Stress

Stress is a term that is bandied around an awful lot these days but what does it really mean and how does it affect our health?

Stress comes in a number of different guises and it affects our health primarily by putting extra demands on our adrenal glands (although it is much more complex than just the adrenals). The adrenal glands secrete a number of different hormones such as cortisol, DHEA, adrenaline and noradrenaline. Acute stress causes a surge in some of these hormones that puts us into a flight or fight response which is very useful if you are faced with a sabre tooth tiger or other acute stress. Chronic stress,such as most of us face in today’s fast and stimulating society, leads to chronic increases in these stress hormones and this leads to health problems of many sorts. Our adrenals may react by increasing secretion of the stress hormones at the expense of restorative hormones such as DHEA or eventually they may react by decreasing secretion of the stress hormones leading to fatigue and other health issues.

Sometimes we think of stress as only the emotional kind and it is true this is a major source of stress for many people, but we shouldn’t forget the other sources of stress that contribute to our health problems. Stresses can be divided into four main groups – environmental, psychosocial, physiological and biological.

Environmental stressors

  • Pollution – air pollution and contamination of our food supply with pesticides and herbicides puts extra stress on our body. Heavy metal toxicity is a problem for many people. Noise pollution can also be a problem.
  • Radiation – Electromagnetic radiation (EMR) is a major problem in today’s society. We are exposed to millions of times more EMR than our grandparents and the effects on our  cells can be severe. We are also exposed to more ionising radiation than ever before with the increase in X-rays and air flights.
  • Weather – weather extremes put our bodies under stress and with climate change these weather extremes are becoming more common.

Psychosocial stressors

These are the emotional type stressors that we all think of as affecting our health. In today’s fast paced society there is increased performance stress in schools and work places. The constant pressure we put ourselves under can lead to adrenal exhaustion and burnout. Many of us also face financial pressures, relationship pressures and anxieties about the future.

Physiological stressors

  • Ageing – as we age our bodies have to cope with the accumulation of many years of ongoing stress of all sorts. Our cells age and the powerhouse of the cell – the mitochondria – decrease in number. Ageing puts at us increased risk of infections and degenerative diseases both of which contribute to increase stress on the whole body.
  • Illness – any illness puts extra stress on the body. Something as simple as a cold will increase the stress response. Chronic disease causes even more stress with both physical and emotional components.
  • Trauma – physical trauma is an obvious stress but emotional traumas can take a larger toll. Grief is a major stress with increases in many health problems in the first year following the death of a loved one.
  • Nutritional deficiencies – our poor diet and poor farming practices have led to an epidemic of obesity and deficiencies in many nutrients. If we don’t have the basic building blocks for our cells to work with then there is physiological stress at a cellular level.

Biological stressors

The main biological stressors are infections; all infections put stress on the body but there are some chronic infections that can affect us profoundly. Viruses, bacteria and parasites can all be to blame. The Epstein Barr virus (EBV), the cytomegalovirus (CMV), the hepatitis virus, the herpes virus and others have all been implicated in chronic diseases. Bacterial infections such as Lyme disease are now thought to be a major cause of chronic ill health.With the increase in overseas travel many people are exposed to bacteria and parasites that cause an increase burden of disease.

With all these stressors it is amazing that the human body works as well as it does and that for the most part good health is the norm. But with all these stressors affecting our body and our adrenals we do need to look after ourselves as well as we can. The seven key ways to decreasing the effect stress has on our lives are as follows.

  1. Eat a healthy diet. I have discussed this on my website and a good diet is essential in providing the building blocks for the body to replace and restore cells and to manufacture hormones and produce energy.
  2. Get a good night’s sleep. Also discussed on my site – 8-81/2 hours sleep between the hours of 9 pm and 5 am is the most restorative and healing.
  3. Exercise daily – 30 -45 minutes of exercise a day is optimal. Too much exercise can be an additional stress on the body.
  4. Meditation – daily meditation decreases the stress response and calms the sympathetic nervous system.
  5. Relax with family and friends and cultivate community.
  6. Consider nutritional supplements and herbal tonics to help the body cope with stress.
  7. Avoid artificial stimulants. Caffeine, alcohol and other stimulants may provide short term relief from stress but long term they create more problems for the adrenals and the body as a whole.

 

Disclaimer. This web site is for research and entertainment purposes only. The information given in this site is not intended to replace a therapeutic practitioner relationship.

Changing jobs

In a couple of weeks I’m changing jobs. I’m leaving Modern Medical in Balwyn where I have been for three years and moving to the NIIM clinic in Hawthorn. (NIIM – National Institute of Integrative medicine). This is much more than a change in practice location it is a change in practice philosophy.

While I tried to practice my version of holistic and integrative medicine in conventional general practice it is difficult to do so. There are time constraints and a certain set of patient expectations that occur in a conventional general practice. Changing to an integrative practice will give me more scope to practice a better version of holistic and integrative medicine.

The change came about somewhat serendipitously. Modern Medical was sold to a steel company and while we were reassured that nothing would change the sale gave me the opportunity to look at other options, one of which was the NIIM clinic.

As they state on their website “The NIIM Clinic is a leading provider of integrative and complementary healthcare, located in Hawthorn, Melbourne.

Housing Melbourne’s most prominent integrative General Practitioners and complementary medical staff, the NIIM Clinic facilitates treatment for a wide range of illnesses, including everyday ailments as well as chronic diseases such as diabetes, bowel disease, and heart disease, metabolic and endocrine disorders, cancer and others.”

While I am sad to be leaving such a great group of doctors and staff at Modern Medical I am very excited to be able to join the team at NIIM. I am really looking forward to helping empower patients to bring about their own healing through holistic and integrative approaches.

My book, Holistic Medicine – beyond the physical, discusses how people can gain more control over their health and learn how to heal themselves. I hope to bring these ideas to my practice and help patients to explore their health and illness in a holistic way and discover how to bring about greater healing.

www.drcarolhead.com.au

 

My five favourite books on health and wellness

The following are my five favourite books about general health and wellness. They are mostly written for the layperson rather than being for a medical audience although health professionals will find them all useful.

Chinese Medicine. The web that has no weaver. By Ted J. Kaptchuk. 

I love this book. It was my first introduction to Chinese medicine many years ago and I found within its pages a new way to look at health and wellness. It explains in relatively simple terms the theory and practice of Chinese medicine, mixing up to date scientific knowledge with ancient oriental principles. It is a very enjoyable read although some of the concepts and theories are hard to grasp on first reading. It is a book to go back to time after time.

chinese medicine

 

The Body is the Barometer of the Soul. So be your own doctor. By Annette Noontil

This book was originally self-published by Annette many years ago and has become a classic reference tool for people who want to understand the messages from their physical body and their symptoms or illnesses. She shows people how to change their thinking about their symptoms and help heal their illnesses. Annette lists many symptoms and diseases and their deeper meanings. There are other books written in this vein by authors such as Louise Hay and Inna Segal but I think this one is the best.

bodyisbarometer

 

Good Health in the 21st Century: A family doctor’s unconventional guide. By Carole Hungerford.

This well researched book covers a large amount of information about why we get sick and how we might live healthier lives. Hungerford discusses some of the politics behind health issues and delves into diet and supplements in depth. As well as covering general issues around health she writes in an easy to read way about some specific illnesses and health problems of our time. Another book to keep as a great reference.

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Awakening Intuition. Using your mind-body network for insight and healing. By Mona Lisa Schulz.

While this may not sound like a book on health it certainly explores the mind body connection and how this affects our health. Schulz explores various methods of accessing our intuitive powers that can make a difference in our lives and improve our health. She also discusses specific body areas and how they might seek our attention through the language of intuition. This is a book about paying attention to both your body and its physical symptoms and to your intuition.

awakening intuition

 

Anatomy of the Spirit. The seven stages of power and healing. By Caroline Myss.

Myss has written a number of books on the human energy system and its application to improving health but I like this one the best. It is based upon many years of research and work in the field of energy medicine and looks at how our illnesses are related to our emotions, beliefs and attitudes. Myss presents her work on the seven centres of spiritual and physical power, which correspond to the chakras, and gives us a blueprint for cultivating our personal power and spiritual growth. This is a book about wellness in its broadest sense of the word.

anatomy of spirit

Wellness

Wellness at its most basic is a feeling we have when we are free of illness and balanced in our body, mind and spirit. How do we go about balancing ourselves better to achieve wellness?

In my first book – Holistic Medicine, beyond the physical – I divide the whole person into five parts in order to investigate how we might find better balance and wholeness..

The first part is the mind (air) and is characterized by the right and left sides of the brain that I have discussed in a previous post called Mind. Many of us are unbalanced in the way we use our mind relying heavily on our left-brain logical thinking and disregarding our right-brain holistic intuitive thinking.

The second part is the physical body (earth). Our physical body is fairly obvious, although many of us try to deny that we have a body that actually needs looking after. We try to use the power of our logical mind to control our body, to make it do what we want. In our culture, we are taught to disregard the messages from our body. We run marathons and compete in sports that stress our bodies and then wonder why our bodies let us down. We feed our bodies a diet of junk (both physical and emotional) and then wonder why they don’t work well.

The third part of our whole self is the emotional body (water) that we are also taught to disregard. We learn early on that some emotions are just not okay and that we should suppress them. We don’t need to act out all our emotions but to not feel them is to ignore one of our parts.

The fourth part is more difficult to classify but is represented by the element of fire. At its simplest, fire is the part of us that drives us to grow and create. It is the passion that burns, the creative flame that leads us to great works of art or scientific discoveries. It is the part of us that seeks to grow and expand. Fire is our closest link to the spiritual world. Our intuitive abilities stem from fire, but we experience them through our other elements.

The fifth part or element is represented by ether and is by its very nature ethereal, it is the element that is unworldly, spiritual, immaterial, intangible. This element is very difficult to fully describe but it symbolises the connections between our parts and the connections between us and everything else. It is the energy that is at the basis of all life but it is not simply energy, it is connections. Some would call this etheric element God or The Divine or All That Is. Some would call it the Holy Spirit or the Web of Life or Mother Nature or Gaia. This element is so much a part of everything that we cannot distil it out to discover its nature. We cannot reduce living things to all their parts and call one of these parts ether and expect to then understand what this means. Because ether more than anything is present most in the harmonic combination of the parts.

So here we have the concept of five elements – fire, air, water, earth and ether. Keeping these elements in balance helps lead us back to wellness and wholeness. Western society values fire and has a heavy reliance on left-brain over right-brain. It devalues the emotional body and most of us don’t take good care of our physical body. Many of us are only just becoming aware of the etheric body and its connections to the rest of the universe. So we are all often unbalanced, or living in a society that is unbalanced. Yet despite this, the human system has the uncanny ability to find its own balance and to seek wellness and wholeness.

To focus on our wellness is to firstly become aware that are made up of these five parts and then to nurture each of them. We need to nurture them as a whole rather than as separate parts but conceptualizing them as parts helps us to become aware of which parts we might be neglecting.

I have written a whole book about this but paying better attention to your parts is a vital step in promoting wellness. We can do this by balancing our right and left brain more, by looking after our physical body, by feeling our emotions instead of suppressing them, by following our passions and our intuition and by enhancing our etheric connections. This is a very simplistic version of a quite complex process but it is worth contemplating especially if you are not currently experiencing wellness.

 

 

Twelve ways to be healthier

I have been reading a lot recently and keep coming across lists. Seven keys to happiness. Five ways to keep your partner. Ten steps to enlightenment. So I decided to write a list of my own. Twelve ways to be healthier.

  1. Pay attention to what you eat. While everyone needs to find a diet that suits them we all need to pay more attention to what we feed our body. Soft drinks, junk food and processed food are not the way to good health. There is still debate about the perfect human diet but as each of us is responsible for what we put in our mouth we can start to pay attention to which foods improve our wellbeing and health and which do not. For my ideas about the best diet to follow see my page on healthy diet.
  2. Avoid toxins. Health is about enabling our body to function at its best. It has trouble doing this if we keep letting toxic things in. Our food should be as organic as possible with minimal preservatives and additives. Our water should be as pure as possible. We should avoid using pesticides and nasty cleaning chemicals in our homes and pesticides and herbicides in our gardens. We should make sure our cosmetics and toiletries are not full of harmful chemicals. As well as this we should avoid toxic relationships and toxic interactions with others. We should minimize our exposure to toxic television, movies and computer games.
  3. Move more. Humans are not trees. We are made to move yet most of us lead sedentary lives and forget to move around. Movement and exercise enable us to stay young, flexible and energetic. And the best exercise is the exercise that you enjoy. I have recently taken up yoga again and find it a great way to move and get fitter. But whatever gives you pleasure is perfect.
  4. Meditate. I have written a recent post on meditation and I feel a little embarrassed that it has taken me so long to adopt a regular meditation practice. It has been shown to have a number of health benefits and is great for stress reduction. For me its greatest benefit is that we can get in touch with our inner or higher self much more easily when we meditate and this carries over into our everyday life so that we can live with more purpose and fulfillment. We begin to live more in alignment with our true self.
  5. Do more of what brings you joy. Maybe this should be number one. Too many of us do too little of those things that bring us joy. I find joy in writing and reading. In spending time with family and friends. I find much joy in spending time in nature. I am gradually discovering how to bring more joy into my life by simply doing more things that bring me joy. Treat yourself to more things that bring you joy and happiness.
  6. Do less of what doesn’t bring you joy. Maybe this is an obvious one but I see lots of patients whose lives are full of joyless activities that they feel they have to do. I think we need to stop doing all those things that don’t bring us joy. Or at the very least try to bring some joy to them. We can do this by trying to look at things in a different way and being mindful while we go through our daily activities. However if it is difficult to find any joy in some activities then it is healthiest to stop doing them.
  7. Practice gratitude. Most of us are grateful for what we have but we don’t always practice gratitude. We take things and people for granted. It sometimes helps to keep a gratitude journal and record all the things you are grateful for. Saying thanks for our food is a way to show gratitude on a daily basis. As we begin to practice being consciously grateful we begin to be more positive about our lives. We stop focusing on what we don’t have and start to focus on the abundance that we do have. As we become more positive we start to attract more positive things into our lives
  8. Let go of negative thoughts. I guess this is the opposite of being grateful but it bears remembering that negative thoughts tend to lead to negative feelings. Feelings generally let us know whether we are well aligned to our true self or not. When we are not well aligned we tend to feel negative feelings. We can’t change the feelings without changing our alignment. And to change our alignment we have to begin to think more positively. It takes some training of our mind but gradually we can learn to let go of negative thoughts and focus more on positive ones. This is a tricky thing and some of us will need help with this one. Finding a good psychologist is a good place to start.
  9. Be of service. It has been shown that volunteering and being of service to others has positive benefits for our mental and physical health. Everyone has to work out his or her own way of being of service. It might be as simple as being kind to the frazzled cashier or paying for someone else’s coffee. Be open to opportunities to be of service to others and they will appear. You don’t have to become a regular volunteer to be of service, and remember about the joy; if it doesn’t bring you joy don’t do it out of duty.
  10. Cultivate your relationships. Relationships are one of the reasons we are here so spend time cultivating them. We can cultivate our relationships by spending more time with people we love, being kinder to people in general, listening to others and trying to bring joy to the lives of those we care about. If we believe that people are more important than things then we might act accordingly.
  11. Get enough sleep. This list used to be only ten things until I remembered we need enough sleep to be healthy. Everyone needs different amounts of sleep but many of us don’t get enough because we think we are too busy and that we never have enough time to get things done. Possibly this means we are trying to do too much. Our bodies need to sleep in order to recover, heal and dream.
  12. Spend time in nature. This is the final one for this list but it is very important. We are part of a larger system called earth and we should not only spend time appreciating nature we should take better care of the earth. Spending time in nature is as simple as admiring the night sky or walking barefoot across the lawn. I need to walk among trees and smell the spring air. Or visit the beach and feel the sand between my toes and the water against my skin. It is ideal to spend part of each day in the natural world but if it isn’t part of your life take small steps. Buy a pot plant and pay it some attention. Or walk outside a little each day. Sit in the sun and drink your coffee.

I’m sure there are many other ways to improve our health and I welcome your feedback on what you think is important.