New Ways of Dealing with Stress

New Ways of Dealing with Stress

By now I think we have all heard something about the gut/brain connection. That is, how the food you eat affects your thoughts and emotions and how your thoughts and emotions affect the health of your gut.

How is this possible? There are a few ways.

One of the main vessels of communication is via the vagus cranial nerve. It travels from the brain and innervates the digestive tract. You can now probably relate – at some point in your life you may have received some bad news, followed by a terrible sensation in the pit of your stomach. Have you ever heard of irritable bowel syndrome or IBS? This is a common bucket term in medicine for when a patient comes in describing bouts of loose stool or constipation. Well, it turns out this condition has a lot to do with your thoughts, emotions, and feelings you are experiencing.

How about the messages from the gut to the brain? If things are not right in the gut, such as bad bacteria or inflammation due to toxins or food sensitivities, our head doesn’t feel right. The vagus nerve also secretes cytokines (chemicals that carry information) into the intestines, which impacts the health of the bacteria and lining of the intestines.

The second way the gut affects the brain is through inflammation. The gut will send out pro-inflammatory cytokines (again, informational molecules) – which activate the stress response by signalling to a region in the brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus then starts communicating to our pituitary gland to help regulate hormones (again, informational molecules) so it can start doing the work it needs to do. In the case of inflammation, the hormone cortisol will take priority. This intricate system communicates so well, it prioritizes an urgent response by setting off vagal tone. When cortisol production is in high gear, the vagal tone is low. It is the vagal tone that ‘reads’ the health of your microbiome, which then modulates inflammation. Overall, a low vagal tone will impact not only your mental health, but also blood sugar regulation (contributing to high cholesterol), autism, migraines, diabetes, heart health, and autoimmune diseases. Therefore, as the frequency of cortisol (stress, trauma) increases, our health decreases. It is important for you to understand this delicate ‘wiring’ and method of communication is our body’s way of protecting us from danger. If our bacteria are not balanced (more bad bacteria than good) then it will want us to ‘wake up’ by secreting more cortisol and take action.

“Inflammation can be sourced via gut health (through food choices) just as much as it can be from the brain (through uncomfortable thoughts).”

via @luellajonk

The PROBLEM is if we make this more of a chronic condition (ongoing) rather than an acute condition (how it evolved to be) we are going to slowly adapt to this condition. This is an important point for both your overall mental health, as well as for your physiology.

Let me provide you with an analogy. If you often have joint pain or headaches, you might be a frequent user of an anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Aleve, etc.). The more you mask the inflammation, the more you will normalize the inflammatory response and the more drug you will need to get the same ‘effect’ from the drug. Sadly, this is how addictions start taking over your life. Dampening the response system (remember that alcohol and nicotine are toxins), the more you will need this drug to feel a response (whether that be a sense of calm or a sense of excitement). Similarly, if you continue to ignore the stress (toxic thoughts) in your life, the more you tolerate the stress response and the more this becomes your normal.

Our bodies have an amazing way of adapting (surviving). We naturally adapt to small amounts of stresses to be resilient. The problem (toxic thought) is sometimes so small (think of it as a tiny leak behind a wall), we don’t even realize it is there until it is too late. Your thoughts are following a trend over the long term and that trend is not going in the right direction. Your contentment, or happiness, is trending down. Think of adverse child experiences (ACE). Every client who sees me needs to fill out an intake form on ACE. I have seen it myself and literature shows it as well, the higher your ACE score, the more your health suffers.

Thus, the moral of this story is … pay attention to what signals your body is sending. Do not ignore. Remember acute cortisol from time to time is normal – chronic is not. However, I understand how it is not always easy to detect low lying cortisol – just as it is not easy to detect low lying inflammation. If we pay more attention to what we are putting in our bodies every day, the puzzle becomes less difficult. If you want more information on what foods you should be choosing, I can easily help you out. A lot of this is not rocket science, as you know. Despite what you hear out there, this is not about choosing a certain ‘diet’. As Michael Pollan stated so well, eat food (a.k.a. nothing made in a production plant). Not too much. Mostly plants.

Then there are the other lifestyle factors we can easily modulate to keep our stress in check. These include sleep optimization, securing healthy relationships (this includes with yourself), exercise, and a strong sense of community. I interchange community with spirituality. The more you feel you are not alone, the healthier you become.

In summary, inflammation causes disease. Today I explained how inflammation can be sourced via gut health (through food choices) just as much as it can be from the brain (through uncomfortable thoughts). How you choose to perceive your thoughts and how you pay attention to your thoughts will affect the health of your microbiome. It will either cause your healthy bacteria to thrive or your bad bacteria to increase, causing downstream effects. The vagus nerve will sense the health of your gut and start communicating to your hypothalamus to choose a high or low vagal tone.

As a functional medicine practitioner and therapist, I simplify inflammation as having four sources: Food, bugs, toxins (environmental), and traumas.

On the next blog post I will provide you with tips on how to improve vagal tone. Until then, if anyone wants to get a head start on bringing down body inflammation, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

What to do When You Fear Someone You Love has Distanced Themselves from You

What to do When You Fear Someone You Love has Distanced Themselves from You

First, please take note of the choice of words within the title, ‘when you fear’. This is an important distinction to make from, ‘when someone you love has distanced themselves from you’. Hence, this is the crux of this post.

Fear is the basis of stress and is often displayed through irritability, anger outbursts, and avoidance behaviours. For example, we don’t book a physical with our doctor for fear we might get bad news. We don’t make a point of calling our son or daughter because we fear they don’t have interest in speaking to us, we don’t tell our partner we are lonely in fear of hearing they no longer love us. Fear is the basis of much of our anxiety.

Anxiety can be displayed in many ways. Some suffer in silence while others live life through anger (unable to regulate their emotions), pessimism, or irritability. Some hide their fears with addictive behaviours, such as alcoholism, gabbling, phone use, marijuana use, or food binging.

So, what to do in those anxiety ridden times? You want – but you can’t – you want – but you can’t. Push – pull – push – pull – push – pull. It is energy sucking behaviour we put ourselves through. Before you know it, you realize you are ruminating in these thoughts for hours during the day.

“Fear is the basis of stress and is often displayed through irritability, anger outbursts, and avoidance behaviours.”

via @luellajonk

Anyone who knows me knows that one of my most favourite slogans out there is Nike’s ‘Just Do It’. I try to live by this slogan. Why? Because our mind constantly tells us to do the opposite, ‘Don’t do it’. Why? Why does our psyche seem to battle with our primal needs? Because it wants to protect us from harm. Evolutionally, we are wired to stave away from danger.

Our lizard brain, or deepest layer, is responsible for our deepest fears, emotions, and needs. Think of it as overseeing fight, flight, feeding, fear, freezing up, and fornication. However, sometimes we need to rely more on the outmost layer of our brain, or what is called the neocortex. After all, we are not a lizard.

Okay, enough on paleoanthropology. What do we do when we find ourselves ruminating on something that we really have no clue is true or false? It is quite simple. I suppose I already gave you the answer. Just do it. Take the leap of faith. 

I suppose you have the choice between ripping off the band aid and dipping your toe in the water. For those of you that know me, I am the type to do the former rather than the latter. I like being direct. Life is too short to beat around the bush. However, let me provide you with an example of how I would approach one of the scenarios I provided earlier.

You are fearing your child is distancing themselves from you. What to do? Depending on how safe you feel in speaking to them directly, either on the phone or in person, you may choose to write them a letter instead. This is especially helpful when you are speaking with a highly defensive person. Okay then, what do I write? Allow me to provide you with a script.

Hi {son/daughter}

{Insert usual chit-chat about whatever topic if you feel necessary to bridge the communication gap, depending how long you have been non-communicative}.

There has been something I have been struggling with for a while now, so I decided it would be best for me to get it off my chest and down on paper. It is easier for me to do this in letter form than in person. I hope you don’t mind.

For the past X months/years, I feel we have not been able to connect in a way that feels comfortable to me. I realize this is a ME thing, and not a YOU thing, and that I have to be respectful of your role in our partnership. I fear we are becoming distant in our relationship. I miss connecting with you and I am unsure if you are feeling the same or not.

If you are too busy, I understand. But I am wondering if we could problem solve around this. Rather than I just randomly calling you (possibly at a time you cannot talk) we could schedule a time to talk. It of course needs to work around my schedule as well, since I am not available 24/7, but I would hope there would be a time that would work for both of us.

I wonder about your commute time on the way to and from work? Maybe when you are walking the dog, folding laundry, or doing the dishes? I suggest this because I know you are busy, and I do remember those times as well. I suggest these times because they are daily, somewhat mundane activities and connecting might make them a bit more enjoyable as well.

I guess what I am saying is that I really miss you and I don’t want us to lose each other. As I get older, I realize how important family is to me.

Let me know your thoughts.



And there you have it. Done. No more thinking. This script can be adapted to many different scenarios. It is all about being authentic about your feelings and learning how to express feelings without criticism or blame. It is important to practice vulnerability.

And if ripping off the band aid seems too difficult right now, take small steps with someone who is not as near and dear to you. An example of this might be practicing authenticity with a friend by being honest with your feelings. Trust me, you will not regret it.

The Many Gifts of Suffering

The Many Gifts of Suffering

;I can’t remember the last time I was sick, or to be honest, even experiencing a headache. So, maybe this is why the higher powers felt it might be appropriate for me to be reminded of how fortunate I am to be healthy – to give gratitude at the end of the day that you had a normal day today.

It is so easy for us to think ‘Why me? or Why us?’ when tragedy hits, but how often do we end a normal day with ‘Thank you for this normal day’ and fall into blissful slumber.

As I started to write this blog, various gifts of suffering flooded my mind.

  • Feeling ill this past week gave me even more empathy. Whether people come to me ill in mind, body, or spirit, they want to feel healthy again and this experience has made me rev up my engine to help get them stronger faster. We want you feeling like the ‘old you’ again sooner rather than later.
  • Everyone has habits. We are creatures of habit. We love them because once they are set, they get shoved into the non-conscious, and our minds need not consciously think anymore. The problem is not all habits are good. We like to convince ourselves they are good, but quite often they are not. Becoming unwell breaks all habits. I had a certain morning routine I felt was good for me. Now, I am not certain it was. I had an evening routine I thought was good for me, that too I now question. Becoming ill breaks you from all habits, and I feel we all need a complete overhaul once and awhile. Covid-19 did this to many of us as well, and I know others commented how this was insightful for them. It doesn’t always need to be done this way. When your day takes you down a different path, that is okay too. Change is the key to happiness some say, and now I am convinced that the body and mind crave change.
  • Individual medicine is another gift. You are unique. We all want to enter our symptoms in Google search engine so we can claim some sort of diagnosis and put our mind at ease. ‘This is what I have’. Well, post Covid-19, all I can say is good luck! You can’t type in anything anymore without it being related to the virus itself or the vaccine. What ever happened to just feeling ill? Just a random virus? No big spotlight, billboard virus…just a plain old virus. Boring as it might sound, I think they are still out there…are they not? The best advice I can tell you is to listen to your body and put away your phone. You will get well much sooner.
  • The gift of optimism. I spoke towards this in my introduction, but I need to mention this again. Being unwell gives you a newfound optimism. When you do become well again the glass is half full. Things that may have been a big deal before no longer matter. Is anyone going to die because of this? No. Am I well or is my family well? Yes. Then it doesn’t really matter. Move on with the next task at hand.
  • I do not have a chronic illness or an acute illness, I was just unwell for about 7 days. However, when you are unwell, be it major or minor, do good research and leave no rock unturned. Turn towards different mediums of healing and always turn towards nutrition and lifestyle. Your approach is going to vary dramatically depending on how unwell you are, but my point is to never give up. You need to become your own primary doctor, listen to your body, note what makes you feel better and what doesn’t and just listen. If your illness is chronic and it does end up consuming your day, then also consider speaking to a therapist. No one likes to display their dirty laundry to friends and family constantly, and if you are not feeling well, you might notice it is all you can do to NOT talk about it. Use a therapist to unload. You are paying this person to sit there and listen to all your woes and complaints and therefore, you can then leave that session with no guilt. Money well spent.
  • Maybe this point speaks again towards gratitude, but I can’t emphasize this enough. Feeling unwell gives one an incredible sense of calmness. You drove out to the cabin for the weekend to enjoy a sun-shiny gorgeous few days, only to find out it is rainy all weekend? No problem, I feel well, life is good. Come home to your teenagers’ dirty socks laying around the house, food experiments dried up on the counter, and no chores done? Great… at least I could have children. The drool from your baby falls upon your freshly pressed shirt just before you run out the door for work? Am I well? Is my baby well? There is no problem here. Life becomes a lot more peaceful when you have gratitude in your heart.
  • Tomorrow never comes is now a neon sign hanging above your bed. Why? Because when you are unwell and become well again, you stop putting off shit! Your daily task list gets done without a day planner because you are happy to move and have the energy to do it. Your life’s bucket list takes a front seat in a way it hasn’t in a long time. The nonchalant thoughts of, ‘Yeah, it would be nice to visit my brother in his new place soon’ now has you planning the trip within the next year. Truth be told, life is too short. You will always have a reason NOT to take that trip, quit that job, or make any major change in your life. Money is being produced every day and you can always find a way to save or make more. Time on the other hand is not so dispensable.
  • Emotional dichotomy. What do I mean by that? Quite simply; unless you feel sorrow, you will not feel joy. Unless you feel pain, you will not feel peace and comfort. Life is not vanilla and as much as we think we want vanilla; we do much better with pistachio or rocky road. It is good to have a surprise mixed in your serving of Life.

“Change is the key to happiness some say, and now I am convinced that the body and mind crave change.”

via @luellajonk

There are many great songs written on the topic of gratitude and what it means to give thanks to a normal day. But this is one that comes to mind.

Here is a short list of the gifts just in case you need to pull it out of your pocket sometime soon.

  1. Provides one with a strong sense of empathy.
  2. Overhaul of bad habits and stepping off the hamster wheel.
  3. Individual medicine.
  4. Switching on the optimistic lightbulb.
  5. No rock left unturned.
  6. Lasting sense of calm.
  7. Tomorrow never comes.
  8. Emotional dichotomy.