We all know someone who always freaks out at the check-in counter at the airport, right? Or that person who struggles to recover from an argument and feels anxious and upset for a long time afterward? Or that person who is calm and takes charge in times of crisis? I might even be describing you.
To be "stressed-out" is to be human. Our flight or fright response is as ancient as we are. The problem comes in when we remain in an unchecked, stressed-out state, over a long period of time making us tired and sick. I'm always amazed by the role stress plays in the health timeline of people who suffer from active chronic disease. Sometimes its years of unsupported stress and other times their illness is preceded by an acute, traumatic event. I'm also amazed how glibly all of us brush over our stress - for some of us it's a badge for our hard work, sometimes we are addicted to the effects of cortisol and sometimes it is just a really bad habit.
In Functional Medicine Coaching, we aim to help you to transform your stress; so that it works for you instead of wreaking havoc on your endocrine system and state of mind. The idea is born out of the knowledge that we all have stress and that we can't avoid it but rather we can transform our stress to work for us rather than against us. When it comes to your stress response, genomics has enabled us to see that it is not "a one size fits all" and that you are unique in the way you perceive stress and metabolise stress hormones.
What does chronic stress look like?
Joining the dots between stress and disease is a great place to start your transformation. Stress alone can cause a leaky GUT, immune dysfunction, inflammation, mitochondrial dysfunction, oxidative stress, brain fog, memory loss, hormonal imbalances, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and poor gene expression or overexpression. Put all of these together and you can easily tip towards lifestyle-related, chronic diseases such as arthritis, autoimmune, certain cancers, cardiometabolic syndrome, or thyroid disorders.
What is happening beneath the surface?
If you could see what’s happening below the surface, you’d feel really sorry for your body!
When you perceive stress, your hypothalamus, a small portion of your brain located above the brain stem, stimulates your pituitary, a small gland near the base of your brain. It releases a hormone into the bloodstream called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). When that hormone reaches your adrenal glands, they, in turn, produce extra adrenalin (also known as epinephrine) along with other hormones called glucocorticoids (cortisol is one of these). For some of us, our genetic variations in the key genes involved in the stress response and metabolism mean that this biochemical domino effect results in us either having a heightened ACTH response, or you may take longer to metabolise the stress hormones through your liver; making you THAT person everyone calls the "stress bunny"!
What does 'the stress genotype' look like?
Some of us are more susceptible to stress due to our genotype for the key genes involved. Knowing what your stress genotype looks like, goes a long way in understanding why you suffer from chronic stress, and stress-related symptoms like anxiety, insomnia, and depression. It is important for you to look at your genetic variations for each of these genes in order to gauge your overall predisposition towards stress.
How to test
This gene helps to breakdown catecholamines including the neurotransmitters dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. A slow COMT means that you are predisposed to taking longer to recover from stress.
You can't speed up COMT function, however, you can support its mechanism with 2 key co-factors:
Methylation requires specific amounts of B-vitamins. Poor methylation function due to enzymatic deficiencies as well as low levels of B-vitamins has been associated with increased risk of mood disorders.
|Folate - Vitamin B9|
This gene is involved in your stress response. The TT-genotype in this gene predisposes you to significantly higher FKBP5 levels and this has been linked to differences in glucocorticoid receptor (GR) sensitivity.
Oxytocin is a peptide hormone and neuropeptide that is involved in the regulation of mood, anxiety and social biology. This gene plays a role in stress response.
The BDNF gene provides the instructions for making a protein found in the brain and spinal cord called brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Genetic variations can result in increased stress & anxiety.
The OPRM1 gene encodes the mu receptor by a substance such as morphine causes sedation, euphoria and decreased respiration. The AG -allele is associated with cortisol response to psychosocial stress.
How to measure and track
If you have a genetic predisposition for stress, then it is a good idea to measure and track your stress hormones annually to determine whether your daily choices are supporting your stress transformation or not.
This test is one of our favourites:
Being mindful - all day!
Doing meditation in the morning is just not enough! You need to shift your focus toward weaving your stress transformation practices into all your daily activities. I love the work of Dr. Bruce Lipton Ph.D., an environmental biologist, who looks at how your thoughts and stress levels impact your genetic expression and biochemistry.
Another excellent resource is the work of Dandapani, a Hindu priest who simply explains:
“As soon as we control where awareness goes, we control where energy flows. As soon as we control where energy is flowing, we control what is manifesting in our life. And meditation is the art and science of directing awareness.”
If we practice concentration, awareness, and willpower; we can control our stress.
Bringing it all together
My simple stress transformation tips include:
- Identify your stress genotype.
- Know what your cortisol levels are.
- Identify the source of your stress.
- Identify your poor stress habits.
- Use your character strengths when faced with stress. Try not to fall back on old habits.
- Learn to say 'no' with love and no guilt.
- Draw clear boundaries between your heart and mind. Practice compartmentalising your stresses.
- Finish what you started - this develops willpower.
- Remember: where awareness goes, energy flows.
- Remove distractions that will interrupt your awareness and flow - WhatsApp messages, twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Don't let someone's agenda interrupt your flow.
- Reframe your stress - give it another name, use NLP principles to turn your perceptions around.
- Eat stress-fighting foods rich in B-vitamins and tryptophan-rich foods.
- Be aware of stress in your body and what trigger's stress.
- Exercise daily.
- Meditate daily.
- Breathe - box breathing is a simple tool to use when feeling stressed. Do this when driving or sitting behind the desk at work.
- Sleep - make sure that you go to bed before 10 pm in a dark, quiet environment.
- Laugh, often - it's great for your biochemistry!
If you need help putting all of this together, book a coaching session with us.
Remember, instead of viewing your stress as a negative; transform it into a positive. How you perceive it and support it, will become your reality.
CEO of MY DNA CHOICES
BA (Speech, Hearing & Lang Therapy) Hons | FMCHC | ReCODE Coach