Cultivating Resilience and Taming Stress
Updated: Jun 7, 2021
Oxford dictionary defines resilience both as "The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness” and "The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.” More simply put, resilience is our ability to face (toughness) and adapt to or bend with (elasticity) the inevitable ups and downs or daily stressors of life. The sciences of neuropsychology and neuroplasticity have demonstrated that practicing mind-body medicine techniques such as mindfulness and biofeedback can help develop new neural pathways enhancing our resilience.
Resilience is a skill that can be learned and cultivated through training. First we begin by becoming aware of the stressors affecting us, noting how we perceive them and our habitual patterns for reacting. Then we learn how to shift our relationship to the stressors and respond in a different way. Over time, we learn to adapt and can generalize to other stressful situations that are new. By learning to see difficulties as feedback and opportunities for learning to make a different choice, rather than setbacks and failures, we can learn to stick through the hard times and even thrive in their midst.
To prevent the Dis-Ease that may inevitably result from chronic unchecked stress, a whole person approach is required. I approach stress management and resilience cultivation in a five-pronged mind-body approach called Take Five to Tame Stress.
1 Eat a low-glycemic, nutrient dense diet.
Eating balanced, nutrient dense and regular meals with protein, fat and whole food slow carbs help avoid blood sugar spikes and hypoglycemic drops which affects energy, mood and cortisol release. Load up with lots of colorful fruits and vegetables to get a plethora of vitamins and minerals needed to combat inflammation. Identifying and eliminating food sensitivities can reduce inflammation and brain fatigue. Avoid additives and preservatives in foods that are excitotoxins, causing an overproduction of stimulating neurotransmitters and potentially a leaky gut, leading to inflammation and brain fatigue. Avoid or decrease use of stimulants, such as caffeine, and downers, such as alcohol to drive yourself through your day and take you down at night. Seek a more balanced approach of getting energy from exercise and rest with better sleep hygiene.
2 Get regular physical activity.
Physical activity, even a gentle walk after dinner, increases energy production in the cells to combat exhaustion, enhances DHEA production, which is the precursor hormone for healthy testosterone and estrogen production. Exercise also helps to regulate blood sugar and insulin response and help the body rest more deeply during sleep. Avoid vigorous activity right before bedtime as it could be more stimulating than rest provoking.
3 Identify nutrient deficiencies, adrenal depletion and supporting healthy energy production.
In addition to exercise, above, I sometimes use a variety of adaptogenic and amphoteric herbs to aid the bodies adaptation to stress. Adaptogens work by improving the endocrine system (through the HPA axis), immune and central nervous systems’ response to stress. Some herbs enhance cellular repair, and help with oxygen uptake and utilization. Amphoterics are system balancing, whether excessive or deficient.
Examples of commonly used herbs and their actions include:
* Ashwaganda: stress and anxiety reduction
* Magnolia: calming effects; stimulates GABA (calming neurotransmitter) receptors,
* Holy Basil: increases dopamine and serotonin
* Schizandra: improves mood, memory, sleep, fatigue, endurance.
4 Learn to quiet the mind and calm the nervous system.
Take 5 minutes for relaxation, mental and meditation breaks throughout your day, or addressing stress on the spot, rather than binging and purging is the best technique for avoiding the detriment of chronic stress. Tools and techniques can be found in meditation, mindfulness, biofeedback, restorative yoga. I have spent 20+ years training in meditation, mindfulness and the last five years bridging somatic meditation with biofeedback as tools to bring to my patients.
Biofeedback is the process of developing awareness of physiological responses (neuromuscular and autonomic nervous system), thru use of computer-assisted instruments and mindfulness techniques. One learns habitual patterns of responses and then learns to regulate the responses to achieve autonomic (fight/flight, rest/digest balance).
5 Promote and supporting adequate sleep
"Research shows that being continually sleep-deprived makes you dumb, irritable, distracted, unhappy, and fat"
People with insomnia have identifiable patterns of life activities that are disruptive to sleep quality which subsequently affects daytime alertness. Habits that promote and help maintain good sleep are call sleep hygiene.
Examples of improper sleep hygiene:
* Having an Irregular sleep schedule (eg, frequent daytime naps, irregular sleep or wake times, excessive time in bed)
* Regular use of sleep disturbing or sleep promoting substances (eg, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, antihistamines, sedatives)
* Mentally or physically stimulating activities before bedtime (eg, watching television, reading electronics, playing video games, high intensity exercise)
* Using the bed or bedroom for non-sleep related activities (eg, studying, crafting, planning, snacking)
* Having an uncomfortable sleep environment (eg, bad mattress, too noisy, too bright, too hot, or too cold)
Good quality sleep is also important for DHEA production, the precursor hormone for testosterone and estrogen.
Sometimes herbs, such as adaptogens described above, and nervines, which are mildly sedating, can support sleep when other hygiene methods are applied and sleep is still difficult.
In general, I have found, that learning how to relate directly to what is going on for us, being realistic about our energy and abilities (eg, not pushing, overstimulating and overstating) and learning how to truly relax provides the biggest bang for our buck in cultivating resilience. While not all of patients want to work with biofeedback or mindfulness, the ones who have embraced mind-body medicine as part of their treatment plan have gained the most resilience.
If you are beginning to realize that your day to day stress is ultimately taking a toll on your health. Don’t just survive the day, dig deeper, look after your wellbeing and learn how to thrive by cultivating resilience of body and mind.
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.