Tigger’s Stress-Busting Tips
The infamous year of 2020 has tested our collective patience, nerves, and sense of wellbeing. It not only has affected us; it has also affected our animals. They pick up on our stress like four-legged radar dishes.
Humans experience stress, worry, and anxiety much the same as horses do. Okay, we don’t normally kick our bedroom walls or crib on the bed frame, but we can get cranky, distracted, and hyper-vigilant, or even hide under the covers.
Cortisol is a hormone that is our built-in alarm system and is behind our “fight or flight“ response under pressure. Chronic stress, however, means that the body now has constantly elevated levels of cortisol, which can contribute to high blood pressure, muscle weakness, mood swings, anxiety, and depression.
Like horses, humans react to stress in two fundamental ways: 1) externalize our stress response or 2) internalize our stress response. Unlike horses, however, humans can also react to stress with a combination of externalizing the stress and internalizing it. For example, you may lose your cool, verbally lash out at family or a friend, and then retreat into silence or burrow into the couch like a hamster.
I tend to be an internalizer, keeping a lid on things, trying not to betray worry, doubt, fear, or worst-case-scenarios. All of the worries happen to play simultaneously at various strident levels in my head, like a symphony that is off-key and without a conductor. It feels as if I am trying to keep the lid on Pandora’s box while maintaining an aura of calm. I tend to eat less when I am stressed and want to sleep more.
My significant other, Peter, tends to be a combination of an internalizer and externalizer. When he is stressed, his body gets tight, he lets loose a string of words with the power of stiletto knives, then retreats to his man-cave with a jar of peanut butter. What happens in the man cave, stays in the man cave.
My mother, on the other hand, is a straight-out externalizer. If she is anxious, she acts almost as if she has ADD, which at age 89 can lead to peculiar occurrences: putting her purse under the couch for “safekeeping” then not being able to find it for two days; sits down to eat lunch, but decides she needs to pay bills, then immediately switches gears to go disinfect the bathroom… She is very good at venting her fears and worries via phone calls to her daughters. When she is anxious she can’t sleep. If she were a horse, she’d have a good buck and spook in her.
Chronic stress and well-being
It is very important to deal with chronic stress. Yoga, meditation, exercise, avoiding caffeine before bedtime, and avoiding late-night snacks can all help in the management of stress.
Recognizing signs of stress such as extreme irritability, fatigue, headaches, trouble concentrating, disorganized thoughts, change of sleeping patterns, digestive issues, changes in appetite, a feeling of helplessness, perceived loss of control, low self-esteem, nervousness, frequent illnesses are symptoms that chronic stress brings.
Stress-Busting for the Way You Stress
Meditation is often recommended for people under stress. In my experience, people who exhibit stress externally can struggle with applying meditation to a stressful event or time. Not every method works for everybody.
Whey protein: provides a range of amino acids including tryptophan and cysteine, which are building blocks to neurotransmitters such as serotonin. Research in the Netherlands has shown that higher levels of serotonin lower cortisol levels. Add some undenatured whey protein to a morning smoothie to help your serotonin levels and help to reduce cortisol.
Ashwagandha: this Ayurvedic plant has been used for thousands of years to help people and animals with stress and anxiety. It is an adaptogen, capable of balancing the glandular, endocrine, and circulatory systems. Research has shown that it can lower cortisol levels, reduce anxiety, improve cognitive function, and normalize the body’s physiological responses to stress.
Patented Ashwagandha extracts are the best choice in a supplement. Ashwagandha tea such as Organic India’s Tulsi Ashwagandha is a great way to get the benefits of Ashwagandha. This year it has been the beverage of choice at my house.
Peter really likes Ashwagandha liquid extract from Banyan Botanicals. He likes how quickly it is absorbed and works. During the pandemic, we’ve been buying it by the case.
BioStar employees have been known to snack on our Equilibrium bars containing Ashwagandha patented extract from time to time.
Reishi mushrooms: Known as the “mushroom of immortality,” it is an adaptogen that helps the body adapt to stress. Some practitioners consider it a “grounding” mushroom that can help improve mood and irritability. Reishi is best in extract form, added to tea or coffee. It is bitter, but pairs well with coconut milk or dairy in a hot drink.
Music therapy: Although externalizers may want to put on some head-banging music or heavy metal, consider going to slightly more calming choices. Peter tends to go with Dylan or Leonard Cohen, which when I am stressed tends to put me in the fetal position.
The human brain and nervous system are hard-wired to distinguish music from noise and respond to rhythm, and tones. Researchers have speculated that listening to music helps organize the firing of nerve cells in the right half of the cerebral cortex. Several trials have shown that patients that listen to music before surgery have lower blood pressure in both systolic and diastolic numbers. A 2006 study of 60 adults with chronic pain found that music was able to reduce pain, depression, and disability.
Externalizers may do best with soothing music, particularly orchestral. Definitely turn off the news!
CBD: Cannabidiol plays a significant role in helping the body maintain homeostasis, via cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system.
CBD can help mood, immune system, sleep, memory, digestion, and inflammation.
My choice is CBD broad spectrum gummies from Infinite CBD.
Of course there are many forms of CBD: oil, liquids, powders and you have to find the right one for you. I find the gummies work quickly and support a feeling of well-being.
Holy Basil aka Tulsi: Like Ashwagandha, Holy Basil is an adaptogen. It is described in Ayurvedic texts as “the incomparable one.” Holy Basil helps reduce cortisol and can promote physical and emotional endurance. It can help regulate blood sugar. Holy Basil has a wonderful aromatic smell and I have found that just smelling Holy Basil puts me at ease.
Tulsi tea is one of my favorites. I especially like Organic India Tulsi Turmeric Ginger tea. The turmeric provides important anti-inflammatory properties, and the ginger is good for digestion.
Frankincense and myrrh: These plant-derived resins from Boswellia and Commiphora trees were used as medicinal substances for thousands of years. A study published in 2018 showed that Frankincense and myrrh as incense can help purify the air. These two resins can reduce airborne bacterial counts by 68%.
An oil blend of frankincense and myrrh can help reduce stress and anxiety. The aromatic properties encourage deeper breathing and can help prevent panic attacks.
During this pandemic, Peter has been burning Frankincense and myrrh in a diffuser. I prefer to apply the oil directly to my neck and wrists, like perfume. My favorite brand is Indigo Wild. When I breathe in frankincense and myrrh oil I get a deep feeling of courage and balance.
Laughter is the best medicine: Those that internalize their stress can benefit from laughter. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins and reduces stress hormone levels. It also can tone your abs because when you laugh the muscles in your stomach expand and contract similar to intentionally exercising your abs. Laughter also activates the immune system T-cells that help fight off sickness.
When I am deep into my internalized stress, I have to kick myself into watching something funny. It’s an effort, but when I push through and watch an old Robin Williams video, a Seinfeld episode, or a Simon’s Cat cartoon, I inevitably feel much better.
CBD: It isn’t just for externalizers. CBD is quite profound in its ability to bring the body to homeostasis via the central and peripheral nervous systems. The challenge with CBD is finding the right CBD for the individual. You may have to try different brands and different delivery forms (oil, powder, gummies) to find the right one for you.
I take Infinite CBD’s broad spectrum gummies. They have had a profound effect on my sense of well-being and chronic pain (old field hockey knee injury). I have tried others including oils and powders but none have affected me this profoundly. When I find myself wanting to hide away from the world, I chew a gummy, and in an hour or less, I can come out of my bunker.
Combination Stress Reactions
The tricky part of having a combination of external and internal reactions to stress is approaching both sides. Since I live with someone with a combination of reactions, what we have found is to use a little of both internalizer support and externalizer support.
For example, when Peter gets revved up and is expressing his stress as an externalizer, I give him an Ashwagandha liquid extract from Banyan Botanicals. When he goes into his internalizer phase, I make him Tulsi (Holy Basil) tea. He likes CBD isolate powder, so I often add that to his tea. And, I fill the diffuser in the man cave with more Frankincense and Myrrh.
What I have learned is to address the stress response that is happening; not the stress response that might occur next.
Finding the silver linings
No matter which way you tend to express your stress, seeking the silver lining and seeing the glass as half full are components of stress-busting. Optimism and pessimism affect the body at a cellular level: either boosting us or bringing us down. Some days we feel like Eeyore, other days we feel like Pooh.
Don’t be afraid to seek the silver linings– to look at our seemingly upside world at the moment and recognize where the light is shining.
Remember that the gift of stress is the revelation of what we forget is within us: our strength, resilience, hope, courage, perseverance, and compassion.