Category Archives: Stress

Six lifelong habits found among the happiest people

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In functional medicine we look at diet and lifestyle strategies to prevent or reverse disease, calm inflammation, and slow the aging process. However, other overlooked but extremely important aspects to your health are your general happiness, well-being, and attitude. Science shows happiness and positivity are correlated with better health. If you are not naturally happy, not to worry, simply putting forth small and regular efforts in the direction of happiness, such as writing in a gratitude journal, has been shown to improve health.

In what is thus far the most comprehensive study on what makes people happy, researchers looked at the lives of Harvard graduates, blue collar workers, and women spanning almost a decade. From that data, they found six common themes that ran through the lives of the happiest lifelong subjects.

1. Avoid smoking and alcohol. Researchers found those with lifelong smoking and alcohol habits were unhappier than those who abstained. Among the study subjects, not smoking was the most important factor in healthy aging.

Likewise, the study showed that alcohol robbed people of happiness and sabotaged their relationships (healthy relationships are one of the six factors of happiness).

In functional medicine we know smoking and regular alcohol consumption make it hard to be healthy and happy for other reasons. Smoking robs your brain of oxygen, degenerating it more quickly. This has an effect not only on your brain function, personality and mood, but also on the health of your body. Regular alcohol consumption has also been shown to more quickly degenerate the brain and promote leaky gut and inflammation.

2. A college education. Despite income, social class, or IQ, college-educated research subjects were happier in the long run. Those with higher education tended to take better care of their health and avoid destructive habits like smoking and drinking. Exercising your intellectual curiosity is also good for the brain at any age and despite your education.

3. A happy childhood. Ok, this one is unfair for a lot of people. Feeling loved by one’s mother was a bigger predictor of lifelong happiness despite income or IQ. Coping well with adolescence was another predictor. But not to worry if your childhood has been something only from which to recover. Caring, loving friendships and relationships have been shown to compensate for damaging childhoods, and those are factors you can develop through self-work.

4. Good relationships. Mutually heathy, loving, and supportive relationships were found to be fundamental to happiness across all the study subjects’ lives. This includes continually widening your social circles so that if some friends fall away new ones to fill their place.

5. Good coping skills. No one is spared from bad stuff happening. However, happier people are more resilient and better able to cope with hardship. This can be a learned skill, even if you need a therapist’s help. Coping skills include altruism, creating good outcomes out of bad situations, staying focused on the bright side, and keeping a sense of humor.

6. Giving back. The happiest study subjects intuitively followed a path that spiritual traditions have espoused for millennia — happiness is found through service. As they matured, the study subjects who served in building community and relationships thrived best. This includes mentoring, coaching, consulting, and otherwise selflessly sharing the fruits of well-earned wisdom.

Sometimes it can be difficult to “practice happiness” when we feel terrible. One of the most rewarding aspects to a functional medicine recovery journey is a boon to your general mood, well-being, and sense of love. Ask my office how we can help you shift your health and happiness into the right direction.

Is social pollution and workplace stress harming you?

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Thanks to science and public awareness, we know environmental pollution from industry harms our health. Same goes with tobacco. But did you know “social pollution” is just as harmful? Social pollution refers to the long hours, lack of economic security, high cost of health care, exhaustion, surviving in a gig economy, lack of parental support, and high stress that has come to characterize work life in the United States and other industrialized countries. It is now recognized as they fifth leading cause of death.

In the new book Dying for a Paycheck, author and Stanford University professor Jeffrey Pfeffer uncovers the disastrous toll of modern work life on human health.

Sixty-one percent of American workers say workplace stress has made them sick, and 7 percent have been hospitalized by it.

Workplace stress contributes to the chronic diseases that make up three quarters of the health problems crushing our health care system, including diabetes, metabolic syndrome (pre-diabetes) cardiovascular disease, and circulatory diseases. Disorders such as alcoholism, drug addiction, and overeating are also linked to high stress and the erosion of family and social structures from work-related stress.

In fact, one of the worst aspects of modern work life is the effect it is having on our social support structures. Long, stressful hours at work breaks up marriages and families, leaves too little time for healthy socializing with friends and family, and makes it difficult for single people to date or establish new relationships.

Research clearly shows regular healthy socialization is vital to good health and that isolation and lack of positive social time can be as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

When work place stress and social pollution keeps you stuck in fight-or-flight mode

One of the many downsides to workplace stress and social pollution is that it can keep your nervous systems stuck in fight-or-flight mode. A normal stress response is to flee, fight, or freeze. When work stress and the havoc it causes on your home life is constant, you never get a chance to unwind from being in a fight-or-flight state.

The chronic stress from this is devastating to brain and body health. It accelerates brain aging, causes leaky gut, raises inflammation, imbalances the hormones, and increases the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and addictive habits.

What can you do to protect yourself from social pollution and workplace stress

Unfortunately, most of us cannot single-handedly change this unhealthy situation in which we find ourselves. However, you can be aware of and not psychologically buy into the subtle or not-so-subtle shaming and unhealthy expectations around productivity.

Many companies expect longer hours at lower pay yet provide little to no job security, sick days, maternity or paternity leaves, and so on. Be aware of this and don’t internalize the messaging that working long days with no days off makes you a better person. It doesn’t, it makes you a sicker person.

If you can downsize your housing, car payments, or other expenses, consider the positive impact living more modestly can have on your health. It could be the ticket to a dramatic health turn around.

However, not everyone can afford to downsize as many are working non-stop to barely get by. Although there is no easy answer to this, recognize your situation and don’t ask too much from yourself.

The more people who are aware of the problem, the better chance we have at changing public perception and workplace policies.

In the meantime, support your health the best you can with an anti-inflammatory diet, seek out support, and make sure to include healthy, restful, and relaxing time in your life as much as possible.

If you have a desk job and are too tired to make it to the gym, take regular breaks to move your body and go for short walks as frequently as possible. Regular physical activity is vital to the heath of your brain and body and will help protect you from the harm of workplace stress.

Stress can cause PMS, menopause problems, and more

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It’s not easy being female — the hormonal ups and downs each month through puberty and then menopause can range from mildly irritating to downright debilitating. Although many, if not most, women suffer from some degree of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), the extreme health and mood imbalances associated with PMS and menopause are a sign your system is out of whack, most likely because of stress.

Hormone balance is very sensitive to stress, inflammation, toxins, poor diet, sleep deprivation, lack of exercise, too little sunlight, and other common factors of modern life. Because the reproductive hormones play an important role in brain health, mood, and brain inflammation, when they’re off, brain function and mood suffer.

In women, imbalances are characterized by excess estrogen, insufficient progesterone, or too much testosterone. Stress and blood sugar that is either too low (hypoglycemia) or too high (insulin resistance) are the most common culprits of PMS symptoms and a miserable menopause transition.

Symptoms of hormonal imbalances in women include:

  • Frequent or irregular menstruation
  • Mood instability
  • Depression
  • Problems sleeping
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Crying easily
  • Irritability
  • Poor concentration
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Low libido
  • Migraines

Low progesterone from chronic stress

One of the more common reasons for hormonal imbalance is low progesterone caused by chronic stress. This is a mechanism called “pregnenolone steal,” when chronic stress robs the compounds needed to make progesterone in order to make stress hormones instead. This leads to PMS and sets the stage for a miserable menopause transition.

When it comes to stress, the brain does not know whether you are angry at traffic, soaring and crashing after snacking on a glazed donut and triple-shot caramel latte, or narrowly escaping being trampled by a bison. All it knows is to prepare for fight or flight and that reproduction hormones can wait until things have settled down. But for many sleep-deprived, over-stressed Americans fueled on caffeine and sugar, settling down rarely truly happens.

The fix isn’t necessarily in a tub of progesterone cream; first address the sources of stress. A primary stress-buster is a diet that stabilizes blood sugar. People often either eat too infrequently and too sparingly, or they overeat and eat too much sugar. Both are stressful for the body.

Here are some other common causes of chronic stress that lead to miserable PMS and menopause:

  • Sugar, sweeteners, starchy foods (rice, pasta, bread, etc.), too much caffeine
  • Food sensitivities (gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, corn, nuts, grains, etc.)
  • Leaky gut and gut inflammation symptoms — gas, bloating, indigestion, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain, irritable bowel
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Pain and inflammation — joint and muscle pain, skin rashes, respiratory issues, brain fog, fatigue, depression
  • Autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism
  • Overdoing it, over exercising, not taking time for yourself
  • Bad diet of junk foods, fast foods, processed foods

Restoring hormonal balance naturally

Ideas to halt pregnenolone steal include an anti-inflammatory diet, stabilizing blood sugar, restoring gut health, dampening pain and inflammation, and managing autoimmunity. These are functional medicine basics. Make sure you are eating the right amounts and kinds of essential fatty acids. Additionally, certain botanicals are effective in supporting female hormone health and the body’s stress handling systems. Ask me for more advice.