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The Yin and Yang of Stress: Acute vs. Chronic, Friend or Foe?
IF Insider No. 72
In our last issue (IF Insider No. 71), we examined some recent research that explained why you need to keep your heart elastic and what exercise routine can help you accomplish this.
For our premium subscribers, in this week’s Research Spotlight, we are going to explore an intriguing new study that looks at a simple, inexpensive, no side effects “hack” you can do to improve your sleep. Not only will you sleep better, but you will likely feel more alert the next day, and your memory will also improve. Powerful stuff!
Our paid subscribers also get one of Ellen’s recipes each month. We recently featured Ellen’s SuperGreen Smoothie, combining matcha and broccoli microgreens' flavors and synergistic properties into a powerful “super” drink for your health. This month, we’re back with the green again (it’s March after all!) with a drink that is both healthful and beautiful…Ellen’s Matcha Lemonade.
Looking for a supportive group that “gets” your interest in IF and other cutting-edge health information? Our free intermittent fasting Facebook group, with over 1800 members, is a wealth of info, in addition to our new Longevity Experience membership.
Stress - What It Is and The Two Types
In today’s fast-paced, always-on, twenty-four-seven, “what is going to happen next?!” world, stress is rampant and affects nearly everyone. But what exactly is stress anyway? I like to say that stress is sort of like pornography...hard to define, but you sure know it when you see it...or, in the case of stress, when you feel its effects!
While there are many different definitions of stress, I like to say that stress is your body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. This reaction can be physical, emotional, or mental, or can be a combination of all three.
Note that I said stress is the BODY’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. Many people have the erroneous belief that stress is the mind’s reaction to situations or events, but it’s important to understand that your body is very, very much involved here. And because the body is involved in the response, we can work with the body, not to stop or control sources of stress, because that’s not possible, but to help you stay calm in the face of it and to be able to bounce back when it occurs...in other words to develop stress resiliency.
It’s also important to understand that individuals vary quite widely in their response to stress. In fact, what is perceived as stressful for one person, might well be seen as enjoyable for another. For some people, flying is a thrill. They love the takeoff, the feel of the plane gaining altitude, and the marvel at the clouds and the receding landscape below.
Other people are terrified, and when they have to fly board the plane with a sense of dread. Their palms get sweaty, and their hearts race on takeoff. They are convinced the plane will crash and spend the entire trip in a state of nervous anxiety, while the person right across the aisle who enjoys flying is ordering a drink and settles in to watch an in-flight movie. Same flight, same plane, different people with very different responses.
The same can be said of many different situations. Now, of course, if there is a life-threatening situation like a gunman who walks into a room and who starts to shoot, everyone will likely duck for cover, their hearts racing. But even then, there will be individual variations in how this affects people. My point here is that the stress response is a very individual thing.
Just like individuals vary in their response to stressful events, some people are more stress resilient than others. Again, stress resiliency means the ability to bounce back or recover from a stressful event.
Here’s the good news...it seems that stress resiliency can be increased. We will be going into much more detail about exactly how to go about increasing your stress resiliency in upcoming issues of the IF Insider.
But right now, I want to introduce you to the two different types of stress. Neither type is good for you, but one type is out to do you in. Those two kinds of stress are acute kind, and a more dangerous and insidious form, chronic stress.
Acute stress, as you might imagine, is stress that is there for a short time and then goes away. Let’s say you were diagnosed with lupus, a very serious and life-threatening autoimmune disorder. In the first few days or weeks after your diagnosis, you may well suffer from the effects of acute stress and have such symptoms as the inability to sleep, feeling anxiety, and so forth.
Then your doctor calls you and says there was a mix-up in the lab. Your blood sample was misidentified as someone else’s! You don’t have lupus at all. In the space of a phone call, your stress disappears, and lucky for you, has not been around long enough to cause you any permanent problems.
But chronic, unrelieved stress is a different animal entirely. So let’s look a bit closer at this kind of stress and find out why it’s so dangerous.
Let’s begin with a simple experiment known as the lemon exercise. In a moment, I’m going to ask you to imagine, in your mind’s eye, a well-equipped kitchen with a butcher block table that has a bowl of bright yellow lemons sitting on it and next to the bowl of lemons on the table there is a sharp chef’s knife.
OK, go ahead and see yourself walking over to the table and picking up one of the lemons from the bowl. Place the lemon on the table, pick up the knife, and slice the lemon in half. Then put down the knife, pick up one half of the lemon, squeezing it slightly, so the juice is brought to the surface, then bring the lemon close to your nose, smell its fragrance, then bite into the lemon and suck the juice into your mouth.
Ok, now, come back and note what just happened. If you did this exercise along with me as you were reading, you probably had a definite bodily reaction at the moment when I told you to imagine biting into the lemon. Most people will tense their shoulders, grimace and some will visibly shudder at the thought.
This is a simple, but powerful demonstration of how your mind can directly affect your body. Now think about this: If a simple mental image can cause a definite physical reaction, which in this case was an involuntary, coordinated muscular and salivary response, what must be the effects of continuous negative mental imagery?
Ok, let’s try another experiment. Think back to a time when you were either driving or, if you don’t drive, you were a passenger in a vehicle and you came very close to having a serious accident. Perhaps a reckless driver nearly ran you off the road or something like that.
Then recall how you felt immediately afterward. I’ll bet you remember your heart racing, your palms getting sweaty, maybe you felt shaky, and you started trembling or crying or even laughing uncontrollably. Now let me ask you another question. Immediately after the near accident, did you have any control over your physical reaction to this situation? Well, of course not!
Here’s my point: your body’s reaction to this stress is instantaneous, involuntary, and completely automatic.
Ok, one more experiment. This time, imagine your spouse or partner is away on a business trip, and you are alone in your house in the middle of the night. You have just finished watching the evening news and have learned that a prisoner, a convicted murderer, has escaped from prison and is suspected of being somewhere in the vicinity of your neighborhood.
You go to bed, but you can’t sleep, as you can’t stop thinking about the escaped murderer. Finally, you feel sleepy, but just as you are closing your eyes, you hear an ominous scraping sound outside your window. Instantaneously, your heart is pounding, and you bolt out of bed. You peer cautiously through the blinds, only to see a large raccoon dragging your trash can lid down the driveway!
My point again is this: your body reacted, bolting out of bed, heart pounding, and legs shaking because you thought there was a threat. As long as your mind is convinced the situation is a threat, the reaction of your body is the same.
So now you know firsthand that your body has a very, very efficient mechanism in place for reacting to a threat, either real or perceived. The good news is your body is perfectly prepared, without any help from your conscious mind at all, to react.
The bad news is that this same reaction, which is so efficient in protecting you from danger, when not switched off in a chronic, ongoing stressful situation, can have dire consequences for your physical and mental health. In chronic stress, which so many people experience these days, your body (and mind) is always “switched on” and can’t get any relief from the ongoing threat.
There are actually quite a few ways stress can impact your well-being, but the one that is the most striking to me, at least, is this: stress actually promotes many diseases, including lung disease, cirrhosis of the liver, cancer, fatal accidents, and suicide.
I hope this information helps you to better understand stress and how it can wreak havoc on your health. We’ll look at how you can better handle chronic stress and become more stress resilient in future issues of the Insider. In the meantime, check out this previous special “calm” edition of the IF Insider for ways to invoke the Relaxation Response.
Why It Matters
“It’s not stress that kills us; it is our reaction to it.”
~ Hans Selye (1907 - 1982) was a physician and pioneering Hungarian-Canadian endocrinologist who changed our understanding of stress by pioneering work showing its detrimental effects on the human body and mind. He was nominated for a Nobel prize an astounding seventeen times between 1949 and 1953 but never took home the prize.
What We Are Reading 📚
Denise - During a discussion about life purpose in our Longevity Experience community, the book Ikigai: Giving every day meaning and joy by Yukari Mitsuhashi, was mentioned by a member. Intrigued about Japanese culture, I picked up a copy. It’s a quick and easy read, and the author explains the difference between ikigai to the Japanese, and life purpose, how many in the West define the concept.
Ikigai can evolve and shift based on where you are in life and your day. It’s not work-related, though you can have ikigai for your work, but focuses mostly on experiencing joy and meaning at the moment vs. one thing through the arc of your life.
Prompts are included at the end of each short chapter if you’re inclined to explore finding your own ikigai.
Ellen - This year, I enrolled in Lynne McTaggart’s year-long The Power of Eight Intention Masterclass. I have been intrigued with Lynne’s work for many years, starting with having the wonderful opportunity to interview her many years ago about her first big hit book, The Field: The Quest of the Secret Force of the Universe.
What I love about Lynne’s work is that she is not a scientist but a hard-nosed journalist who brings her no-nonsense touch to all of her work. She has worked with many renowned scientists to devise large-scale experiments that prove human intention is real and has very real effects.
Because I am in the course, I am re-reading (or rather, listening to) The Field, which was updated in 2008 after its initial publication in 2002.
If you are intrigued by something that can be as “woo-woo” as setting intentions for things but are also skeptical, you owe it to yourself to check out Lynne McTaggart’s work!
Did you like this article and learn something new? If so, please let us know in the comments! Questions and suggestions for future articles are welcome, too!
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