My patient sits across from my desk and the deep audible bellows from her belly cannot be ignored. It’s like a sci-fi soundtrack; intense gurglings and rumbles, then a pitchy squeak. Her doctors are baffled. The intestinal tract, often called “the second brain” has been reflecting her emotional state 24 hours a day for the past two months. She’s manifesting her fears in a very real physical way. The final diagnosis: stress.
An estimated 75 percent to 90 percent of visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related complaints.
The body experiences multiple kinds of stress. Positive stress keeps you alert and helps you during the challenges in your life.
When stressors are continually present, however, your body’s “fight-or-flight” switch remains turned on. The prolonged activation of this delicate stress-response system can send your system spiraling, resulting in anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, sleep issues, weight gain and memory and concentration impairment.
So just how does stress manifest itself? Some of the symptoms include increased irritability, worry, eating and/or drinking too much, forgetfulness, aches and pains, nervousness, fatigue, chronic illness and time pressure. If you’re experiencing three or more of these symptoms, it is likely that you’re experiencing chronic stress.
Dr. Daniel Amen, a renowned psychiatrist and brain expert, teaches that our emotions dictate our behavior, our thoughts affect our emotions (i.e., we choose our emotions), and our brain health (decision-making and choices) are directly related to the food we eat. He also believes it’s our perception of events that we develop through our self-talk, not the actual events themselves, that cause most of our stress.
Making good food choices, nourishing our body through physical exercise, sleeping at least seven hours a night and appropriately addressing negative thoughts are a few ways to effectively manage stress.
God’s instructions for success offer the following: “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). Also, “Think on things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, of virtue, and praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8). Notice it all starts with your thought life?
Consider a few nutritional tools to assist you in both managing stress and keeping your brain sharp.
Choose brain foods
1. Feast on oily fish. Essential fatty acids cannot be made by the body and must be obtained through diet. EFAs are good for maintaining healthy brain function, and more recent research praises the benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids for its effects in decreasing mild depression.
2. Binge on blueberries. The consumption of blueberries may be effective in improving or delaying short-term memory loss.
3. Eat more tomatoes. Lycopene, a powerful antioxidant found in tomatoes, helps protect against the free radical damage to cells which occur in the development of dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s.
4. ‘B’ vitalized by vitamins. Certain B vitamins—B6, B12 and folic acid—are known to reduce levels of homocysteine in the blood. Elevated levels of homocysteine are associated with increased risk of stroke, cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.
5. Go nuts! A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests that the intake of vitamin E might help to prevent cognitive decline, particularly in the elderly. Nuts are a great source of vitamin E, as are olives, eggs, seeds, asparagus, brown rice and whole grains.
Focus on the controllable
My husband Brandon, a certified behavioral analyst, trains his clients to reduce stress by realizing there are only five things you can control 100 percent of the time:
- What you think
- What you do
- What you say
- What you feel
- How you respond to what other people do or say
What physical manifestations of stress might improve in your life if you realized you were not responsible for the actions, behaviors and reactions of others? What would it feel like entering the guilt-free zone?
Priority of prayer
Finally, reduce stress and anxiety by “praying without ceasing and casting all your cares on the Lord” (I Peter 5:7, I Thessalonians 5:17). God seeks us out and wants us to be in communication with Him. How freeing and uplifting if we really believe it and live it!
Until next month, wishing you peace, rest and joy, my friend. If you have any health questions or wellness topics you’d like me to explore, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— by Kimberly Ruby
Ruby is a certified nutritionist and has been in the wellness industry for more than 20 years. She has been facilitating one of the longest-running weight management support groups in the nation. Her health segments have appeared on various news channels.