Friday, June 28, 2013

Stress vs. Strain

Naturopathic med school can be a confusing endeavor. I find that half the time we're in tune with the body-mind connection. We believe in the healing power of nature. We counsel, we teach meditation techniques... I'm even starting to look into chakra healing.

The other part of us is a clinic doctor. We use our science backgrounds with the basis of biochemistry to develop nutritional plans. We make lists of differential diagnoses and use lab tests to rule out certain pathologies.

We're trained and educated in both aspects of health and well-being, but my current challenge is to incorporate both at the same time. So after having physical exams and pathologies drilled into my head this past year, I've decided to "re-educate" myself in the realm of spiritual healing from a stress and emotional point of view.

We always blame stress for all of our problems. You ask someone what's wrong, and automatically they say "I'm just stressed."

In reality, stress is a natural part of life. You think rabbits don't have stress? They're running from wolves and foxes! And the wolves and foxes are trying to chase down the rabbit so it can eat a decent meal! Imagine having to chase down your meal every time you wanted to eat.

So really, humans aren't the only ones that have stress, but like our animal friends, our bodies are built for it. Hence why our adrenal glands secrete cortisol. But there comes a time when we're under such constant stress that our adrenals can't keep up with us. They over-secrete cortisol to the point that they become "fatigued" and eventually "exhausted" and can no longer keep up with the demands of chronic stress.

So how do we prevent this exhaustion? In The Frontiers of Health, Christine Page brings up an excellent point of stress vs strain. We can't control all sources of stress in our lives, but we can learn to control our responses to it. Page explains that stress is a force applied to a substance, while strain is to be stretched beyond the "legitimate range".

When we take on too much work - beyond what we're capable of - we see the effects of strain. Thinking about that, it seems we're left more vulnerable when faced with strain on our bodies. We take on too much in our everyday lives and when we chronically go past our capacity, our bodies have a harder time dealing with it. This leaves us vulnerable to disease (or "dis-ease").

It's a good idea for us to check in with ourselves on a daily basis. How close are you to straining? Are you able to be faced with stress and handle it? Maybe you've taken on so much that you're starting to breakdown and crumble.

There's an exercise that we've been taught in clinic: The 5 minute check-in. At least once per day, lay down or sit with your feet grounded, eyes closed and ask yourself: "Body, what do you need?" Take at least 5 seconds and be in tune with your body. It could be the most basic of necessities. Maybe you need a glass of water. Maybe it's a hug, a snack/food, rest, or activity. Maybe you're a student stuck in a library and you just want to talk to someone, or scream or cry. Whatever it is, let your body speak to you and then give it what it needs, even if only for 5 minutes.

Take that 5 minutes and do what you need to do. Get a glass of water, eat something, put your feet up and rest for 5 whole minutes.

The more in-tune we are with our bodies and ourselves, the easier it will be to manage stress when it comes along; You'll be more prepared. Think of yourself like an army. You can't go into battle without resources. You need substance before you can perform in any battle. If you go in empty-handed, dehydrated and tired, you're more likely to falter.

Step 1 when dealing with stress: make sure you're getting the basic necessities. You might think you are, but check in with yourself at least once a day just to make sure.