Stressed out? Join the club! Today, we’re talking about what causes stress, our individual reactions to it, and some techniques to consider when the proverbial tiger rears its head.
Ep 17: Why So Stressed?
Hosted by: MegaFood | Podcast
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[00:07] Today's episode is brought to you by MegaFood Adrenal Strength. Got stress? Who doesn't.
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[00:35] Welcome to Episode 17 of "That Supplement Show." Today, Abigail and Killeen are here to talk about the biomechanics of stress and how this prevalent affliction affects us each differently. They'll share some personal anecdotes, discuss stress as a spectrum, and share a few practices to support a healthy response when that proverbial tiger rears its head.
[00:52] Let's hear what they have to say.
Killeen: [00:55] So if you caught the last episode of That Supplement Show, I was speaking with integrative physician Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, who is a total expert when it comes to many subjects, but we were specifically speaking on the topic of adaptogens that day.
[01:13] And, I learned a lot. And it really got me thinking about how we use adaptogens to help normalize the body, especially when we're experiencing stress. So I thought we should talk about stress.
[01:26] So with me here, of course, is my cohost Abigail.
Abigail: [01:27] Hello, Killeen.
Killeen: [01:29] Hi.
Killeen: [01:30] So what do you think, Abby? Do you think we can kind of delve into stress? And I mean, there are so many different places we could go with that topic. My goal is a nice, quick, concise 20-minute conversation that we can make...
[01:47] You know, maybe we can have a buzzer so we can try to get this all in in 20 minutes. Our feelings and thoughts about stress, where it comes from, kind of how it differs today than it did way back when. No longer a primal instinct.
[02:01] Well, no, it is a primal instinct, but we no longer have primal situations all the time that are triggering that stress. We live in a weird time. I think that it's important to take a step back and see what's causing us this turmoil and what we can maybe do about it.
Abigail: [02:17] I completely agree, Killeen. I think that stress is something everybody...resonates with everyone. We've all experienced it, and your mention of it being this primal response is a great place for us to start this conversation because a lot is happening in the body when we experience stress.
[02:34] And we talk, sometimes, about the fight or flight response. And I think it's something so common that we can roll it off the tongue, but do we really know what that means and what's happening in the body when we're stressed?
[02:45] So I thought, if it sounds good with you, Killeen, I'd take a couple minutes and just kind of talk about the things that are happening in the body when we feel that stress coming on.
Killeen: [02:55] Yeah, I think that's great because, let's face it, when we're in those moments, the last thing we're doing is thinking about biologically what's happening. We're just in a full on panic, or we're in fight or flight. So yeah, let's talk about what that means.
Abigail: [03:07] Yeah, absolutely. So this is something that—it's happening in a part of our body called the sympathetic nervous system. You don't need to know that to understand a lot of things are going on when you feel that stress start to bubble up.
[03:18] So, we have that fight or flight response, and we really call it that because we're priming our body to either physically fight off something that is threatening us or to flee from it. And so, our body is preparing us to do those things. It's diverting resources to make us better able to defend ourselves.
[03:35] So some of the things that are happening, we have [an] increase in our heart rate. Our blood pressure is going to increase. Our breathing, naturally, is going to speed up. We're also going to be diverting blood to the skeletal muscles and our brain so that we're primed to run away from that tiger that our body seems to think is chasing us down.
[03:55] Our digestion is going to slow down because that is resources, in this instance, that we can't spare. All those resources have to go to helping us run away, so digestion is slowing down. Even our pupils become dilated, and the reason being is that we want to let more light in so that we can see our surroundings better in that moment.
[04:14] So it is a very primal response, but as you said, [in] our current society, we're not encountering these primal stressors, but we still have the same body response to it.
Killeen: [04:25] Yeah, and I don't know about you, but when I start feeling all of those physical things, it just puts my mind into an absolute swirl of—like, those things don't feel good to me, whereas, I think they might if a real tiger was chasing me. I would act upon exactly what I was feeling. For instance, I feel like that might be helpful.
[04:52] But, if I'm just in my mind freaking out about something and there is no tiger, then those things feel scary. They feel wrong.
Abigail: [05:01] Absolutely, they are scary. Our heart racing and all of the blood pumping, those are scary things that don't happen all the time. If we don't have to run away, then we're just sitting here, stewing in that response to a really minor threat to our life, realistically.
[05:14] So maybe we can talk about what some of those threats are.
Killeen: [05:17] Yeah, so—
Abigail: [05:18] I'm using air quotes around "threats."
Killeen: [05:22] Well so I actually kind of pulled together a few thoughts about this because I had wanted to talk to you about stress today. And so, here's some of the things that maybe, I would think, when you hear them, you'll say, "Yeah, that makes sense." But, these are things that maybe we're not thinking about as common, everyday stressors, but yet, they are. I'll share a couple, and then maybe you can share some, too.
[05:50] So this one's really interesting. In our world, efficiency is really up but security is down. Let's think about that for a moment. Right now, our standards of living are really high because no matter where you turn—For one, we're being advertised to even when don't realize it. We are constantly being inundated with messaging, right?
[06:14] So when that's happening, I think we're constantly, in our brains, thinking—Not overtly thinking this, but thinking, "Is what I have good enough? Is what I'm doing good enough? Am I, myself, good enough?" So we've sort of—In this world of being attacked by all of this messaging and the fact that all of that messaging pertains to leveling up, right?
[06:45] It's the next new phone, or it's, maybe—there's a fear of missing out on something because everybody else has suddenly experienced something great and you're feeling kind of left behind, right? So the world is super efficient and we're sort of driven to keep up with that efficiency.
[06:59] But then on the flip side, we're feeling less secure because everything is moving at such a fast pace. Even when it comes to our education, we're now at a place where if we're holding a job, maybe way back somebody was really skilled at their job and they had that security. But now, maybe people are worried about losing their job because there's always someone else coming along who might be better.
[07:29] We're feeling this unease because we have to keep up and we have to try to be our best, and therefore, there's competition where there might not have been before when you're the blacksmith in your town. Right?
Abigail: [07:44] Right. We get in that comparison trap. Am I measuring up? Am I stacking up? Or what do I need to acquire to level myself up?
Killeen: [07:52] Right, the high standards. Do I have as much as the next person? You're totally right about that.
Abigail: [08:09] Keeping up with the Joneses, right?
Killeen: [08:07] Which is hard to do, and I don't think any of us necessarily want to be doing that. Whether we know we're doing it or not, we're at least being encouraged by our society to be doing that very thing. And I think that that, for a lot of people, is really difficult.
Abigail: [08:23] It's really difficult and it is a type of stress. We may not get that heightened fight or flight response from this comparison that we're making, or this judgment we're placing on ourselves but, over time, that certainly builds up. It puts us in this state of unease and, as you mentioned, insecurity. That's stressful.
Killeen: [08:41] Right, yeah, so this would be cumulative stress versus a specific instance.
Abigail: [08:49] Acute.
Killeen: [08:51] Another thing is when you think about where we're at in the world right now. We have a much greater diversity interaction. I actually was reading this article. I think it was "Psychology Today."
[09:10] And it was an interesting perspective because the author was saying that it was fair to ask whether our brains are fully equipped to handle the degree of diversity that we face today, or not because we are so in touch with every single corner of the world, that suddenly, we are not living the exact same lifestyle as the people in our community, or our tribe. We aren't the village. We're kind of just the melting pot of the world.
[09:36] We are constantly meeting up with those that don't share the same beliefs and ideals. So that, again, is building up that stress so that when we hit a point where someone pushes a bit of a button when it comes to, let's say, a topic like diversity, then that might trigger that fight or flight because we're already primed to attack.
Abigail: [10:04] And I can attest to that because, as we were chatting a little earlier today, that's where my brain's been at all day. We've got a lot of stuff going on in our current climate. That alone is stressful to me and overwhelming, so, absolutely.
Killeen: [10:20] This is actually—and stop me if I'm getting ahead of myself—but, when thinking about stress and people being diagnosed with stress as a disease, I feel like what happens is often these diagnoses are resulting from people that are having more intense reactions to social circumstances.
[10:51] We're all feeling these things to varying degrees, but I think, just because we're all so unique— I think on this show, we often talk about that, about how everybody's needs are unique. Everybody's everything is unique. Everybody's reaction to stress, and stressful situations, and stressful conversations, any form of stress—the reaction is going to vary. People are going to do different things. Some people are going to feel things more intensely and have a very difficult time coping with what, maybe, the next person might say, "Oh, that's terrible but no skin off my back. We're going to be OK."
[11:29] We have to look at the fact that my stress versus your stress, it's not the same. It's not apples to apples.
Abigail: [11:37] That's exactly right. I want to touch on the point you said about stress as disease. In the conversation you had with Dr. Low Dog, that was very Eastern medicine focused. Adaptogens—you guys talked a lot about some ayurvedic herbs and fantastic Eastern remedies—but even Western medicine, which I tend to think of as more responding to acute situations versus optimal health maintenance.
[12:03] But even Western medicine recognizes that stress causes disease. The reason this happens is all of those things that I listed earlier that happen when you become stressed, whether that's acutely or chronically, you're diverting resources in the body to help you flee the situation. The rest of your body is not getting the optimal support that it needs.
[12:26] Over time—this is why we need adaptogens—and over time, we become depleted. Stress very much causes disease. Stress, in and of itself, can be a disease.
Killeen: [12:33] Right, and again, because people experience it differently, I think not everyone understands that.
Abigail: [12:39] Exactly. If I can share a personal anecdote, Killeen, I've had a struggle with anxiety for the last several years of my life. Unless you've experienced anxiety, it can be really, really hard to have somebody else understand that, which is also stressful.
[12:57] Trying to express this to my family about why I had to leave dinner early because I was really freaking out. That doesn't make sense to them because they haven't experienced it. So, there becomes this barrier between those who have experienced stress or anxiety or deal with it chronically versus those that haven't. And that chasm between us is stressful, as well.
Killeen: [13:19] Right. And then, to take it even a level further, some of us are going to experience that intense stress or anxiety and know exactly why, whereas others are going to have it come out of the blue and it's going to take a really long time to try to begin to figure out why that episode occurred.
Abigail: [13:38] Are there any specific tools that you rely on when you're feeling particularly stressed, or you're going through an anxious time in your life?
Killeen: [13:44] Well, I know that I'm definitely one who seems to use the flight response more. When I've felt at my most stressed, I just want to get out of there. I just want to take off. I literally am in flight.
[14:02] I have a quick personal story of my own. It's not that exciting, but I was in an indoor flea market, and out of nowhere—maybe it was the music playing. Maybe it was the look someone gave me. I have no idea. I'm still trying to figure it out. But all of a sudden, I experienced all of those symptoms. My heart rate was going up. I could feel myself struggling to breathe.
[14:25] And I just had to get out of there. Weird, right? I've been to this indoor flea market several times. I've never had a reaction like that, but there was something that made me say to myself, "Time to get out."
[14:40] This sounds funny, but again, we're all different. Good old fashioned talking. What I had to do was try to deconstruct what had happened as I sat in the car with my husband saying, "I really don't know why I'm panicking right now. Can we just talk about it?"
[14:58] That, to me, is helpful. We don't always have the luxury, but trying to then have a bit of quiet time to realize that there was no tiger in the indoor flea market—maybe there was but it was not living—and I was going to be okay in that moment.
[15:18] I think just checking in—I think meditation would be an awesome—something that we could turn to. I'm not one to tend to meditate usually. In different types of stressful situations, I actually like physical activity but that's more when I know what's going on and I know I need to work out a problem in my head. A very different kind of stress.
[15:42] I think that being more meditative—maybe I do that—maybe I do go into a little bit of an introspective state, even if I'm talking with someone, or if I'm trying to reflect myself. Trying to clear out our mind really helps a lot.
Abigail: [16:00] Well, two things. As you said earlier, everyone reacts and responds to things differently, and so meditation is a great example of that. Meditation doesn't look the same for all of us. So maybe talking with yourself and having that introspection is certainly a form of meditating on the situation.
[16:19] But I also, the other thing, really love that you mentioned talking. We've had many conversations on "That Supplement Show," but also offline of this, Killeen, where I'm a really big advocate for talking about mental health. I think there is a stigma around it whether you're talking to colleagues or in the car with your husband breaking down what happened.
[16:39] I really feel strongly that we shouldn't be ashamed or scared of these reactions we have to stress or anxiety, and talking is such a powerful tool. So, I really want to reinforce that, that finding somebody that you can confide in—whether that is family, or friend, or a professional—it's a really powerful tool.
Killeen: [17:00] It seems a little too obvious, but I'm glad that in touching upon it, I realize that it's not always obvious to everyone. So yeah, sounds good.
[17:11] Now how about you? What do you do? You've had some longer struggles with stress, and I'm sure you've started to figure out what works for you and what doesn't.
Abigail: [17:23] So talking is a big one for me. Talking through these situations. But I do really rely on meditation, especially in the moment, to kind of calm me down. And for me, it's about focusing on something external, not festering on those feelings that I'm having, and focusing on my breathing.
[17:41] That can really, really help slow the heart rate, kind of reduce that intense fight or flight feeling that you're having and let you see things in a little bit different perspective. It's not always foolproof. Sometimes, I'm a little too far gone for meditation to help, but it's always my first step.
[17:58]And I know we've had an episode—we've talked about meditation on here before and I've mentioned the app that I use—but I think we should link for that in the show notes again. That's the Headspace app. I love that for meditation because it's guided. It's like 10 minutes. And there's even ones in there that are focused on stress support and things like that, so meditation is kind of key for me. The other thing that I don't think we realize as much is that we know our diet has a huge role in our health, but it also plays a big role in our mental health and the way we respond to stress and anxiety. And I think in those moments, it's so, so easy—if you're stressed, you're anxious. You know you need to eat but you don't feel like it—to reach for something easy and not as healthy for you.
[18:41] That strong building block, setting us up with that strong foundation of health, will help us better navigate these challenges as we approach them. Something else, like talking, that seems common sense. But when we get in these situations, I think it can be easy to let healthy eating slip away.
[18:58] I try to incorporate very soothing, nourishing foods that make me feel comforted. Comfort foods, but healthy comfort foods are something that I go to, as well.
[19:09] And mindfulness. I know we talk about this so much. But it can be a really powerful tool when you're in those situations to take a step back, be aware of what's going on, what you have for resources and tools around you.
[19:25] I know we talked earlier about comparison being a bad thing or a cause of stress, but looking around you and realizing all the things that you do have in your life that are positive and meditating on those things can help you pull out of that dire situation.
[19:41] Life's not so bad. I've got some good things going for me, too. You lump that in with meditation, but mindfulness is important for me, as well.
Killeen: [19:50] Yeah, and when you're saying these things, it's reminding me of another tactic of just slowing down because our body's speeding up, except for that digestion because we're trying to conserve energy so that we can continue to speed up.
[20:08] But we actually need to do the opposite. We need to try to slow all of that down so that biologically, we're sort of balancing ourselves out, right? Because we don't need to fight and we don't need to flee, so we can just try to relax.
[20:22] And in doing that, it makes me think of my children. Anyone with a child that suddenly goes into panic, or hurts themselves, or whatever it is. When we talk about comfort and what it looks like to comfort a child.
[20:39] I mean, we're not running all over the place, screaming. We're holding that child and we're moving slowly. We're talking calmly. We're just slowing down. Maybe even when, for those of us that can see the stress as the oncoming train and we know it's headed in our direction, slowing down is massive. That really creates a better response.
[21:07] I don't want to say better, but, a response that doesn't cause us to go into such a dark place. We'll link to this in the show notes, as well—I have been enjoying "The Slow Home Podcast." It's these two hosts. They're Australian so they've got these lovely accents. I think that they could say anything and I would immediately fall into this nice drawl.
[21:35] I don't know if that's the right word, but they speak slowly and with this lovely accent. It immediately triggers this sense of peace for me. I love to listen to them because they just kind of go on about how they lead a slow life. And it's beautiful. It's very inspiring.
[21:57] I think that when we slow down, we automatically can become more mindful, like you said, and perhaps feel more of that comfort that is around us because we're not letting in so much light into our eyes. That's fascinating.
Abigail: [22:15] Isn't that so fascinating? I love what you said about if this were a child who was feeling this way. How would we respond? It reminds me, I'll probably butcher the phrase, but something like, talk to yourself the way you talk to your best friend. Would you say, "Get your stuff together, you dummy?" Maybe you would. I don't know.
[22:36] But, if you have a best friend going through something stressful or some turmoil, talk to yourself the way you'd talk to them. I think we're really hard on ourselves, and that was a powerful tool that I personally learned in this anxiety journey that I've been on, is that inner dialogue. Slowing down and being kind to yourself in those moments.
[22:54] It's not, "Abby, get it together. Stop being stressed out. This is ridiculous." It's, "All right. You're feeling a lot of things right now. Take a deep breath. You are strong. You've got this." It sounds so basic and silly when I'm saying it out loud but it's powerful, that inner dialogue.
Killeen: [23:11] Well, and something that I love is, I feel like you and I often are saying that. "Gee, it seems so simple but maybe it's a good reminder." The thing is, we talk about these things because we want to provide some actionable inspiration, right? And if we had some crazy 10 step plan to destressing, people probably wouldn't follow it.
Abigail: [23:34] Well it sounds stressful.
Killeen: [23:38] Yeah. We do some more stress.
Abigail: [23:39] Did I skip step eight?
Killeen: [23:41] A lot of us don't actually have time for those types of things. We can make time for them if they're that important. And I'm sure there's some great things out there, but we're just trying to hit on some basics because I know that I always hit points of revelation when someone's telling me something that I do already know and I just forgot.
Abigail: [24:00] Mhm. Exactly.
Killeen: [24:02] Any last big thoughts before we close this one out?
Abigail: [24:06] I just want to bring it home to that conversation you had with Dr. Low Dog because I don't want us to forget adaptogens as a powerful tool. Everything we've talked about are things that you can physically do in the moment, mentally, internally, to manage stress and anxiety.
[24:21] But there's certainly nothing wrong with reaching for that ashwagandha or that bacopa that you might be looking for to help you get through the situation, so I do want to remind everyone that there are some phenomenal tools out there when it comes to herbal ingredients – supplements – that can help us support the stress response, as well.
[24:40] We want to mentally support ourselves, but we do need to physically support ourselves, as well, because our pupils are dilating. Our heart rate's going up. Things are happening. We're depleting our body of nutrients, of all these different things. So we want to replenish it.
[24:54] If we replenish it, then we're going to be more likely to navigate that situation better in the future.
Killeen: [24:59] I'm grateful for that inclusion. That's a perfect way to round this out. That episode was really interesting. You know what? It was stressful, too, because I was talking to such an expert. I was like, "Hi, what are adaptogens?" So it was a bit stressful but not in a bad way.
[25:19] I really did take away a lot and I'm very excited to dabble a little bit – responsibly – with adaptogens. So great shout out.
[25:32] And I just have to mention that as you were talking, one of my chickens is clearly laying an egg, so I don't know if it's picking up on the audio, but there's a feathered lady out there who's definitely sounding pretty stressed out herself. Thankfully, she does it once a day. I think she knows what's going on. Just a funny side note.
Abigail: [25:53] Well, I think I should let you go tend to that chicken, then.
Killeen: [25:56] I don't what I can do for her other than say, "Thanks for the egg." But sounds good. Good talk, Abigail, as always. Can't wait to talk to you soon.
Abigail: [26:05] All right, sounds good, Killeen. Thanks so much.
Killeen: [26:08] Bye.
Abigail: [26:08] Bye.
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[26:38] The statements in this podcast have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.