I Think… No, Actually, I Know I’m Stressed. Where Do I Start?

When people arrive in my naturopathic practice, they may be looking to solve a number of stubborn health issues or move from just surviving the day to thriving. Many problems - sleep disturbances, chronic fatigue, decreased energy, decreased or increased appetite, mood swings, headaches, dizziness, ADHD, anxiety, irritability, anger, grinding teeth, high blood pressure, heart disease, arrhythmias, digestive disorders, upset stomach, abdominal pain, irritable bowel syndrome, weight gain, obesity, decreased sex drive, muscle tension and pain - have a stress component, either as a triggering event or worsening factor.

More recently I’ve seen a lot of women with hormonal issues - painful and heavy menses, mood swings, menopausal symptoms - or thyroid disorders, or weight management issues. I’ve also worked quite a bit with people who have chronic fatigue and anxiety. Usually folks have a constellation of symptoms that have to be mapped out to determine what’s causing what - what may be triggers, what may be result of other conditions. There’s five to six primary pathways in which stress seems to be contribute to dis-ease - immune function, inflammation, hormones, insulin resistance, digestion & detoxification.  For example, sometimes anxiety is the cause of stress and sometimes it is the result of being stressed. Being ill in itself is also a stressor. As I described in the definition of stress, in the previous blog, even when we don’t accept that we are in dis-ease, we are resistant, and we are generating more stress.

To determine where to start, I take a very complete physical and mental health history looking for patterns of symptoms that have been ongoing such as those listed above. For example, I am looking for disturbances in immune function and inflammation - persistent allergies, asthma, skin problems, or post-nasal drip; newly diagnosed or family autoimmune history, chronic joint pain without injury, horrible menstrual cycles, chronic indigestion and bloating or constipation, and fluid retention and difficulty losing weight. These are all signs that systems are not functioning optimally and the body is trying signal a problem. 

The stress response is part of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, a complex interdependent neuroendocrine system, regulating our reactions to stress, along with immune function, moods, digestion, sex hormone production, and cellular energy management. A good example of this interdependence… If our immune function is stressed due to a chronic recurring virus, such as herpes, the adrenals are taxed, as cortisol is our natural steroid dealing with inflammation. If our vitamin D storage levels are low, our immune function will be less optimal. If we are stressed, the cortisol gets used faster, and our sex hormones get depleted. If we are anemic, our red blood cells don’t have enough oxygen to deliver to the body, we are fatigued and use adrenaline and caffeine to push us through the day. And so it goes on and on.

I review any labs that patients have already done. If no recent labs are available, I run the very basic labs to assess blood values, kidney and liver functions and thyroid function, vitamin D, and  ferritin. Sometimes conditions like anemia or hypothyroidism will cause stress response in the body, causing the person to have low energy, and unable function at their “expected" normal. Often I’ll run specialty tests that analyze hormones, such as cortisol, DHEA, progesterone, neurotransmitters, or genetics. Sometimes I’ll run tests to determine if someone has food allergies. There’s so many different avenues to take and its very individual to the person’s whole picture. 

Once we understand the pattern of stressors and the behaviors that have contributed to the persistence of stress, and determine how many systems of the body are involved, we begin the process of unwinding the nervous system, supporting the body’s ability to respond to stress and rest, and provide support to the various affected systems through increasing nutrition, physical activity and rest, while decreasing reactivity and modifying reactions to stress through mind-body techniques. 

In the next blog, I will discuss a variety of ways I treat people who are suffer chronic stress related health impacts and suggest a variety of techniques for addressing stress on the fly.

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Dr. Skye works with patients from all walks of life to improve their vitality and vibrancy through personalized nutrition (not fad diets), and stress management (relaxation is a prerequisite for digestion and cellular repair.) She offers specialized testing to determine true heart and diabetes risk factors, hormone imbalances and uses natural medicines, nutrition, mind-body medicine, and biofeedback to bring the body back into Ease (vs. Dis-Ease) allowing our natural innate vitality to do its healing magic. She loves helping people discover the healing power of nature, their own nature, within their own bodies. Most diseases and pain cause us to want to escape the body. However, the journey to health is within the body, discovering its nature and supporting its vitality.




Author
Dr. Skye LaChute, ND, BCB Naturopathic Physician in Bellevue WA specializing in stress management and chronic conditions

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