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STRESS - Emotional & Dietary - Part 3

ALARM Stage (aka Stressed)

Chances are, if you are reading this, you’ve taken the two assessments (first two Emotional & Dietary blogs) and found that you are not exactly Thriving. If you’re at the first level/stage, called Alarm, you have “good stress” and some “bad stress”. We all need to have some stress in our lives and eustress is considered to be good stress. It is a healthy amount in our day-to-day activity that does not impact our minds or body, which leaves us with a positive feeling or experience. It can be that euphoric feeling after exercising or after having accomplished a goal; it enhances our performance and motivates us.

When we move into distress is when stress is considered bad stress – an unhealthy amount in our day-to-day activity and it impacts our mind and body. We are then unable to cope and manage – our performance decreases, we’re left unhappy, unmotivated and unfulfilled. And it can be exhausting… Everyone reaches their own level of stress differently, but if you are noticing some of the signs/symptoms listed below, do not ignore them as your body will start to resist and next thing you know, you’ve reached the level of exhaustion.

  • Sensitivity to light & sound

  • Frequent colds

  • Recurrent infections

  • Inflammation in joints/muscles

  • Decreased ability to heal

  • Reflux / Digestive problems

  • Anxiety

  • Insomnia

  • Fear

  • Irritability / Anger

  • Unexplained despair/sadness

  • Hard to think clearly

  • Hard to concentrate

  • Crying easily

At the alarm stage/level, one way to return to thriving is by reducing the amount of cortisol your body is making either by making less, or eliminating more. Here are a few suggestions by Dr. Alan Christianson in his book, The Adrenal Reset Diet:

Eliminate cortisol by:

  • Reducing sodium intake – diets lower in salt help the body get rid of cortisol faster – keeping total sodium intake below 3,000 mgs/day – switch to Sea Salt

  • Taking a “break” from caffeine – reducing your intake of coffee or switching to tea. Coffee does not increase your cortisol, but it does prevent its reduction

  • Increase foods that reduce cortisol production – beets, celery, walnuts and avoid processed foods and toxic proteins

  • Walk – don’t run – with “gentle” exercises – reducing the high-intensity aerobic exercises as it will raise your cortisol level – evening walks at a slower pace, especially after dinner which is a great way to help prepare you for sleep

  • Speaking of sleep – “early to bed & early to rise” is your best strategy

  • Breathing – diaphragmatic breathing as mentioned in Part 2 is awesome in lowering your stress level & cortisol

During the Alarm stage, our body is preparing for Flight or Fight (or Freeze) – this state cannot be sustained for too long and it will lead to Resistance (to stress). And too much of this, will lead to wear & tear and eventually Exhaustion. Our body resists and compensates as our parasympathetic nervous system attempts to return to normal function.

So let’s back up a bit – Flight, Fight or Freeze? As I mentioned earlier, we all need a level of stress in our lives (eustress). It’s for those times when we need to be able to think clearly. The body reacts to stress as a perceived life-threatening danger. The body moves all of the oxygenated blood away from the rational part of our brain (pre-frontal cortex) to the part that is activated in Flight, Fight or Freeze situations. During this phase, the hormones cortisol, adrenaline (epinephrine) and noradrenaline are released to provide instant relief. At this point, everything is working as it should – you have a stressful event, your body alarms you with a sudden jolt of hormonal changes, and immediately you are equipped with enough energy and clear thinking to handle it.

But what if there is no life-threatening event? What if it is a perceived threat? Too much adrenaline results in a surge of blood pressure that can damage blood vessels of the heart and brain – a risk factor in heart attacks and stroke. And the excess production of cortisol can cause damage to cells and muscle tissue. Diseases caused by excessive cortisol include cardiovascular conditions, stroke, gastric ulcers, increased blood pressure & blood sugar, suppression of the immune system, contributes to obesity, insomnia, IBS, migraines. As you can see, we cannot stay in the stage for too long. If we do, we move into the Resistance stage. At this point, we are dealing with chronic stress.

According to Andrew Weil, M.D., here are 17 steps to help you manage your stress more effectively. (

  1. Determine the cause of stress – situations, people, events

  2. Keep a journal – record your physical symptoms and emotions

  3. Strengthen your support system – communicate with family/friends

  4. Open Up – learn how to express thoughts/feelings

  5. Saying NO is okay – you cannot do it all and you shouldn’t feel guilty

  6. Express feelings – not in an accusing manner, but rather how it makes you feel

  7. Simplify life – restructure priorities

  8. Drugs/alcohol not the solution – escape mechanism, seek professional help

  9. Improve lifestyle habits – physical activity / healthy eating

  10. Reduce stress at work – communicate needs in a non-confrontational manner

  11. Laugh it off – dissolves tension

  12. Break from Media/News

  13. Mind-Body exercises – meditation, yoga, biofeedback

  14. Check medications – many may aggravate depression or anxiety

  15. Eliminate caffeine – and other stimulants from diet

  16. Increase Omega-3 fatty acids – oily fish or supplements

  17. Restful, restorative sleep

And remember suggestions in Part 2 – Mindful Breathing.

We will dive further into the hormones of stress: cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline in our next blog.

To Your Health and Happiness,

Michele Root ~ Empowering You!

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