For most of my life, I have taken pride in my ‘type A’ personality. I would beam with pride over ‘getting it done’, being a multitasker and wearing my busy-ness as a badge of honour. I had a tendency to jam pack more hours of work into the day than seemed humanly possible. I felt my absolute best when I was constantly moving, chasing and doing. It was my preference to not have a moment of stillness until I was passing out at 1:00 am, (aka. the second I would hit the pillow).
I later would learn that I was literally addicted to my stress hormones.
The stress hormones did their best to keep up for as long as they could. Even amongst a plethora of very stressful family events, I seemed to be managing okay with this stress thing! In fact, my body was riding out the stress curves, low sleep and poor nutrition like a champ – so why would I change?
Or so I thought!
The early warning signs of stress dysregulation started with decreased immunity in the form of chronic sinusitis and bronchitis infections, major cravings for sugar and salt, difficulty getting out of bed, skin issues, increased irritability and I was absolutely wired at night, right at the time my body should have been winding down. It was clear that my body could no longer maintain the high cortisol and was headed into a state called ‘adrenal fatigue’, (a set of symptoms that arises when the body has been under prolonged stress). I let these new symptoms carry on for most of the next 10 years using band-aid solutions (that just kept adding to the problem) like coffee, a high sugar diet and continuing to never let my body come down from stress, in fear of feeling what it might take to get back up again.
It was after my naturopathic licensing exams in 2016 that 15+ years of excessive stress caught up with me. Around that time, my family also suffered a great financial loss and I felt as though I hadn’t taken a deep breath in a very long time. My body became so depleted and weak that it was a challenge to spend more than a few hours out of bed. To add to the problem, since chronic stress also starts to wreak havoc on major body systems, my digestion was a mess, my female hormones had gone wiry and I was experiencing frequent heart palpitations. Quite frankly, my whole body felt like a stranger’s. [Note: I continued with traditional medical testing (bloodwork, physical exams etc.) and everything came back clear, I wasn’t matching the diagnosis for any major disorder.]
At the very time I was ready to trade in my Naturopathic license out of exhaustion, I realized that this was the very medicine that was going to save me. I identified that I had adrenal fatigue from prolonged stress, leaky gut, estrogen dominance and a number of other imbalances well known to the Naturopathic world, and I knew exactly how I was going to heal them.
It was during this time that I started to realize that stress as we classically know it (work deadlines, hefty mechanic bill etc.) is just one form of stress that our bodies can encounter. Stressors on the body can also come in form of – medications, pollution, food sensitivities, excessive fear and anxiety, emotional stress, poor boundaries, having chronic infections, eating processed foods, overusing alcohol/stimulants and the list goes on. As someone who had been on the muffin and iced cap diet for years, taken round after round of (resistant) antibiotics, lived my life with a ‘lens of anxiety’ etc. etc. - I realized that the work wasn’t going to come at the ‘snap of a finger’ but rather with a holistic overhaul, starting to clean up one thing at a time.
While there are many things I have included in my healing plan over the last four years, here are three of the best things I did to help boost my stress glands and to bring my body back to the strongest it has ever been.
1. Vibrant food for a vibrant body: Taking the time to curate good nutrition was one of the first ways that I started to heal myself. Preparing fresh, colourful plant food meals from home is an amazing way to connect to healing foods and to show us how worthy we are of beautiful, vital nutrition. Here are some of the principles that I follow.. To start, I to eat a variety of plant foods (lots of vegetables and some fruits) that includes all of the colours of the rainbow. Since each colour of plant food has a different benefit for the body, this is a beneficial practice. I also try my best to rotate my plant food selections at the grocery store each week as variation is beneficial for the microbiome ('aka a healthy gut'). Some other nutritional principles include: choosing quality proteins, having a small handful of nuts and seeds per day as a snack option, opting for healthy fats (e.g. olive oil & avocado oil) and to opt for whole grains (e.g. quinoa & buckwheat). As part of this healthy diet, I also eliminated processed foods, white refined sugars and inflammatory oils like canola. Last but not least, I eliminated coffee (that was a tough one!) and alcohol for 6 months (as they can be quite draining on our stress glands). I slowly introduced them back in (in mega moderation) when I was feeling better.
2. The healing power of herbal medicines: There were a number of plant medicines that helped to heal and nourish my body. Two of my absolute favourites along this journey were called passiflora and ashwaganda. Ashwaganda is a type of plant that is known in herbal medicine as an ‘adaptogen’ - to help the body to adapt to internal and external stressors. This herb can act as a tonic whether the body is in a higher or more deficient state of stress. On top of supporting the body through physical and mental fatigue, this herb helps to support memory. Passiflora was my herb of choice for calming my nerves, supporting restlessness and nourishing my sleep. These two were incredible supporters as I worked to calm, nourish and rebalance.
3. A new way of thinking: No matter how many whole foods or medicines we try, the body cannot fully heal until we have taken good care of our emotional and mental health. It is important to create a space where our nervous systems feel safe, calm and seen. For me, seeing a therapist to help to reframe thought patterns was an incredibly powerful tool in altering the stress response. Through this work I was able to identify the beliefs that stood behind my thought patterns and then as I worked to reframe these beliefs, I was able to change my thinking. Daily meditation was also an imperative in my stress and exhaustion recovery plan. This practice takes us out of the the external world of stimulation and doing and roots us into our bodies, into a feeling of being grounded and feeling safe and calm. Some of my favourite meditation teachers include Abraham Hicks (youtube), Joe Dispenza (itunes store) and Elena Brower (yoga glo).
The journey out of chronic stress patterns is not an easy one, but it is a worthwhile one. When we have been operating at full speed for so long, it can actually feel scary to ‘come down’ from stress. It can feel uncomfortable to learn to sit with ourselves as we untangle from the web of constant distraction. Though, on the other side of this work is some powerful healing. As our body starts to re-regulate, all of the systems starts to re-boot – we are digesting better, feeling better, moving better and the list goes on and on. If chronic stress has been a part of your journey, ask yourself, "what is one thing that I can do today to invite in my most peaceful and bliss-filled life?" Your intuition will take you towards the best healing path for you. Wishing you peaceful and calm moments, today and always.
If you are looking for Naturopathic support as part of your healthy vision, it would be my honour to work with you! You can read more about me on my website and book here. http://dremilyelliot.com/contact/