How to Stop Stressing Over Things You Can’t Control

How to Stop Stressing Over Things You Can’t Control

This topic comes on the heels of last week’s blog post relating to the hormone cortisol. If we minimize stress, we are going to minimalize cortisol. And, if we are able to modulate cortisol, it will have a Goldilocks effect on us – not too much, not too little, just right. Just like everything in life, the dose makes the poison.

To help you with this, I want you to take out a piece of blank paper and do a little exercise for me. It won’t take long, so please do this.

Make three columns. The three headings to put on the columns are; Physical, Biochemical, and Mental-Emotional. Now write down all the stresses you experience under each column. Examples of Physical stressors are plantar fasciitis, cold/flu, low back pain, too much sitting, too much exercise/movement, poor sleep quality, and so on. Examples of Biochemical stressors are poor nutrition (remember, think of vitamins and nutrients as the sparkplugs that allow enzymes to complete the necessary chemical reactions, which will in turn allow the body to run smoothly and efficiently), poor air quality, substance abuse, and drug side effects (yes, this includes excess coffee and sugar). Mental-Emotional stressors are pretty straight forward. These are the stresses that come to our mind when we think of stress in the traditional way. Examples would be poor marriage/relationships, loneliness, difficult co-worker, racism, social media, political upheaval, type A ‘no pain, no gain’ attitude, ADHD, perfectionism, etc. Oh, and just in case you are wondering…you can write COVID under all three headings … yeah, nice. It is such a gem.

So, here comes the fun part. Cross out all the stresses you cannot control. Why? Because now you don’t have to think about or deal with them. You cannot control them. It is a waste of your valuable time and mental energy to think about them. This should help you a lot, because now you can approach the remaining stressors one by one in a methodical way. Start this by tackling the one that requires the least effort to make change happen. If you feel energized by this project and want to choose one from each category – go for it! Tip: Perhaps there is something you can add to your regimen that hits all three categories? If you discover that – let me know.

Cross out all the stresses you cannot control

via @luellajonk

Now, what would this exercise look like on paper? You would now scan the stressors, pick the lowest hanging fruit and take a nibble from it. A simple example would be to, 1) set a timer on your watch or phone alert on the hour that prompts you to stand up stretch or walk around house, 2) order take-out or limit the drive thru runs ONE less time a week, 3) write out three things your grateful for, or just say it in your head before getting out of bed in the morning.

Now, how easy is that? The examples are endless. May I also note, it is not always subtractive as you can see. More often it is additive. You can add behaviours or thoughts to reduce stress rather than take away actions. Smiling at the cashier and asking how they are doing will put a smile on their face. I know you cannot physically see the corners of their mouths lifting, but you can see it in their eyes – and look at them in the eyes when you ask it. Buy a coffee for the person behind you in the Starbucks line-up. By the way – this happened to me one time – and I couldn’t believe it – I was over the moon thrilled! How one simple gesture can make or break your day is amazing.

Which brings me to the topic of our perceptions towards Covid-19. We are all in it together. I know you see this posted all over – but it is so true. So rather than think about ‘how our Christmas may suck’, think about how this is ONE Christmas that will be different than the others. Not good, not bad, but different. That is the simple truth.

I am writing this post on my daughter’s 20th birthday. With wrapping paper and cards being non-essential goods, I used Kraft paper to wrap the gifts and made homemade cards – and all seems so much more meaningful.

Only after completing the preparation in this way did I realize how much more meaningful it was. My point is, don’t fret about ‘how things are going to be different’ – because you will the find yourself at a place where you are worrying about things that are, 1) in the future and 2) you cannot control. Therefore, according to our exercise above – it is not allowed on the list.

The perception of stress is the game changer here. When you see others looking ‘chill’, don’t think that their lives are a walk in the park. It isn’t. It is how they perceive stress that makes them different from you. Joe Cool over there has put in the effort by making the list I noted above and took action towards it.  And with that…peace out.

Emotional Health

Emotional Health

I’m back! Whether you like it or not, here I am again in your Inbox. Actually – not true, you can unsubscribe at any time! There is one thing you can guarantee from me in the coming months however…in my blog posts you will never read ‘in these unprecedented times’. Personally – if I read or hear those words one more time, I may need to jump off the BDI Bridge.

 Perhaps you didn’t notice I stopped writing. That is a good thing. You are busy with life – and I trust you are taking care of your physical and emotional health. I took a bit of a sabbatical to study functional medicine, which is a topic I want you to become more aware of. Stay with me please – because it has a lot to do with your emotional health.

What does taking a functional medicine approach to mental health look like? It means I work with the person as a whole. You are a system of biochemical reactions – you are not just your brain and your thoughts. You can’t change the environment you are in right now, but you can change your thoughts about the environment. My job is to help you do so. For those of you that are interested, you don’t need to rely solely on talk therapy. I belong to a group of functional medicine practitioners who are comprised mainly of MDs, NDs, NPs, and other medical health practitioners. There are only a few of us in psychology, the so-called soft sciences. However, I see this changing and it is for the good. Believe me.

You can’t change the environment you are in right now, but you can change your thoughts about the environment. My job is to help you do so.”

via @luellajonk

The area most in need of FM practitioners is the area of psychiatry. If you have loved ones with the diagnosis of ADHD, Schizophrenia, Anorexia, Anxiety, Depression, or Addiction, you know exactly what I mean. Or you may be experiencing such a state yourself? Whether you are on this side of the ‘label’ or the other, you likely feel a sense of helplessness and hopelessness at times to say the least.

Let me make a disclaimer right now before I continue. Pharmaceutical interventions are warranted at times, and they can be a game-changer for some (nightmares for others due to how your body might process the drug). This is often due to our own individual biology. If you ever completed DNA testing, you will have noted individual gene variances. You may have one or two variants of a particular gene, etc. Think of this as being a guide for you – your DNA template if you will. The genes load the gun, but your environment pulls the trigger. I don’t pay too much attention to this, but it can be quite helpful at times. For example, although you eat a ‘healthy diet’ your triglycerides remain high. This is likely due to the inability to process carbohydrates and saturated fats well. Okay, now that you know, you titrate your diet a bit differently. It doesn’t mean you will be a metabolic train wreck for the rest of your life. You are a unique specimen. This is how we need to approach physical and emotional health. It is individualized medicine. Individualized psychiatry.

Back to mental health…so here we are. Let’s use sleep as an example of the way psychology is linked to biology. We know what sleep deprivation can do to a person’s ability to function. The more common symptoms are an inability to focus, make good decisions, and irritability. Underneath the hood there are many more detrimental effects due to diurnal dysregulation of your circadian rhythm. Sleep interruption can occur due to exogenous factors (baby crying or dog barking) or endogenously via your hormones. The culprit here is cortisol, the mother of all hormones. You likely recognize this hormone as it is known as your stress hormone. It can be your friend or foe. We need it to have a wakening response, which is called CAR or Cortisol Awakening Response. It normally peaks somewhere between 5-7 am for most people.  After it peaks, it gradually decreases during the day. Imagine a downward sloping curve towards the end of your day, to which melatonin then responds and begins increasing.

 However, when we are ‘stressed’ you will not see this normal downward sloping pattern during your day. As an aside, if you have an Apple watch – take a look at your average HR variability. If your average is low – that is a sign your body is having a hard time coming back to balance, and you are likely more stressed than not. If you have a hard time getting out of bed, even after a sufficient amount of time in bed, your awakening response or cortisol is low in the morning. If you have a hard time falling asleep, your cortisol is high in the evening. See how this is the inverse of what you want? If you feel emotionally and physically exhausted all day long, you are past your resiliency and likely have a flattened curve. The cortisol is low throughout the day. There are non-conventional labs that test for what I described.

This isn’t something we shouldn’t ignore. However, it is important to note acute stress, or a spike in cortisol, is good and normal. Think of how you feel prior to writing an exam, giving a speech, or skating towards the end zone. You want the cortisol signalling to occur as if to say ‘give me a shot, I need the adrenaline’. You require the turbines to get turned on within the cell. Or, in the case of injury, it is cortisol that signals inflammatory messengers to your tissues, which in turn help heal the body. If I go back to the sleep deprivation example, your brain has become inflamed and therefore you now have a headache. It is your body’s way of telling you to take care of yourself. It is quite magical.

However, chronic spikes in cortisol are NOT good. Chronic stress will take a toll on your body. Your body will lose resiliency and it will show up in many ways. Those of you that suffer from skin conditions will see ‘flares’ occur more often during certain times than not. You are that person who catches every cold out there. Nutrient deficiencies, food intolerances, or simply burning both ends of the candle is enough to sustain the inflammation. This pattern of chronic stress is described as the body’s allostatic load – and if it becomes too much, your physical health will eventually fail. This is when chronic disease may occur. We don’t want this for ourselves or our loved ones. And may I add, no one gets the ‘get out of jail card’ when it comes to overburdening your body with stress. It will nip you in the bud at some point in your life. So, for all you Type A go-getters, ‘I am supermom!’, or bulletproof men, think again. You are human.

You are human and you need to manage your stress. So, this brings me full circle to my remark about these ‘unprecedented times’. Let’s get over it. If you are a person that is stuck to the brain-numbing TV and listening to the numbers climbing or feeling hopeless or anxious not knowing when it is going to end… please take a moment to reframe these thoughts. Take a News ‘fast’, unplug from social media, and step into the present. Manage what is in front of you today. Pay attention to your work, your kids, your friends, your spouse, and most of all, yourself. This is temporary. We have all needed to shift and pivot from our normal, but the fact is, we did it. Some of us may have taken more of a blow than others, but you have to remember you are building your resiliency by doing so. You are stronger now than you were in February 2020. I am certain of that.

In summary, you may be reading more about how you need to support your mental health through diet, exercise, and sleep in my blogs. Hopefully you won’t mind me shifting between this topic and others like relational health/marriage counselling, because your health is everything. It is all about preventative medicine and preventative psychiatry. We need both physical and emotional check-ups. And not to worry, if you come to see me I won’t send you off with only a prescription to take Vitamin D and eat more vegetables, I am still your Winnipeg marriage counsellor and your psychotherapist. We will still have that same experience in the room. However, if you become more curious about how your biology changes your psychology, I am more than willing to jump right into that conversation.