Holistic Health: Tackling stress

Holistic Health: Tackling stress

Tracy Zollinger

Stress is everywhere we look. As a society, we rarely have a moment to just relax and do nothing. If we do, we tend to feel like we are slacking off, as if a moment in the day not filled is wasted. This mentality and way of living takes a huge, and measurable, toll on our bodies both physically and mentally.

What is stress?
The technical definition of stress is “the physical pressure, pull, or other force exerted on one thing by another; strain.” There are healthy stressors, like exercise, and there are unhealthy stressors, like that long to-do list that just seems to grow. Holistic medicines, like traditional Chinese medicine, teach that “unfulfilled desires” cause stress and can lead to other conditions ranging from fatigue, anxiety and insomnia to even high blood pressure and stroke if present over a long time. Raise your hand if you have “unfulfilled desires” during your day!

What’s the big deal?
Modern science has shown that when our bodies are under stress we release hormones like cortisol and epinephrine. These are our “fight or flight” hormones that are present to allow us to escape danger or fight an enemy. When our bodies are flooded with cortisol our blood-sugar levels are affected, our metabolism changes, our brains are undernourished, digestion is inefficient, and our sleep suffers. These hormones are meant to be temporary and rare in our systems but we are secreting them regularly, resulting in impacts to our health.

What is the solution?
Here are some easy tips you can follow and start integrating into your life immediately. Think of these as little vents to “steam” off some of the effects of stress (“unfulfilled desires”) and possibly reduce your stress hormone levels.

Activities to reduce stress and stress hormones:

  • Exercise: Using your muscles helps “burn off” stress hormones. The more vigorous, the better, but anything is better than nothing.
  • Belly breathing: Quick! What part of your body is moving with your breath, your chest or your belly? Chest breathing is a reaction to anxiety and stress and keeps your body in a state of stress. Belly breathing reduces stress levels and tells your brain there is no danger. To belly breathe, imagine your breath is being pulled into your belly by the navel or below. Your chest should stay relatively stable until the very end of the breath while your belly moves up and down. Focus on the breath a few times per day until you are consistently belly breathing. This is a practice I often show patients with anxiety or stress symptoms and is shown to make a difference on a chemical level in the body.
  • Sleep seven to eight hours a night: Getting recuperative sleep helps your body heal and recover from the day’s stresses. Does seven to eight hours sound impossible? Acupuncture with a licensed acupuncturist (L.Ac.) may help you get some quality zzzs.

Foods to replenish nutrients stress hormones deplete:

  • Blackberries: Blackberries are high in vitamin C, which has been shown to reduce cortisol levels. As a bonus, this dark berry is also high in antioxidants, calcium and magnesium.
  • Cruciferous vegetables: Cauliflower and other cruciferous veggies are high in B vitamins, which are known for their stress-reducing effects. Eating cauliflower in particular helps your body respond better to stress by supporting your adrenal glands.
  • Salmon: Rich in omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins, you get a double benefit with salmon. Omega-3s have been shown to help your body maintain lower levels of cortisol and epinephrine, thereby reducing the effect of stress on your body.

Tracy Zollinger, is an Alameda mom, licensed acupuncturist and business owner. You can reach Tracy at 299-0057 or www.tracyzollinger.com.