Just another Monday noon class at Amy’s Boot Camp!!
10 Surprisingly Common Things That Trigger Chronic Stress
BY DR. LISSA RANKIN
AUGUST 27, 2013 5:38 AM EDT
You know that when you’re getting chased by a tiger, you’re almost in a car accident, your “to do” list is overflowing, and you’re burning the candle at both ends, your body’s “fight-or-flight” stress responses are going to get triggered. But you might not know what else will trigger stress responses in your body, and it’s important that you do!
As I explain in Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself, the body has natural self-repair mechanisms that can fight cancer, prevent infection, repair broken proteins, protect your coronary arteries, and retard aging. But whenever the nervous system is in “fight-or-flight,” the body’s natural self-repair mechanisms are disabled!
The amygdala in your primordial limbic brain is your danger alert signal, and it hasn’t evolved to keep up with modern society, so your amygdala can’t tell the different between dangers that threaten life and limb and perceived dangers that are merely thoughts, feelings, or beliefs in your mind. As a result, your amygdala may be sabotaging your health, and you may not even know it!
So how can you avoid chronic repetitive stress responses? Here are 10 surprising “fight-or-fight” triggers to avoid:
1. Feelings of loneliness
As a species, we are tribal people, so from a survival perspective, being alone too much can signal the amygdala to trigger stress responses. Makes sense, right? If we’re dependent on the tribe to keep us safe, forebrain feelings of loneliness can activate the amygdala’s danger signal. Scientific evidence suggests that people who are part of a supportive community have half the rate of heart disease when compared to lonely people, and this may explain why.
If you feel hungry, the message you’re sending your danger-seeking amygdala is “Houston, we have a problem! There’s not enough food!” Of course, your fridge is full of food and maybe you’re 50 pounds overweight, hungry because you’re trying to diet. But your amygdala is not smart. It can’t tell the difference. So boom: you’re in stress response, and your self-repair mechanisms are flipped off.
3. Selling your soul for a paycheck
You know that your job can be stressful. But it’s not so much being busy or working hard that will trigger your “fight-or-flight.” Sure, even a job you love can stress you out. But you’re much more likely to wind up in chronic repetitive stress response when your integrity is on the line.
4. A pessimistic world view
If you’re a glass-half-empty kind of person, your forebrain is communicating all kinds of scary messages to your amygdala on a regular basis, thoughts like There’s not enough money, or Nothing ever goes my way, or Nobody really loves me, or other Eeyore sorts of thoughts that stimulate stress responses in the body. In fact, optimists have a 77% lower risk of heart disease than pessimists, and this is probably why.
5. Toxic relationships
While loving relationships and a supportive community are calming to the amygdala and healthy for the body, you’re better off being alone than being in the company of people who stress out your nervous system. When you feel threatened in a relationship- not just physically, but emotionally- your nervous system interprets that as danger.
6. Being a worry wart
Anxious thoughts make the amygdala go ballistic. If you’re filling your brain with worries about the kids, the state of affairs in politics, whether or not your lover is going to break your heart, or how quickly the glaciers are going to melt, you’re certain to trigger stress responses.
7. Childhood traumas
You know those old childhood issues that stick around if we don’t heal them? You may not even realize that subconscious thoughts arising from old traumas may be triggering your amygdala when you don’t even realize it. Triggers such as places, scents, songs, or other sounds that remind you of the trauma may trigger “fight-or-flight,” even if you’re completely unaware that it’s happening.
8. Unforgiven resentments
When you harbor resentments—against your ex, your mother, your boss, whomever—you fuel your amygdala. Resentful thoughts are interpreted by the amygdala just like thoughts of food scarcity or a tiger on the loose.
It’s not just rage that will flip you into “fight-or-flight.” Even thoughts like Someone just spilled red wine on my white carpet can trigger your limbic system.
10. Feelings of helplessness
The amygdala likes to feel in control—after all, it’s the amygdala’s job to protect you from danger! So feelings of helplessness can land you in “fight-or-flight.”
If reading this list sends you into “fight-or-flight” just because you’re feeling all 10 of these things right now, don’t despair. This is where you get to be proactive! Awareness is key. Once you start to cultivate awareness of what triggers your own stress responses, you can be mindful about how you tend the garden of your mind so you can keep your amygdala calm and keep your self-repair mechanisms doing what they do best- keeping you healthy!
It’s Sunday! Time to set some new goals for yourself and put the plan in motion! Write it out… On paper. There is something very cerebral about handwriting which we forget in this iPhone day and age. So sit down with yourself, and write. Maybe start with a list of the positives and the negatives about you. What are you proud of? What would you change? Look at that list, then set your goals. The goals could be to improve and intensify your positives or it could be to change the negatives. If you have it all on paper it becomes less daunting than when it’s in your head. So write. Set goals and accomplish them.
There’s something very cathartic and cleansing that comes with taking care of stuff. Having a clean house, clean car and laundry done can give you such a feeling of calm. Clarity, if you will. If your list of to-dos are taking over, set your goals at an attainable level so you aren’t disappointed with yourself. Do 5 things every day. That list will become more manageable and less daunting.
I believe in the opposite side of this spectrum too… Take the time, whenever you can, to relax. Get your shit done so you can relax and kickback. There is no better prize at the end of a laundry pile than having a clear mind and nothing “to-do”.
Ok, here’s the deal. We hear so much about gimmick weight loss tricks. I’m going to let you in on a little secret… If you take a staple food out of your diet, you will fail. Unless you have an allergy against grains or dairy, you do not need to take them out of your daily nutrition plan. Eat whole real foods, all in moderation. Do not deprive yourself of carbs, it will only make you hungry, crazy and low in energy. Instead eat whole grain or sprouted breads, brown rice or whole wheat pasta, sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa and steel cut oats. More than worrying about what you are eating, pay more attention to how much of that food you are eating. Instead of both pieces of bread on a sandwich make one side lettuce and one side sprouted grain bread. Take the usual serving of pasta you would have had and cut it in half. You will not die of starvation, I promise you this. Eat protein, veggies, fruits, low fat dairy and whole grains. As long as it fits into one of these categories, eat it… Just don’t eat a lot of it. Don’t eat a lot of anything!!! Train your brain and stomach to be satisfied with small portions. Once you train your body to eat less, you will follow suit when that cupcake is in front of you. You WILL be satisfied with a few bites. Guaranteed. Day by day you are in the process of attaining the healthiest you ever. Don’t think it will happen overnight and please get it out of your head that a cleanse or a restricted diet will EVER help you in the long run.
One of the most healing things you can do is to recognize where in your life you are your own poison.