It is already near the end of April, and while spring is indeed springing, here in our corner of West Virginia, the weather is being very “variable”! 80 degree days…40 degree days; warm, chilly, wet, dry! And some students are reporting snow in England, Denver, and Vermont! I think this perfectly reflects the stress variability of many of our lives – sometimes calm and peaceful, and at other times storms rage! April is Stress Awareness Month in the US and I decided to focus this blog on stress and stress resilience.
As always, I like to start by making distinctions. Just like people have differing EXPERIENCES of “depression”, “anxiety”, “schizophrenia”, “bi-polar”, “Insomnia”, etc, so too do people have different experience of “stress” and being “stressed-out”! Therefore, we get to acknowledge that there are differing CAUSES and differing SOLUTIONS! And often, more than one thing going on at the same time.
Google defines stress as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances”. The problem with this definition is that some people thrive in situations that would debilitate others. Also, some people experience stress physically with aches, pains, and restless sleep, while others experience it more mentally or emotionally with worry, obsessiveness, and emotional outbursts, depending upon which neurotransmitter system is most depleted. Going too long between meals, or eating a high sugar meal, can trigger an adrenaline rush in susceptible people, creating the possibility of angry or violent outbursts, panic, or emotional instability when stressed. Finally, some people crave certain foods or substances when under stress, to fire relieving neurotransmitters, while others can’t eat anything!
So where do we start? As always, I like to start with our Amino Acid Therapy Chart, designed by Julia Ross. It will help us determine initially whether to support GABA first, Serotonin or even Dopamine and Norepinephrine!. “Its our brain’s job to help us cope with stress gracefully, but to do its job, it needs to be fed optimally”. This is the Academy’s motto and the point of much of what I teach. Our stress response requires a coordinated effort from both our brains and our adrenal glands, and so they both need to be in balance, and well-fed to allow us to step up “gracefully” and not be overwhelmed.
As many of you know, my neurotransmitter toolbox includes GABA by itself or in formulas such as Theanine Serine, True Calm, or Chewable GABA. The initial trialing dose of GABA should be no greater than 500 mg, but the dose any individual might find effective could be much higher than that. GABA or Theanine by themselves has also often been found to help relax muscles, allow people to filter out distracting stimuli more effectively, reduce panicky feelings and overwhelm, and allow people to slip into a deeper, more relaxed sleep. Magnesium Glycinate or Threonate at about 400 mg/day can also help relax muscles, soothe migraines and tension headaches, and reduce physical tension.
My toolbox also includes the Serotonin precursors 5HTP or Tryptophan to help reduce obsessive worry and feelings of mental or emotional anxiety, rather than physical tension. When taken before bed, they help with sleep by reducing the mental chatter that can keep us awake. These have to be used cautiously when people are on SSRI medication or Tricyclics, and working with a knowledgeable coach or doctor is recommended.
Keeping Blood Sugar stable by eating protein every 3-4 hours may do wonders in allowing us to gracefully deal with stress, and if food is not available, 1000 mg L-Glutamine can support calm brain function until the food arrives!
Finally, some people have had a very hard time dealing with stress their whole lives. They may have suffered from social anxiety from a very young age, have morning nausea or an aversion to protein, little white spots on the fingernails and be quite pale. Dr. Carl Pfeiffer, one of the first orthomolecular psychiatrists identified Pyroluria as a disorder which strips the body of B6 and Zince, two co-factor nutrients crucial in helping our brains create calming neurotransmitters from the protein we eat. While this disorder has never been formally accepted in conventional psychiatry because it is hard to test for, once it has been identified and addressed with zinc and B6 supplementation, people’s lives can change dramatically for the best!
I would like to leave you with two favorite book recommendations:
The Anti-Anxiety Food Solution by Trudy Scott, and Feed Your Brain, Not Your Anxiety, by Kristen Allott, ND.
To peace and calm,