs and supply B vitamins for stress.

Support your immune system and brain with probiotics. Beneficial gut flora helps support mood during times of stress.

Adaptogens like rhodiola rosea, holy basil, cordyceps, Siberian ginseng, and ashwagandha have been used for thousands of years to help with stress management, mood, fatigue and exhaustion. Consider support such as Adrenal Helper or Thyroid Helper for additional stress management needs.

If exhaustion from life events and stressors has caused your energy to crash, use additional support such as Pantethine, Stress Helper, Activator Plus, Daily Energy Multiple Vitamin, Super Coenzyme B Complex, and/or Super CoQ10.

Make sure to keep your magnesium levels supported. Magnesium is rapidly used for hundreds of processes within the body and is commonly lacking throughout the population. Magnesium plays critical roles with sleep, relaxation, muscles, blood vessels, heart, nerves, immune cells, bones, mitochondria, and mood.

Make sure you get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation makes it harder to recover from anything. Processing information and coping with stress is more difficult when emotionally or physically exhausted from sleep deprivation.

If you are feeling anxious or wired and tired from the stress of the day, try a combination of RelaxaMag, Tri-Cal or Calcium AEP with PhosphatidylSerine at bedtime to support your brain and relaxation neurochemistry and the HPA axis. Additional support at bedtime may include Sleep Helper, Vitamin D, Grape Seed Extract, Astaxanthin, Quercetin, Noni, or Melatonin to help your body with repair, immune support and restful sleep.

As you go about navigating through the minefields of information and crises, put these things into perspective and meditate on them when the panic sets in.

The sun still rises in the East and sets in the West. Birds still sing. Rainbows still occur after rain storms. Waves still roll onto the shore. Babies are born every day crying at the top of their lungs as they are welcomed into loving and waiting arms. Dogs still wag their tails and jump on their owners with unconditional love. Cats still purr and snuggle. And a smile can still speak volumes without a single word being said. Each example is simple yet profound and reminds us of the grace and gifts of life that we are given that surpass fear, darkness, and trepidation.

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