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Scarcity and Lack: The Ringmasters of Holiday Stress


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Holidays can be lovely time full of joy, connection and reflection, but more often than not, that potential gets buried under feelings of stress, overwhelm and even dread. But why? Where do these feeling arise from as we navigate through the purportedly “happiest time of the year,” and is there anything we can do to avoid the compensatory behaviors we often find ourselves in (think: over-eating, over-drinking, under-exercising) in an attempt to cope?

 

Yes, and, let me explain.

 

In a culture of consumerism, the messages we’re given centralize around the theme, “You need this.” While there are incomprehensible ways to accomplish this, the basic premise of economics is: Sell people things they need in order to collect money you need in order to buy things you need… and the cycle continues. But before I go on further, let me just say that I don’t necessarily see anything fundamentally wrong with this picture. I have needs. You have needs. We have to find ways to meet those needs. Nothing wrong with that. So, for those of you out there rolling your eyes, thinking I’m shaming the world for consuming and trying to sway you into a counter-culture of communing and trading, I’m not. Let’s be clear.

 

I am, however, going to suggest to you that your needs, and what marketing companies tell you are you *needs, are two, very different things, and that believing your needs are never fully met is stressful to the body and mind, which is particularly present during the holiday season leads to unavoidable holiday gloom.

 

In other words, the constant highlight of the fact that we don’t have enough and will never be enough unless we buy, get or have ‘The Thing’ being sold to us, creates feelings of scarcity and lack. And furthermore, while actual scarcity has been shown in studies to be associated with decline in cognitive function as well as feelings of tenseness, irritability, fatigue and overwhelm, mere thoughts about scarcity lead to the same outcome. Meaning: Whether you don’t have enough, or whether you BELIEVE you don’t have enough, the results are much the same.

 

And to that point, no amount of breathing exercises, yoga, meditation or anti-inflammatory foods will be able to combat the stress you feel if your central belief is “I’m not enough. I don’t have enough.” Those two thoughts, which have an evolutionary basis in needs of safety, are not only stressful but destabilizing as well. Yet, we are inundated on a daily basis with messaging and marketing made to make us feel just that: Not enough.  

 

Turn on the TV and you will see endless advertisements directed at pointing out your flaws, what’s wrong with the world or how you can “fix” your life with this one simple tool. Cue the late night infomercials. But, it’s not always quite as boisterous as that either. A subtle message about those pesky grey hairs may seem totally normal to you based on the culture we’ve grown accustom to, but essentially the storyline is the same old song on repeat: You’re not enough the way you are – here, fix it with this.

 

No wonder we are all walking around tense, needy and irritable. I don’t know about you, but when I start to feel less-than or not-enough, I immediately want to dig into a box of cookies, a bottle of wine or, better yet, snap at the nearest person next to me just for existing.

 

In fact, when we feel fearful, stressed or uneasy about our lives, we tend to want to anesthetize that pain with creature comforts such as sugar, alcohol, sex, shopping or exercise. While in moderation, none of these things are inherently harmful, but excessive amounts of them can lead to negative consequences down the road, as most of us are aware. When we spend a whole month (or three considering they put out Christmas decorations at Halloween now) in the feeling of stress around upcoming holidays, we can easily begin to lean on these crutches more often than not, creating detrimental effects for our health.

 

To demonstrate this point even further, there has been some amazing work coming out of Princeton and Harvard professors Eldar Shafir and Sendhil Mullainathan pointing to the fact that scarcity, and the feelings of scarcity, actually lower cognitive abilities. Meaning, as humans, our decision making skills sort of fly out the window when dealing with the stress of scarcity. Now, they were mostly referring to financial scarcity in these studies, but have alluded to the fact in other articles that it doesn’t necessarily matter what the subject matter is. The reason being that when the human brain experiences stress, glucose levels plummet as energy demands increase in response to stress hormones being released into the bloodstream, and our attention focuses myopically on the stressor at hand, ultimately, making us dumber and hyper-reflexive in nature.

 

Now, this might seem like an intense description to lay out as a case against watching TV commercials, but nonetheless I think it’s worth mentioning since we are inundated with these messages more often than most of us care to recognize, making us victims of our own culture.

 

So, what to do? Because, let’s be honest, thinking about the ways your thoughts stress your body out is stressful in and of itself, and that’s not good for anyone.

 

Luckily, I believe the antidote to this conundrum is much simpler than we might assume. While I talk about it a lot, awareness – simple, sweet awareness – is once again key. Even reading this post, you will most likely think about things a little bit differently, and that, I believe is enough. Because next time you catch yourself feeling badly that you don’t have the latest style of workout pants or a bigger, fancier car or new furniture for your house or all the books you could ever want to read or the newest kitchen gadget from La Creuset, you might just stop and ask yourself, “Will this thing somehow make me better?” “Do I really need it?” “If I do want it, why? And lastly, “Even without this thing, can I be enough?”

 

Again, I don’t write this post to scare you out of wanting fun things, shopping for your loved ones or getting caught up in the Christmas spirit. We all celebrate differently, and if that feels good to you, and excites you and conjures feelings of joy – by all means, DO THE THINGS THAT BRING YOU JOY. But, if you find yourself feeling badly, feeling like you're lacking or ungrateful for all that you already do have, perhaps check in and tune in to see if the message is yours, or if you’ve been paying a bit too much attention to those outside voices whose message will always, and forever, be: You’re not enough.

 

Until next time,

Sy 

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Relationships: It's not them, it's you.


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I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships lately. Platonic, intimate, acquaintances and everything in between. The nature of them, how they affect our well-being, our health, our mindset and how, despite sometimes wishing they weren’t, they are integral to our joy and fulfillment during this lifetime. So, as I usually do with things I think about intensely, I decided to write about it.

 

Being an NTP, you’d think my job description ended at food, but what I’ve found over the years is that food is rarely the place of conclusion. In fact, it’s usually the commencement, the place where it all starts and continues to unfold into a deeper understanding of what health really means.

 

To me, health means being able to wake up in the morning satisfied and eager. Happy and content with your life and where it’s heading. Receptive and open to contrast as a learning tool, but not afraid and fearful of its presence in your life. Health means alignment between your body, mind and soul and a feeling of connection to a greater collective than you can concretely wrap your head around.

 

Can all of that be accomplished with food? I think not. Which is why I feel it necessary for us to take a holistic approach to our wellness and address all the conditions of our lives, including our loved ones – our loathed ones – and ones we don’t give much thought to, but who still exist in our awareness.

 

Whether we like it or not, relationships are central to our existence and we are in a “relationship” with everyone we meet. To demonstrate my point, according to the dictionary definition, relationships are defined as such:

 

“the way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected.”

 

In other words, while we often save the word *relationship for our intimate and romantic ones, we are related and connected to everything and everyone we come into contact with, making relationships a very, very large and undeniable part of our experience. If I go to the grocery store to pick up food, I’m in a relationship of some sort with every person and item there. Now, the intensity of that relationship may vary, I may hardly notice some people while choosing to speak to others, but nonetheless, the relationship exists. From a purely objective standpoint, with this many relationships making their way into our daily experience, wouldn’t it make sense to ensure they are mostly positive?

 

But we don’t do that. We tend to think of relationships as passive. As though the people and encounters in our lives are exerted upon us and our only job is to consume them. To receive them and react to them.  If we are “lucky and blessed” we’re surrounded by people who make our lives better, and if we are “unlucky and cursed” we will be surrounded by those we consider idiots or people who make our lives miserable.

 

And this is wherein the problem lies...

 

What most people fail to understand is that the quality of our relationships exists in direct proportion to who we ARE in our own lives. In other words, your relationships are a direct reflection of YOU.

 

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With that in mind, do you like what you see looking back?

 

Upon learning this harsh, eye-opening truth, I remember balking a bit. I was more of the mindset that people were more hassle than they were worth. For the most part, I found that people were self-serving, annoying, dumb, lazy, mean, and uninteresting. I had time for a few select (read: “important”) people in my life, and even they were often the source of much of my pain. Particularly when it came to my romantic relationships. No matter how hard they may have been trying, I was consistently disappointed with their lack of attention, love and adoration, expecting an inordinate amount of devotion and connection that I myself was unwilling and unable to give in return.

 

So, you can imagine my surprise, and disbelief, when I found out that all of those relationships – the ones that caused me so much headache and the ones for which I longed to be more meaningful and deep – were a product my doing.

 

I’m not suggesting that we can manipulate our relationships to fit our ideals, but what I am saying is that if we want meaningful, loving, interesting, expanding, open, communicative relationships, we must first show up as those qualities in our own lives. Borrowing from religion, we call this a faith of sorts. The premise that I must first become that which I want to be and look for what I want to cultivate within myself without having seen proof of it in others. Because the universal forces which bring us together are interesting that way. If my frequency is more irritable than compassionate, more angry than loving, more negative than positive, by definition it will be difficult, if not impossible, to match up with anyone embodying those qualities.

 

Sometimes this is hard, especially when it means looking at old patterns and ways of showing up and choosing new ones. I remember specifically wanting more authentic, open and vulnerable relationships, until I realized what they would require of me. More authenticity and vulnerability. Unfortunately (or not), relationships are never one-sided, meaning that you will most likely have to become uncomfortable for a period of time while you learn to navigate new ways of being, communicating and interacting. Which is why most of us fail to make changes and then blame others for not being what we needed them to be.

 

When I was on the road to those more meaningful relationships, I had to dive deep into what I considered hot water and it was, at times, terrifying. It didn’t stop me, but sometimes my heart would race so fast I thought I would die and I had multiple vulnerability hangovers, as shame researcher Brene Brown affectionately calls them. I was wobbly and shaky and unsure of myself most of the time, but little by little I saw people opening up around me in ways I couldn’t have imagined before. Not only strangers, but friends and family I’d known my entire life. People I thought couldn’t possibly share my love for this work or whom I thought were content to stay where they were started joining me on my journey. We talked and laughed and cried – sometimes we pushed back on each other, but ultimately the more responsibility I took for massaging and nurturing my relationships, the more they blossomed before my eyes into something that felt real. That felt like mine.

While that’s simply one example of the way it could unfold, the overarching theme is this:

 

Get clear on what you’d like from your relationships and then work to become that person.

 

Your relationships will rise or fall to the level of your expectation and creation. They are not dead, but vitally alive and pulsing with possibility. Not outside of yourself, but in. And arguably, existing in a world where you feel enlivened, supported, loved, seen and connected is one that’s fantastic for your health. Next time you find yourself frustrated, disappointed or disillusioned with the people in your life, ask yourself how you can show up differently to the scene and see how it changes the landscape.

 

Until next time,

Sy

 

 

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Inspired Action Vs. Action: What's the Difference and How Can You Tell?

So, have you ever felt the pressure to get something done, or to check something off your list, but felt totally uninspired to do it and let procrastination suck the life out of you? Yeah, me too. In fact, I started going down that familiar path today, but was luckily interrupted by a phone call from a friend that lasted well over an hour and took my mind out of forcing myself to write this blog and into talking and laughing and connecting. Afterward, not only did I feel inspired with tons of new thoughts and energies buzzing through my brain, but I felt excited to sit down and jam out this post because the lesson is applicable to so many of us. When we force our way through life, we get tired and burned out, but when we tap into the source of never-ending energy within us, life flows effortlessly and easily. And this applies to everything from our closest relationships to writing weekly blog posts. The rules never change. Hold on too tightly, and the sand falls out. Open your hand and let it sit, and it can remain indefinitely.

 

But, the key is recognizing this, because as we all probably know, it’s easier said than done when we’re up against a deadline or when our partner is drifting further and further away or when we don’t know whether we should quit the job or stay. I get it. I LOVE making lists and checking items off. I love certainty and am terrified by change. I find it so satisfying in the part of my brain that likes things orderly and organized – the part that feels safer when things are under control. But when our lists and expectations and goals become more harmful than helpful, it’s worth stepping back and taking a look at how our forcefulness is actually the cause of our discomfort, NOT the thing we think needs changes or fixing or completing.

 

Recently, I had a wonderful experience I’d like the share that demonstrates this beautifully. I’ve often heard from spiritual teachers that when we align with the universe and our intuition, projects, experiences and relationships all flow effortlessly, almost like divine inspiration flowing THROUGH them. And while I’ve certainly experienced many moments of peace and clarity, I’d never really had that deep knowing about something that made it feel like I was floating on clouds. I’ve always been the push-through-it type where it takes me 3 days to painfully hack out a blog post filled with more edits, typos and rewritten sentences than not and by the end of it I feel mentally and emotionally drained. It was the same for programs I’d put out, coaching follow ups or big ideas that flowed through my brain. I loved them, but I equally hated them because they felt hard and overwhelming and stressful. But recently, I’ve been leaning into the idea of divine inspiration and letting the work flow through me instead of wrangling it out, and I finally came to a personal understanding of this with a small e-recipe book I co-authored.

 

One of my favorite teachers talks about how meditation allows the brain to slow down and turn off long enough that we are no longer blocking our internal guidance. Up until the past few months, I’d always used meditation in a very physically-focused way as a tool for calming down my nervous system and squelching stress. But, lately, I started focusing my attention on it’s more spiritual attributes. Namely, as a way to connect to my inner guidance system and source.  So, one day, after a nice, but not out of the normal, meditation, I got an Instagram notification from a friend whose recipe I’d cooked and photographed that said, “You always make them look so pretty.” Not thinking anything of it, I laughingly wrote back, “you cook em, I’ll make em look pretty!” and then, right then and there it was as if I was handed an idea that felt so natural and logical, it was hardly a big deal, but I knew deep in my soul that it was inspired. I shot her a text and said, “Hey, what if we actually do that and create a book together. You cook, I shoot?” To which she replied, “Let’s do it.” And the Simple Summer E-Recipe Book you’ve been hearing me talk about for weeks now was born. But not only was the idea born, the entire project flowed so seamlessly it felt as if I knew all along how to put together and craft an e-book. Then the emails began flowing in and the each and every picture turned out perfectly with one or two shots. The recipes were delicious and easily perfected in less than a week and every phone and brainstorming session was smooth like butter! THIS is what we mean when we talk of divine guidance and inspiration. THIS is what it feels like when the energy of the universe is flowing through you and into your creations, experiences and relationships. THIS is what alignment feels like and what it means to let go and let god – or the universe – or Buddha – or source, or whatever you call it.

 

When we take time to meditate, to slow down, to enjoy our life, to connect and live calmly, we are then open and receptive to these energies. Had I not taken the time to meditate and slow down my restless mind, and instead, pushed through my day without stopping until my head hit the pillow, I would never have seen that path unfolding right before my eyes, nor had the good sense to take it! In fact, I probably would have written it off as a silly passion and convinced myself I didn’t have time for it. And how much I would have missed! From that idea sprang forth four others, including an actual cookbook and new podcast. This is what it means to sync up with the universe, let go of the control and let divine guidance have its way with you.

 

Sure we can push and grind and manipulate our world so that we reach our goals and make ourselves heard, but we can also relax into them and get the same, if not better, results. Having done it both ways, I can tell you that this is one the best things I’ve ever created because of how it felt while I was doing it. There was no stress, no angst, no overwhelm – only joy, excitement and fun along the way and when it was done, I looked at it and smiled grateful for the adventure it took me on during those weeks.

 

If you’re the kind of person who is used to #nodaysoff and #hustling and #workgrind, I urge you in this moment to consider whether or not that mentality is actually serving you? Are you feeling burned out, uninspired and busy? If so, take some time to replenish and sit your ass down for a meditation. If you can’t possibly bare the idea of that (we’ll have to chat about that another time), then do something, anything, to unplug.

 

Go on a walk outside, chat with a dear friend, get a massage, go on a long drive, watch a sunset, even have a glass of wine. Keep unplugging for as long as you need until you feel so inspired to do something you couldn’t possibly ignore it and when that happens, notice the ease with which you get it done. This is how we find our joy and inspiration my friends. It’s not through hard effort, it’s not through control and it’s certainly not through grinding it out. Sure you can get things done that way, but they will probably be half of your genius at best and leave you feeling exhausted and in need of a vacation. Whereas divine inspiration actually bolsters our energy and fills us with delight.

 

Have you ever had an experience with divine guidance? Do you live in flow with the universe? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Until next time,

Sy 


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Are ANTS Stressing You Out?

ANTS. If you’ve ever had an an ant infestation, you’ll know just how pesky and downright yucky those little guys can be. While today’s conversation centers less around the bug-version of the pests, emotional and mental ANTS are just as annoying, persistent and damaging if left to their own devices. If you’re not not familiar with the the acronym, it stands for Automatic Negative Thoughts, and today I want to chat with you guys about why these patterns are so detrimental to our health and how they skyrocket stress levels.

 

First, let’s do a little unpacking of what an ANT is. Like I mentioned before, the name is pretty self-explanatory, but often times we aren’t even aware we’re engaging in ANT activity until we take a purposeful look inside our minds. I remember there being a time when I thought my thoughts were both uncontrollable and coming from somewhere outside of myself. I had negative, sad and pessimistic thoughts all day long, but thought that’s just the way my brain was made and that I was powerless to change it. Then I remember picking up a book called Change Your Brain, Change Your Life (mostly because I was desperate to get rid of my all-consuming anxiety and depression) and in an unexpected turn of events, learned about ANTS. ANTS are just negative thoughts we’ve been thinking so long and so frequently that they are hardly perceptible anymore.

 

For example: If you’re someone who struggles with body image issues, you may think something along the lines of “Ew, look at my love-handles” every time you pass a mirror without thinking twice about it. Your FIRST and most present (read: automatic) thought is to look for what’s wrong on your body, and I’m betting you’d be hard pressed at that point if I asked you to find something positive to note.

 

As another example, perhaps you’re someone who tends to be a worrier. In this instance, you’re probably looking for all that could go wrong in any given situation, event or circumstance rather than what could go right, and you most likely chalk it up to “being safe instead of sorry,” or even pragmatic thinking.

 

But here’s the thing, every time we think a negative thought, our body responds, and it’s not necessarily a good thing. From an evolutionary perspective, negative thoughts turn on the fight-or-flight mechanisms in our body because, essentially, they are signaling that something is wrong and that we should be ready for danger. This sends out stress signals to the brain which then compensate by releasing more signals and stress hormones to deal with the problem. Your body, as brilliant as it is in many ways, doesn’t really know the difference between a real and perceived threat, so whether you are truly in danger, or merely thinking negative thoughts that make you feel threatened, the response is the same.

 

This is why ANTS, which many of us think every day, sometimes all day, are so harmful both physically and emotionally. We are literally our own worst enemy when it comes to the thoughts we think because our thoughts create emotions and emotions create responses, and chronic, long-term exposure to these types of responses has a wearing down effect on the body’s systems. Over time, this exposure leads to stress-related pathologies such as digestive issues, headaches, tension in the jaw and neck, raised blood pressure and heart rate, wonky menstrual cycles, drained energies and much, much more. The human body does an excellent job when acute stress is present (think emergencies), but really isn’t designed to handle the pressure of long-term, low-grade chronic stress day in and day out. When we start to feel these effects, it usually shows up as “just feeling off.”

 

Many, in fact most, of my clients come to me because, while they can’t quite put a finger on what’s wrong, they recognize that they don’t feel alive, vibrant, healthy, and in many cases, happy. That’s when our work begins as we start to uncover and unpack all the ways that stress, in all its many forms, plays a role in our physiology.

 

 

So, now that we know how thoughts impact the body, the question you probably have is, “What should I do about it?

 

I like to tell people, in order to make real, transformative changes, you must first be aware of what it is you’re trying to change. Now, I realize that may seem a bit blatant, but often times we are looking to our immediate problems or issues, rather than the stuff bubbling underneath them. Heading back to our analogy about body image, it would be easy to think that if we could just change our body, we’d be happy. But underneath that desire is really just a wish for more safety and confidence, and those are emotional feelings, not physical ones. By taking a look at the thoughts we’re thinking that are causing us the pain (ie. I hate my body, I’m so ugly, why can’t I look like so-and-so) we can then, and only then, decide to choose again with thoughts that embody those feelings of safety and confidence.

 

 

But first, awareness. In order to become aware, you must bring the idea of ANTS into your immediate presence. I suggest doing this by putting reminders up in the house or on your phone. You can also take a written inventory of your particular ANTS and put that up for you to see somewhere. Get clear on the thoughts you think all day long that are no longer serving you, and then with this awareness, choose new thoughts in their place that feel better every single time they pop up. By doing this, you are re-training your brain to think positively and in a way that actually calms the stress response in your body rather than igniting it. You are your own best soother. You know exactly how to make yourself feel better in a way that no one else can once you tap into that intuition.

 

It’s not always easy to see these – after all, they are small and sneaky and sometimes, we don’t know they are there until we get bit – that’s ok. As with everything, noticing ANTS takes practice and commitment, but if you are truly interested in changing the way you perceive your life, body, job, relationships, health etc… this is a fantastic place to start.

 

 

The human brain is powerful beyond measure, and it’s an area of health that continues to expand as we learn more about the mind-body connection. Learning to tap in and tune in to the underlying current we build our lives upon is one of the most empowering steps we can take when it comes to creating a healthy body and a happy life. I’ve seen countless people get stuck in a space of healing and therapy and darkness, despite eating all the right foods and doing all the right programs, because they are too afraid to do the internal work it requires to be free. And that’s ok. It can be scary, and it can put us out of balance to look inside and get pointed and real about the ways in which we’ve been creating our own unhappiness. That’s quite the responsibility. But I believe we are all not only up for the task, but masters at it. You did NOT come into this world to worry about your body, fret over your job, fight with your family or beat yourself up every single day for not being perfect. You came into this world to thrive, love and experience all that life has to offer in the most delicious way!

 

If ANTS are something that have been infesting the deepest regions of your mind for years now, make today the day that changes. Make today the day you shine some light on those dusty old beliefs and shake out the proverbial rug. Your life is calling. Are you ready to answer it?

 

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Why You Gain Weight When You're Stressed


Most women I know struggle with wanting to lose body fat in one area or another, and many can’t figure out why, despite all their best efforts, this isn’t happening. Now, aside from the topic of self-love and acceptance (two concepts I find paramount to your overall health and wellness), it’s not a crime to want a firmer midsection or to tone up your legs. A healthy, vital and active body is able to carry us places we wish to travel and move in exciting, fun ways that we might not be able to otherwise. Plus, who doesn’t love the feeling of confidence you get when your body is living out in it’s perfect potential? I know I notice when my body feels heavy and sluggish versus when it feels light and energetic. However, notice I said YOUR perfect potential.

 

What we’ll be discussing today is not how to land someone else’s body or uncover six pack abs, but instead how your body’s perfect set point will be revealed once you undo the harmful effects of stress and let your unique shape and size shine through. When I cut out my personal food intolerances, began reducing inflammation and lowered my cortisol, I ended up losing 10 pounds without any changes in exercise or restrictive dieting -  and I’ve seen this happen time and time again with my clients, as they too lean into stress reducing practices and new ways of intuitive, healthful eating.

 

So, you’re probably wondering how one accomplishes such a thing? Well, we’ll get there in a minute, but first I want to take you through the why of how stress causes you to put on extra fat (generally in the belly and hip region for us gals) and then we’ll talk about ways you can reverse this nasty cycle.

 

If you’ve been here long, you’ve probably heard me throw around the term Cortisol quite a bit. However, if you’re new, cortisol is referred to as our stress hormone and is responsible for helping us get through an event that requires us to “flee or fight.” In cases of acute stress, such as a car accident or other emergency, this hormone can be life saving. When our brain registers a stressor, it calls upon our adrenals to release cortisol. Cortisol then circulates throughout the body, breaking down amino acids (mostly from our muscles), and turning them into glucose so we have plenty of energy to either run away quickly or fight bravely. This hormone, combined with adrenaline and dopamine, are responsible for the effects of stress like increased blood pressure and heart rate, hyper-arousal and alertness to danger, shakiness or jitters and dilated pupils. All the necessary ingredients for us to evolutionarily deal with being chased by a tiger or fighting off a neighboring tribe.

 

In these short-lived, acute scenarios, this cascade, known as the the stress response, is not only necessary, but welcomed by the body and brain.

 

However, when we begin to abuse this chain of command by entering into the chronic stress zone, we begin to see problems arise.

 

The effects of cortisol and adrenaline take quite a while to leave the body, meaning that when you’re under chronic stress (think daily traffic, stressful job you hate, negative thoughts all day long, fights with your spouse, crazy kids running around the house while you’re trying to work, too much on your to-do list and not enough time to do it, moves, bills, and on and on) you have a constant supply of stress hormones running through your veins like a drip line filled with Red Bull.

 

Can you imagine just how drained and depleted you’d become eventually if this were the case? Well it IS the case. Adrenaline and cortisol are powerful drugs which is why many of us are “stress-junkies.” They feel really good, until they don’t.

 

Unfortunately, stress is king in the body. The adrenals, which are responsible for the stress response, are also responsible for governing functions like sleep, sex drive, sex hormones, weight and metabolism, thyroid function and more. But, when they are burdened with pumping out more and more cortisol to meet the demands of our stress levels, these other processes take a back seat. Essentially, your adrenals take the nutrients reserved for making all these other things happen and shove them into the cortisol-manufacturing process. So, now that you’re aware of the way that works, let’s dive into cortisol’s effects on our body composition.

 

#1: Cortisol is catabolic. Catabolic is just a fancy way of saying that cortisol breaks down hard earned muscle tissue. Now, in small doses, not a big deal. But in every day cases, where you’re in a constant state of catabolism, muscle degrades while fat increases. That’s because it’s cortisol’s job to turn amino acids into glucose, remember from above? Those amino acids are most readily found in muscle tissue. Muscle is way more metabolically active than fat, meaning it uses up, or burns, more calories sustaining itself than fat. More muscle = higher metabolism. More cortisol = less muscle. You see the problem?

 

 

#2: Cortisol promotes the storage of belly fat. During times of stress or famine, the most important things to protect are our vital and reproductive organs. Where are they? Yep, in the belly and hip region. Cortisol is what gives us the famous spare tire or muffin-top, despite working out and eating healthily. There are actually more cortisol receptors in the tissue of our abdominal reason specifically for this purpose. More stress = more belly fat.

 

 

#3: Cortisol increases blood sugar, which increases insulin, which increases fat storage. Now, insulin gets a bad rap, but essentially we need it in order to get glucose into our cells. When our blood sugar rises because we eat, it’s insulin’s job to open up our cells so that energy from our food can get in. This is why we call it the “storage” hormone. However, when cortisol is released and goes around breaking down muscle into glucose, our blood sugar rises. Only, we don’t necessarily need this extra fuel and our body knows this, so it releases an overload of insulin to lower our blood sugar. We are now storing not only fuel from our food, but also fuel from the extra glucose floating around and our cells are full. Not only does this end up causing us to store more fat, but also to become insulin resistant as our cells can’t take any more energy. High cortisol = high blood sugar = high insulin = extra fat.

 

 

So, now that we’ve painted a pretty grim picture, let’s talk about what you can proactively do to mitigate these effects, because, let’s be honest, it’s frustrating to watch your waist expand despite all your hard work and healthful living.

 

While I highly recommend turning down the volume on your high intensity exercise routine and making sure you’re eating a diet high in greens, healthy fats and clean protein, I want to focus today’s tips on emotional/perceived stress. We call it perceived stress in the health industry because really, what stresses one person out (like doing taxes or working 60 hours a week) may not bother another. We all come with different, unique set points based on our genetics, childhood, lifestyle etc., so what we perceive as stressful isn’t in and of itself stressful. Now, the best way to lower emotional stress is to take a look at your perceptions and see how you can reframe them into something that isn’t stressful.

 

Let’s look at a fairly neutral situation like end-of-day traffic. You’re on your way home from work and stuck in traffic even though you need to be at your son’s baseball game in 30 minutes and still haven’t eaten since breakfast. You could: Scream at the drivers in front of you, curse the traffic gods, stress about being late and hungry and panic at the thought of showing up in front of all the other mother’s late – again – in your work clothes – tired and hungry…

 

OR

 

You could step back and look at it another way. By the very definition that you are in traffic, you should be in traffic. It’s rush hour in a big city, there’s usually a wreck or something blocking the flow, and it’s pretty typical. That’s just the way it is. So, you decide to enjoy your time listening to the podcast you never have a moment alone to play or that new audio book you purchased, but again, don’t have time for. You also realized that your hubby is stuck in traffic as well on his way home, so you call him and have a flirty, fun conversation you don’t get to do as much these days with kids around 24/7 and decide that he’ll cook dinner while you’re at the game. Before you know it, the traffic has cleared and you’re on your way to the game, and because you’re in such a good mood, stop by the store for a snack, and meet your best friend walking in to the game, who also happens to be late – because of traffic.

 

Now – which one do you think releases cortisol and which one do you think releases happy, feel-good hormones?

 

I’m guessing you don’t need me to tell you the answer. And, while this might seem like a silly situation, you can take any possible situation in your life and choose to meet it with grace, patience and love or fear, panic and stress. Reframing is a powerful way to calm down our stress response and therefore naturally allow our bodies to thrive.

 

In short, if you’re working yourself to death at the gym and haven’t touched a carb since ’98, I’d recommend that instead of doing more, you do a little less. Show yourself some compassion, choose to see your life with some light, and see if those extra lbs. don’t come melting off. I dare you.

Until next time, 

Sy

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How Food Affects Your Mood: Part 1, Anxiety and Nutrition


A Real-Food Approach to Anxiety

Anxiety and mood disorders are huge topics when it comes to health and wellness. In fact, millions of people are currently on prescription anti-anxiety medication and struggle with the effects of their condition daily. As someone who battled chronic anxiety and panic attacks for over 20 years, I understand just how crippling and mind-numbing it can be. Not only does anxiety play a large role in our emotional wellbeing, but more and more research is pointing to the physical effects stress has on our bodies as well. While there are several factors to consider when it comes to managing your anxiety, one of the most influential and foundational facets is nutrition. Generally speaking, our nutrition has either the ability to bring us closer to wellness or closer to disease, depending on how we incorporate it into our lives. My aim in this series is to discuss the ways in which food can restore health and vitality and to give you some simple tips for nutritionally calming down your nervous system.

 

Simply put, your nervous system is directly affected by what you eat. When we eat food, it gets broken down by our digestive system into small nutrients like sugars, amino acids or fatty acids which can then be used by our body for various functions. For example: Amino acids are needed to make neurotransmitters that help our brain to feel happy, alert and energetic, and we get them from protein-containing foods such as meat, fish and eggs. Certain foods are higher in nutrients than others, which is what makes them part of a healthy diet. These nutrients are absorbed in the small intestine, which we’ll refer to from here on out as The Gut.

 

One of the ways we can increase levels of anxiety is by not getting enough of these nutrient building-blocks in our diet. Like we mentioned above, many of the neurotransmitters and hormones that our brain needs to work optimally are made out of nutrients such as amino acids and essential fatty acids. Before we digest them, these are known as proteins and fats, but what we don’t realize it that not all nutrients are created equal. When we eat processed, synthetic foods (mostly found on the shelves of grocery stores), many of the nutrients have been destroyed through the manufacturing line, including vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, proteins and complex carbohydrates. This means we are left with a lifeless food that our bodies aren’t quite sure how to use. As we become more and more deficient in these essential building blocks, we become less and less able to manufacture our feel-good brain chemicals which leads to all kinds of imbalances, including anxiety. While it might seem over-generalized, the statement, “you are what you eat,” couldn’t be more true.

 

Tips for Nutrient Density

Eating a nutrient-dense diet means that our food is coming from real sources which have been minimally processed to retain the most nutrients possible. It also means avoiding foods we call pseudo-foods, or in other words, foods which have been made with ingredients that disrupt our health such as high amounts of sugar, synthetic vitamins and minerals, chemical preservatives and fillers, artificial flavors and colors, sugar substitutes and other hard-to-pronounce items. But, you may be wondering at this point how to determine which foods fall into this category and which foods you should be avoiding? Below, I’ve outlined three easy principles to get you started on the path to real-food living and towards greater health and less anxiety.

 

1.     Shop the perimeter. This advice has been used a lot, but that’s because it still rings true. Most of the foods you should be eating (meats, vegetables, fruits, eggs, etc.) are found on the outside aisles of the grocery store rather than down the middle lanes. There are definitely exceptions to this rule such as with nuts, seeds and some healthy snacks, but as a general rule of thumb, you will do well with shopping the perimeter. To further nourish your body, look for pasture-raised meats and eggs, organic vegetables and fruits and minimally-processed condiments and snacks. If you are eating foods with labels, make sure you check the ingredient list for items you can recognize. If it sounds like a chemical, it probably is, and you’ll be better off looking for another brand or alternative option to drop in your cart. Shopping at local farmer’s markets is also a great way to ensure you’re getting fresh, vibrant and whole foods into your diet.

 

2.     Don’t Fear Fat. Sadly, we’ve spent many years fearing healthy fats and thus created the low-fat/no-fat fad that’s just now starting to get debunked. Healthy fats do many things for our body, but they are particularly nourishing and soothing to our nervous systems because of how they interact with our blood sugar. If you’re currently experiencing anxiety, adding in one source of fat into every meal can greatly reduce low blood sugar episodes which tend to look and feel a lot like anxiety. Healthy sources include: fattier cuts of meat including beef, fish (especially salmon), seafood, whole eggs, organ meats, butter and ghee from grass-fed cows, olive and olive oil, avocado and avocado oil, coconut oil, coconut milk, sprouted or soaked nuts and seeds, nut butters and raw cheeses and milks.

 

3.     Limit Sugar Intake. In part 3 of this series, we’ll dive even deeper into sugar’s effects on the body and brain, but for now, realize that sugar can significantly impact your mood, and usually for the worse. While sugar gives us an instant “high” and makes us feel good temporarily, it’s usually followed by a crash and burn where we feel terrible. This usually shows up as jitteriness, headaches, shakiness, extreme hunger, irritability or racing thoughts, which are eerily similar to anxiety attacks. For the best results, aim to eat no more than 25-30 grams of sugar a day, mostly coming from natural sources or sweeteners like fruit, raw honey or dark chocolate. At first this can be difficult, but as your blood sugar begins to even out and cravings are diminished, you’ll see energy levels increase and anxiety levels decrease.

 

 Navigating the waters of anxiety can be tough, but with a compassionate, curious approach, you can dramatically shift the way you interact with the world and learn to live free from fear, worry and panic. Stay tuned for part two of this series where we’ll talk about how food sensitivities could be triggering an immune response in your body and revving up stress and anxiety. Now go enjoy some yummy, healthy food! 

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When You Feel Ready to Snap...


WHEN YOU FEEL READY TO SNAP  

Do you ever have those days (or perhaps weeks at a time) when you just can’t pull it together? The days when you’re not even sure what’s going on because nothing is particularly wrong, yet you find yourself irritated with every little thing that’s done or said around you, and after a while, it begins to look like a pattern?  Those times when no matter who is doing the talking, you just wish they’d shut up and leave you be?

 

Even on the days where you wake up and promise yourself you’ll be better today – more patient, more understanding and less bitchy – you still find yourself exasperated for no reason and wish you could just crawl under a rock, cover your ears and drown everyone out. Those are the days/weeks/months I’m talking about. And yes, if you’ve been having “a month,” it’s ok. That’s what we’re here to uncover and unpack today. No, you’re not broken, you’re not a terrible person and you’re not certainly not doomed. And no matter what your spouse, best friend or boss says when they are frustrated with you, you are not always like this. You are, however, in a need of a little compassion and that’s what we’re here to give you. Before we get started, however, I want to share a beautiful quote from the Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching that will give you a look into the journey we’re headed into today. Read it slowly, and twice if you have to, but let its profoundness sink in. Swirl it around on your tongue like ice cream and taste its sweetness. These words might just be your saving grace…

 

“A man is born gentle and weak.

At his death he is hard and stiff.

 

Trees are tender and filled with sap in life.

At their death, they are withered and dry.

 

Therefore, the stiff and unbending are the disciples of death.

The gentle and yielding, disciples of life.

 

Thus, a man without flexibility never wins a battle.

A tree that is unbending is easily broken in the wind.

 

The hard and strong will fall.

The soft and weak will overcome.”

 

When you feel ready to snap, ready to explode, ready to fall apart, its never for the reason you think…

Your life may not be falling a part, in fact, I’m willing to bet you work very hard to make sure it stays pulled together...

Your life may not be falling a part, in fact, I’m willing to bet you work very hard to make sure it stays pulled together - completely in tact, not a hair out of place. Your surface probably looks shiny and bright to the untrained eye, and even those who know you best may not understand why on earth you react the way you do sometimes. But when you least expect it, its there. A bubbling anger that threatens to spew out like vomit when the kids suddenly break a dish or the dog jumps in the car with muddy feet. YOU might not even understand why the smallest, and most trivial of problems can spin you into complete melt down.  One minute you’re happily milling along, checking things off your to-do list, and the next, someone cuts you off in traffic, you spill coffee on your new blouse and your entire day is ruined.

 

The tighter you hold on, the stiffer you become. The stiffer you become, the more likely you are to crack.

When we hold tightly onto sand, it will pour out every crevice and crack in our fingers until there’s nothing left but a few grains. But, if we open our palm, and let it sit there, we could hold it indefinitely. And such is life.

The more you squeeze, and perfect, and wish, and grip, and control and manipulate and mold your life and everyone in it, the more they start to slip away. The more things start to stiffen up, with no room for error. No space for breath. No wonder you feel like snapping. You’re stiff. You’re holding on so tight trying your damnedest not to get bucked off the bull, how could you possibly make room for love, fun, lightness and laughter?

 

But here’s the thing. Your soul is speaking to you. Your highest self is calling out, telling you something is amiss. This is what we refer to as “the snap.”

You’re not losing it on the customer service rep because they lost your package. You’re losing it because you’re tight.  

You’re not yelling at your husband because he got home from work late and forgot to call. You’re screaming because you’re contracted.

You’re not crying on the floor because you’re stressed about work, three days late on your period and looking at a stack of bills. You’re sobbing because you’re losing the control you grip so tightly to.

These experiences of breakdown are your soul’s ways of calling attention to the areas that need some healing and compassion. Every time we contract, we’re afraid. Yet, we don’t know how to handle this fear, so we snap. We project. We push it off of ourselves and onto any and every person we come in contact with just so we don’t have to feel it burning a hole in our skin. Perhaps if we knew what we were afraid of, we could fix it, but we don’t even know what we’re running from. We’ve never turned around to look at it, we just know it’s big and scary.

But what if there’s a better way? What if you didn’t have to run around stiffer than the tin man in his body armor warding off any potential mistakes, mess ups or tricky spots? What if, instead of living from the view point that the world is about perfection and achievement, you started toying with ideas of curiosity, kindness and compassion? Do you think that vice grip might loosen around your chest a bit? And the rubber band around your head might relax? And if happened, do you think that last straw would feel so definitive? I’m here to tell you that it wouldn’t.

Millions of people are walking around right now feeling that they aren’t enough and this makes us tense. This makes us feel like we have to protect ourselves and be ready to fight for our place in this world at any moment.

THE REAL REASON YOU SNAP

Millions of people are walking around right now feeling that they aren’t enough and this makes us tense. This makes us feel like we have to protect ourselves and be ready to fight for our place in this world at any moment. Our lives aren’t enough, our homes aren’t enough, our families aren’t enough, friends, clothes, intelligence, kindness, charity, cars, you name it. Not enough. And not in an ungrateful kind of way, but in a fearful, scarcity-based kind of way. If WE aren’t enough, nothing else can be either. It won’t matter if every day is a perfect day where nothing goes wrong and everyone around you shows you unconditional love. That’s not the issue.

The issue is that you’re hiding an unspeakable, shame-based fear that no matter what you do, say, think or are, it won’t be enough, and this fear then colors every interaction you have with the world and those around you. This makes you tight and ready to snap. THAT is why you yell at your sister on the phone after you tanked your work presentation earlier that day. THAT is why you can’t stand your mother-in-laws criticism when your kids are acting up and lash back in anger. THAT is why you break down crying when your spouse teases you about your shortcomings in a loving way you can’t see.

 

You’re not snapping because whatever or whoever pissed you off. You’re snapping because those things remind you of the fact that, no matter how hard you try to hold it all together, at the end of the day you’re not enough.

 

But this is where we get it wrong. You see, you are more than enough. No matter what you’ve done, not done, said or not said, been or not been, it doesn’t change the fact that you are everything you’re supposed to be and more. Can you imagine living from this space? Can you imagine what the entire world would be like if we all just took a deep breath and knew internally that We. Are. Enough.? How many arguments, fights and even wars could be avoided if we weren’t so scared that there was never enough? How many “snaps” we’d pass by if we weren’t wound like a guitar string waiting to pop on the first person who suggests we didn’t get it right?

 

AWAKEN TO YOUR COMPASSION

With this in mind, I have a challenge for you. As one of my favorite writers coined, I challenge you this week to “live loved.” Live as if everyone and everything around you loved you. Live as if you KNOW how much the universe and God conspire FOR you, not against you.

 

If you’re living loved, what would you do differently? Would you take better care of yourself? Would you laugh more? Rest easy knowing everything would be ok? Smile at that stranger instead of wondering why they were starring? Laugh at your lover’s jokes instead of find them offensive? Collaborate with your boss instead of assuming she has it out for you?

 

Find ways to Live Loved and see how it transforms your life. As always, feel free to share your experiences. I love hearing from you.

 

Much love,

Sy 

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What IS Adrenal Fatigue Anyway?



So, there’s a term that’s been floating around for a couple years in the health and wellness sphere, but it’s still not one you’re likely to see plastered on the pages of magazines or even books for that matter. The term is Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome and if you’re a woman who feels tired, overwhelmed and generally “off” there’s a good chance you’ve got it goin on. Before you panic, though, keep in mind that Adrenal Fatigue is NOT a disease nor is it something sufferers are plagued with for life. Rather, it’s a syndrome, which essentially means it’s a name for a bundle of symptoms that no one can quite put a finger on.

The name Adrenal Fatigue is actually a misnomer, as it implies that your adrenal glands (which sit on top of your kidneys/renals) are tired, which in fact they are not. However, I personally think it does a wonderful job of explaining just how adrenal dysfunction feels, because at the end of the day there is an intense fatigue of both the body and mind. A better, more correct, title is actually HPA-Axis dysregulation which stands for Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis and describes the chaos that occurs when those three main organs responsible for your stress response are out-of-balance, overworked and unable to cope with the demands placed upon them.

So, while I’ve talked a lot about adrenal fatigue in posts, I realized that it may not be exactly clear what I’m referring to and wanted to throw together a description to avoid confusion. Before we move on, I’m going to list out the common symptoms of Adrenal dysregulation, but please be aware that stress in the body can take on hundreds of different faces, and this list is by no means exhaustive. If you have several of these symptoms mixed with some others not on this list, I would highly suggest speaking with a practitioner about the possibility of adrenal dysfunction, hormonal imbalance or digestive problems.

 

Symptoms:

 

Feeling burned out, overly stressed or unable to unwind

Bloating after meals

A burning or gnawing feeling after meals

Excessive hunger or no appetite at all

Any and all digestive issues including heartburn, indigestion, diarrhea or constipation

Moodiness and irritability

Lightheadedness, particularly when going from sitting to standing

Harsh PMS or menopause

Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar swings)

Frequent nausea

Feeling unmotivated or “lazy”

Intense fatigue

Brain fog or feeling spacy with an inability to concentrate

Joint pain, muscle aches or sensitive skin

TMJ or jaw clenching

Anxiety and depression

Cravings for sugar or salt

Feeling tired but can’t sleep – Tired and wired

Frequent colds or flus that lasts for weeks

A feeling of shaking or vibrating on the inside

Feeling abnormally cold or hot

Flushing easily, particularly during winter

Dizziness or feeling disconnected from conversations and activities

Intolerance to caffeine or alcohol

Weight loss resistance or “spare tire” despite lots of exercise

Low sex drive or inability to orgasm

 

So, what causes adrenal fatigue? Well, in a word: Stress. But I’m not just talking about emotional, or perceived, stress. I’m also referring to physical stress which is just as harmful to the body as mental stressors. Essentially, your adrenals are the organs in your body responsible for managing the stress response in your body, whether it comes from external or internal sources. Some of the main external sources of stress I see are food intolerances, over-exercising, environmental toxins, and eating a diet high in sugar. Some internal sources include negative emotional experiences, worrying or apprehension, perception of fear or anxiety and internal inflammation. When your brain registers stress of any kind, it sends a message down to the adrenals to release stress hormones, mainly cortisol and epinephrine. For purposes of this post, we’ll mostly be focusing on cortisol, but it should be noted that the effects of epinephrine take several days to exit the body and is highly stimulating. Not a state we want to be walking around in consistently.

Cortisol gets a bad rap, but it’s really very vital to our survival. Cortisol has several functions, but three of the most notable are to raise blood sugar, raise blood pressure and to work as an anti-inflammatory substance. The first two are key players when we are under stress becausestress is known as expensive. What does this mean? It means that when we are stressed (again physically OR emotionally), our body requires more nutrients than normal to function. This means that we are using up blood sugar faster, which is full of nutrients we get from our food. So, cortisol signals to the body to produce more blood sugar out of stored energy found in our muscle and liver. This is how we continue to produce energy during activities like exercise. Cool, right?

Well, yes and no. If we only triggered this response every once in a while, things would be great. Cortisol would do its job and then a negative feedback loop would turn production off body allowing us to come back to center. Unfortunately, we are being bombarded by stressors these days, particularly environmental and food stressors, and are triggering this response almost all day long. From traffic accidents to sugar donuts for breakfast and fights with our boss or spouse we are under constant attack. Chronic elevated cortisol leads to raised blood sugar and raised blood pressure – for a while. And here is where adrenal fatigue sets in…

 

Eventually, in the presence of all this sugar in the blood from cortisol doing its job, the cells become resistant because they’re packed to the brim and don’t need anymore. Basically, they push the plate away and tell us they’re full. At this point, we may have plenty of circulating cortisol, but it’s messages are not being received and we actually see blood sugar begin to decline and blood pressure as well. It’s like someone put a cement wall up between cortisol and the cells and no communication can take place. This is in the later stages of adrenal dysfunction and what contributes to symptoms of fatigue, lightheadedness, feelings of insatiable hunger or weakness and hypoglycemic episodes. Now, we have a cycle where we are stressed to the max and still pumping out cortisol but not feeling it’s effects because the cells won’t let it in. So, we continue to pump out more and more essentially “exhausting” or fatiguing the adrenal organs and the entire stress response.

 

As with any syndrome, disease or condition, these details are more nuanced then we can describe in one measly blog post. But hopefully it gives you an idea of how Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome is essentially a stress syndrome of the 21st century. Never before in history have we been bombarded by so many external and environmental stressors or been able to explore our emotions beyond survival. While this has afforded us many opportunities and growth, it’s also opened up a whole new can of worms when it comes to our tolerance levels for stress. So, what are some of the biggest ways we can make a dent in our stress cup?

 

Here are the ones I see most in practice that are really putting a burden on people’s bodies:

 

1.     Food intolerances and poor digestion. Eating something your body can’t process every single day is stressful. Period. It will be nearly impossible to clear up imbalanced cortisol without also addressing digestive function and food choices because every cell in your body is dependent upon those nutrients, so I highly suggest taking on some sort of elimination protocol or hooking up with a practitioner who can guide you through the process.

 

2.     Over-exercising and training. You remember how we mentioned that cortisol raises blood sugar and pressure? Well, it’s main job is to do this during intense activity, which also includes exercise. Assuming you have no other stressors, this would be fine. But pile it on top of everything else going on in your life and it’s a recipe for disaster. Try cutting down on intensity, duration or frequency to give your adrenals the rest they’re craving or add in some gentle exercise in place of your regular routine.

 

3.     Lack of sleep. The body repairs and detoxifies while sleeping. If we aren’t giving it the rest it needs to do these jobs, it will become congested and backed up which leads to things like recycled chemicals and hormones. This is stressful for the body as your toxic load builds up. Sleeping does more than just make us feel good and it’s important to respect the processes of repair just as much as the others. Hacking your sleep will be on the best decisions you can make for your health.

 

4.     A negative emotional outlook or self-loathing and perfectionism. Ok, so this one is really much larger than one sentence can sum up, but taking a serious approach to shifting your mindset is the most important key to clearing up adrenal fatigue. Sadly, this piece is missing in most protocols because we get so caught up in the nitty-gritty physical aspects of healing and miss out on all the juiciness that comes with the spiritual, energetic growth. Many people say that they were never able to shift out the adrenal fatigue cycle until they finally began some sort of emotional stress reducing practices.

 

5.     Not making any time for connection and fun. Bluntly put, I know this can be hard when you feel like shit. You may not feel like connected with friends and family or you may not have a whole lot of interest in activities that used to bring you joy. That’s ok. Do them anyway or find some new ones that agree with your symptoms more. Eventually, when you are feeling better, you will be amazed at the growth and strength of your relationships for having weathered the storm together. Writing in a gratitude journal can very soothing to the body as it releases feel good hormones and allows us to step outside of our mind’s chatter for a moment. Even if you only find a moment’s worth of peace, cultivating authentic, vulnerable relationships will go a long way in making the healing process easier and more enjoyable. And if you’re worried, try having a conversation and letting those around you know that you may not be fully yourself right now and could just use a little support. Most people are very willing, loving and accommodating if you give them the chance to be. Remember, they love you too.

 

 

So there you have it. A generalized look at what this thing called Adrenal Fatigue actually is and some ways to help mitigate the nasty symptoms that come with it. Again, if you are reading this blog and feel like you might be experiencing this condition, never hesitate to reach out to a practitioner or do some research. There are so many valuable resources online and some great practitioners who are aware of stress’ harmful effects on the body. It is very real and very important so don’t let anyone tell you it’s all in your head or that you just need to “try harder” to feel good. Until next time.

 

Much love,

 

Sy

 

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Stress and Digestion: The Missing Link



Do you ever feel like you’re doing all the right things, eating all the right foods and taking all the right supplements, yet still struggle daily with digestive issues like bloating, cramping, diarrhea, constipation, indigestion or heartburn?

 

If so, you’re not alone. In fact, a survey done a few years ago in 2013 showed that a staggering 74% of Americans are affected by some sort of gastro-intestinal upset every single day. 74% you guys! That means 3 out of 4 people are walking around with symptoms right now that are not only painful and interfering, but also often embarrassing.

 

So here’s the thing. There is so much good information out there on digestive support: how to help heal stomach acid production, increase enzymes and eat foods that are healing to your body. In fact, I am constantly preaching to my clients and people I meet about quality digestive aids and tangible ways to reduce symptoms. But, the even more important part that doesn’t make headlines, and what I’m determined to make a splash about, is the connection between our brain and gut, aptly called the gut-brain axis.

 

Let me say it in a one-liner: Stress makes good digestion impossible.

Let that sink in.

 

Stress, both chronic and acute, emotional and physical, make good digestion impossible.

 

Now, that might irritate you to no end (stress reduction tends to be a bit difficult to nail down for “doers”), or it might excite you as the missing piece of the puzzle you’ve desperately been trying to figure out. Either way, today we’re going to dive into why, despite your best efforts, you’re still not getting the relief you’ve been searching for.

 

The Gut-Brain Axis.  

We’re gonna nerd out for a quick minute, so stay with me here…

The system in your body that controls all of your automatic processes, like breathing, digestion and your heart beat, is called the Autonomic Nervous System. Within this system, there are two divisions called the sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic division is your “fight or flight” control board. It’s the system that gets turned on and tuned in when you’re under physical or emotional stress, essentially amping up adrenaline and other hormones and neurotransmitters so get you ready to deal with that stressor. All in all, it’s a life saving system that serves us very well in times of acute stress. Acute meaning intense but short lived. The second division is the parasympathetic, also referred to as your “rest and digest” mode. This is the system that is turned on during times of relaxation and rest. You can think of the two systems as balancing. The sympathetic system will increase blood pressure, say during exercise, and then the parasympathetic will decrease it once the exercise is over. Push/pull, yin and yang.

 

When these two systems are working optimally, all is well. But what tends to happen in our modern day culture is that we get into what is called Sympathetic Dominance, or chronic stress. When this happens, the body systems, hormones and processes triggered by the sympathetic system stay turned on too much and the systems, hormones and processes triggered by parasympathetic take a back seat. This includes digestion.

 

Digestion is a parasympathetic activity, hence the name “rest and digest.” Historically, and ancestrally, if you are running from a saber tooth tiger, the last thing your body is thinking about is digesting your lunch. It’s working instead to pump blood out of the internal organs and into the arms and legs to give you energy to run and making large amounts of adrenaline and cortisol to keep blood sugar levels, and hence energy levels, high so you feel alert.

 

Now, our bodies and brains are smart in a lot of ways, but they are also fairly simplistic in others. One of these ways includes our inability to distinguish between chronic, ruminating stressors like traffic and fights with our spouse and actual danger. We are living in a culture that is sky high in fear, negativity, power struggles and emotional warfare. You get on the freeway and your life is literally on the line every time someone swerves in and cuts you off. We eat processed junk that barely resembles food and make our bodies work ten times as hard processing it. We can’t stop thinking about how much our boss pisses us off and picture all the things we’d say if we ever got the chance. We spend so much time staying busy avoiding painful feelings that we load our schedules up with school, activities and family and friends leaving hardly any time to pee, let alone eat or breathe. We exercise because he hate our bodies and hope they’ll change not because because we love them and want to see them thrive. And here’s the crazy part: All of this is considered normal and functional by 99% of our society.

 

But here’s the thing, living in this kind of world, the kind we create in our minds where everything happens TO us and our lives are an endless to-do list, puts us in a constant state of fear, worry and stress, thereby making it impossible to enter into a parasympathetic state that is so vital to our health and wellness.

 

Some of the ways stress affects the health of our gut:

1.     Decreases the production of gastric juices like stomach acid, which is a critical trigger to every other digestive process and breaks down proteins. The whole cascade is affected by low stomach acid.

2.     Decreases gut motility, or your digestive tract’s ability to physically move your food along. This allows food to ferment and putrify leading to gas and bloating.

3.     An over-production of cortisol breaks down mucosal barriers, which are the thin line separating your stomach and gut from the rest of your body, leading to leaky gut. Leaky gut is bad news for everyone involved.

4.     Harms healthy bacteria and allows pathogenic bacteria to thrive in the changed gut conditions. Our beneficial gut bacteria make up 80% of our immune system, so you can see why we want these guys healthy and alive!

 

These are just a few linear examples of how stress directly affects digestion, but keep in mind that the body is a complex web of processes that all affect each other in different ways. The main take-a-way here though should be that even when it seems like all the other conditions for good digestion are in place, if you’re body isn’t able to access that parasympathetic state, it will become compromised in one way or another.

 

So, now, what to do?

 

Here are a few of my favorite ways to make sure I stay in a parasympathetic state most of the time.

 

1.     Do some deep breathing exercises before your meals. 5-10 deeps breaths in and out through your left nostril automatically puts you in a parasympathetic state by stimulating your vagus nerve.  If you’re not in a place where this is possible, try to chew slowly and avoid putting more food before you’ve had the chance to swallow your last bite. This methodical eating signals to your brain that everything is good and it can relax and let go.

 

2.     Pick up some sort of daily meditation or mindfulness practice. This isn’t something you do during your meals necessarily, but putting your body in a relaxed, concentrated state for specific times during the day signals to the brain that it’s ok to let go. This in turn signals to the body that it too can let go and you can see how the cycle continues. The more time you spend practicing these states of being, the easier it becomes to call upon them as needed.

 

3.     Be kind and gentle to yourself about the foods and meals you are eating. If you’re a woman, chances are you’ve had some nasty thoughts about your body at one point or another. It’s sad that so many of us have felt body shame during our lives, but we’re working to change that!  In the mean time, giving yourself permission to enjoy and love your food helps shift your mindset and recalibrate your nervous system to feel good, again, relaxing your body.

 

4.     Think of something or someone you love. Spending time every day considering all the things we love and are grateful for in our lives has a calming, relaxing effect on the body’s systems. Next time you find yourself struggling with an emotional stressor, try stepping out of it for 60 seconds and begin listing off the things for which you are grateful. At the end of the minute, you can come back to the problem at hand, but I’m betting it will look and feel very different. This allows you to come from a place of love rather than fear and goes a long way in healing the body and mind.

 

5.     Spend time with loved ones. We all have those days where we’ve made commitments with friends but now feel like backing out because we’re too tired or stressed or just don’t feel like it. But positive social connections go a long way in reducing levels of stress and anxiety. Next time you feel like canceling, I urge you to get up out of your Netflix binge and do it anyway. Your digestion will thank you. J

 

 

So there you have it. While this isn’t nearly the entire picture or every nuanced aspect of how stress and digestion are connected, it should paint a picture that is worth looking into if you haven’t quite nailed down your digestive distress yet.

 

Until next time…

Much love,

Sy

 

 

 

 

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The Straw that Broke The Camel's Back


Our blog today has a funny title, and it might not make sense at first glance. Particularly because I’m in a rambling sort of mood, so I wish you the best of luck in making sense of this all! (Insert laughing emoji) My apologies.

What I want to talk about today is an analogy that I use to help women struggling through adrenal or chronic fatigue, or any chronic symptoms for that matter, to understand that the process of healing requires us to find a new relationship to our bodies and lifestyle. I like to compare adrenal fatigue and digestive issues to a yo-yo dieter who loses and gains weight every diet cycle. These people often feel confused when they regain weight upon returning to their old eating habits, but to the outsider it seems very clear. It was the previous habits that led to weight gain once, and it it those same habits that will lead to it again. Similarly, going back to our old lifestyle, habits and diet will, in most cases, plummet us right back to where we started, regardless of their effects on us before.

One of the things I hear a lot when working to figure out the root of someone’s symptoms is: “well I used to be able to do that” or “I used to be able to eat that” and never had any problems. It must not be that or maybe I can go back to that now that I feel better. And just to be clear, I get it. I SOOOO get it. I still to this day wish that I could go Crossfit 4-5 times a week like I used to because I love the mental rush and feeling of empowerment I got from the workouts. I also wish I could go eat a donut every now and again and not worry about losing 4 months of my life. But alas, a couple weeks of intense workouts or too much sugar and my body starts to get pissy. So trust me, I know how tempting it can be to get better and want to jump right back into your life like you never skipped a beat. But, I also know this: You will never, and I repeat never be able to return to your old blueprint for living without ending up right back where you started. That may sound harsh, and it’s really not meant to be but chances are if you return to your old patterns, you will end up, once again, sick and tired of being sick and tired.

This is where the analogy of the straw that broke the camels back comes in. You see, we are all given a set point in our biology that allows us to deal with a certain amount of stressors. When I say stressors, keep in mind that I’m not just talking about mental or emotional stress, but physical too. So include things like food allergies, chronic infections, overtraining, inflammation, etc. in your thoughts about this. I do believe that we can learn to reframe stressful situations and sort of up our tolerance factor, so-to-speak, but nonetheless, there’s only so much your body will handle before it reaches what is called "loss of tolerance," or, in other words, the fingers finally slipped off the cliff. Historically speaking, stressors used to be acute and short lived. Our bodies were able to send out an appropriate stress response and then recalibrate afterward and all was well. More recently, in the past couple hundred years, and particularly during this information age, we are bombarded with stressors, both physical and emotional, almost all day long. These range from our thoughts about our jobs, to cell phone notifications, to traffic, our kids, our health, our spouses and beyond, not even touching on things like death of a loved one, relationship break ups, loss of a job, terminal illnesses or accidents, addictions, etc. We are using a system in our body that was never meant for chronic abuse and we see it failing more often and more rapidly than ever before.

You may have been able to stay out late, drink too much, eat a so-so diet, work too hard, sleep too little, go to the gym every single day, take a million credits in school and hold down a full time job, and so on, in your earlier years - But chances are, your body began whispering to you a while ago and you just may not have heard it. Or, perhaps you did, but you chose to turn the volume wayyyy down, drank another cup of coffee (or 3) and handled it with a glass of wine or some over-the-counter meds. And that’s ok. It’s easy in our world, especially as Americans, to believe that hard work is the answer to everything and if you’re failing at something, your health included, it’s because your weak and lazy. So, why WOULD you take the time to tune in and listen to those subtle messages. Why would you risk being labeled weak or lazy or better yet, no-fun? Certainly none of us want to feel that sort of disconnection with our peers. This post isn’t about blaming you for you not listening, but rather about inviting you, now that your body is screaming and you don’t have another choice, to reframe and rededicate yourself to finding out which kind life actually works best for your individual needs, whatever they may be or however they may look.

Disclaimer: I don’t mean to say that every single person who has a busy life will inevitable end up in adrenal “fatigue” or chronically ill. How you perceive your life is just as much, if not more, important that what your life actually looks like. But the majority of people burning their candle at both ends will at some point begin to get messages from their bodies that they’ve reached those upper limits and need to scale back.

This is what we refer to as the straw. That camel may have had a healthy, well-functioning and sturdy back. But we began to pile more and more loads on top of it until one day we put the final straw on and KABOOM! But here’s the thing about broken backs… they take a while to repair. And sometimes, (not every time) but sometimes, that back may not be able to handle the same type of abuse ever again. - OR - That back may return to normal function and may be stronger in some ways, but piling on the same load and expecting a different result would be, by definition, crazy. You see where I’m going with this?

You’re right. Caffeine was never a problem before for you, but now it is. Staying up past midnight used to be commonplace, but now it’s not. Perhaps you’re even to the point where grocery shopping seems like a hurdle, when before you used to run marathons. Your body has changed and that can be scary and frustrating, but it can also be liberating. Healing through acceptance helps us to move out of depression about the past and into excitement about the future. Essentially, you have the chance to try new things, make new habits and find out things about yourself you might never have known otherwise. It gives you the break your body and mind have been craving and allows you to step back and be present. When we go, go, go, it’s very hard to be, be, be, but the soul needs time to just BE. After all, we are human BEINGS not human DOINGS.

So, there you have it. My ramblings of the day, but also something I think is incredibly important to realize and play with. Instead of beating our bodies and minds up for not being what we want them to be, why don’t we take the time to get to know them and really love them exactly for what they are. Much like a friend, our bodies are so much more willing to open up and flourish when they feel loved and accepted, not in spite of, but because of their uniqueness. TIl next time.

 

Much love,

Sy

 

 

 

 

 

 

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