May 16, 2019
Webinar: The Physiological Effects of a Life Out of Balance
Stress: The Physiological Effects of a Life Out of Balance webinar by Hayley Nelson and Tina Curry-LoganSource: Stress: The Physiological Effects of a Life Out of Balance | Facebook
Stress: The Physiological Effects of a Life Out of Balance webinar by Prof. Hayley Nelson and Tina Curry-LoganSource: Stress: The Physiological Effects of a Life Out of Balance | Hayley Nelson
“Let’s talk about stress,” Curry-Logan began. “First thing, we all have it… It’s essential to our survival, but when we have those long term, chronic, stressful scenarios, that takes a toll on our mind and body.”
After Curry-Logan helped us identify various potential stressors through the “Wheel of Life” exercise, Nelson gave a brief rundown of the nervous system as well as it’s response to stress.
“Stress is a very active term,” Nelson said. “It’s really a process of how we view or appraise something that happens to us. We can view it as something that’s either threatening or challenging, and then we respond to it.”
Later in her presentation, Nelson made note of the importance of nutrition to our brain, as well as it’s impact on our stress response system.
“You need to maintain a proper ion concentration so your neurons can actually function,” Nelson said. “You need a balance of salts, sugars, and everything like that just for your cells to function.”
In addition to cell function, our diet is the foundation for our neurotransmitters, the chemical units of how our brain processes and responds to sensory information, as she had outlined.
Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, which is involved in mood regulation and stress response, according to Nelson. By incorporating foods such as beets, spinach, eggs, coconuts, and so on, you can naturally increase the amount of serotonin you have.
Curry-Logan and Nelson began their webinar on Thursday night after introducing themselves to the audience.
Then, Curry-Logan walked attendees through the “Wheel of Life” exercise. There is a template for this available on her Facebook page for the event, however, she also demonstrated how to draw your own “Wheel of Life.”
Wheel of LifeSource: Only two days left until our webinar!… | Stress: The Physiological Effects of a Life Out of Balance
The “Wheel of Life” is a circle divided into eight sections:
- “Family and Parenting”
- “Personal Development”
- “Spiritual Awareness”
- “Fun and Enjoyment”
- “Health and Aging”
- “Personal Finance”
- “Career and Profession”
“If you decide you want to change those up or you don’t like one of them, skip it or change it, whatever you’d like,” Curry-Logan said. “It’s not an exact science.”
The goal of this activity is to evaluate all eight categories and how they interrelate, she explained.
First, Curry-Logan instructed the audience to circle a number between one through 10 to indicate how important each slice was to them, and then connect each circle.
Then, she told the audience to draw a square around a number on the same scale to rate how satisfied they are with each slice on the “Wheel of Life,” and connect those squares with a line.
“As you can see on this example wheel, the ratings don’t exactly line up,” Curry-Logan said. “You may value an area, but that difference in satisfaction can show that you aren’t living in alignment with your values.”
A difference of two to three points in importance and satisfaction is a significant difference, which could be a source of stress, she explained.
“But it goes further than that,” Curry-Logan began. “We don’t live our life in perfect pie pieces; everything is tied together, so there can be a lot of interplay there.”
After the “Wheel of Life” demonstration, Curry-Logan handed the spotlight over to Nelson for her half of the presentation.
“When we’re talking about the nervous system, it really serves three basic functions,” Nelson explained. “It is a way for us to interact with the outside world. We receive information from the world around us through our senses, then we process that information in our brains; we perceive it, pay attention to it, store it in our memories, and learn from it. Then we respond and process it.”
Our nervous system consists of specialized cells called neurons, Nelson said. Neurons receive information from nearby neurons through their dendrites, and if they receive enough information, the will fire an action potential for other nearby neurons to receive.
The majority of neuron communication is through chemical signals that will either excite or inhibit other neurons, according to Nelson.
“These chemicals are called neurotransmitters,” she continued. “We’ve identified over 100 different neurotransmitters so far, and we’re still looking for more.”
Then, Nelson listed a few of the most widely known neurotransmitters and their role in the nervous system.
Some of the most widely known neurotransmitters: serotonin, dopamine, acetylcholine, norepinephrine, GABA, glutamate, endorphins.Source: Stress: The Physiological Effects of a Life Out of Balance | Hayley Nelson
When these neurotransmitters are out of balance, they can affect mood, cognitive functioning, and our digestive system, according to Nelson.
“In addition to the nervous system, our hormones also play a huge role in our mood and how we act,” she said.
Hormones work through the endocrine system, which is present throughout our entire body, she explained.
“There’s interplay between the nervous and endocrine systems because they’re controlled by the brain,” Nelson continued. “The brain sends signals to the pituitary gland, which sends signals to other glands throughout our body. These glands then release hormones throughout our bloodstream, which could have positive and negative effects.”
Before going any further, Nelson boiled stress down to its essential definition in the nervous system. It’s a process for appraising and responding to different circumstances, she said.
“What we’re responding to are stressors,” Nelson said. “We all have stressors in our life and we can’t control them. What we do have control over – at least, to some extent – is how we view them, and in turn, how we react to them.”
Perceiving a stressor as negative and having long term exposure or an extreme case of it can cause significant harm to the body, according to Nelson.
The Life Change Index ScaleSource: Stress: The Physiological Effects of a Life Out of Balance | Hayley Nelson
Then, she walked the audience through the “Life Change Index Scale,” based on the study by T.H. Holmes and T.H. Rahae.
The “Life Change Index Scale” consists of a list of potential stressors, which are given a number to indicate the “Impact Score” or “Life Change Unit.”
“There are really big stressors, like a wedding is 50 ‘Life Change Units,’ where the death of a spouse is 100 ‘Life Change Units,'” Nelson explained. “But then there are smaller stressors, like a minor violation of the law only has an ‘Impact Score’ of 11.”
To calculate their score, Nelson told the audience to add up the “Life Change Units” of the events on the scale that had happened to them within the last 12 months. If the same stressor has happened more than once within this timeframe, the “Impact Score” should be multiplied by how many times it’s occured before adding it to the score total.
“Researchers found that if your score is above 150, there is a significant likelihood that you’re going to have an illness in the near future,” Nelson elaborated. “But I’ve actually never met anybody who’s score is less than 150, so if you have a score above that you’re not alone.”
If your score is above 300, there is an 80 percent likelihood you will be ill in the nearby future, she said.
Once the stress system becomes active, it triggers the sympathetic nervous system and hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal cortex axis (HPA axis), according to Nelson.
The physiological effects of the sympathetic nervous systemSource: Stress: The Physiological Effects of a Life Out of Balance | Hayley Nelson
When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, it increases thirst, sweat, and causes the pupils to dilate, she explained. It also increases heart rate, slows digestion, and reduces immune system functioning.
As the sympathetic nervous system deactivates or “calms down,” the body returns to its routine processes.
“If we have a lot of stressors activating our stress response, we’re going to spend a lot of time arousing the sympathetic system, which has a negative impact on our health,” Nelson added.
The HPA axis dominates response to long term, chronic stressors, she said.
“The hypothalamus triggers our pituitary gland to stimulate our adrenal glands to release the stress hormone cortisol,” Nelson explained. “That hormone goes through your whole body.”
Prolonged exposure to cortisol can weaken the immune system, produce symptoms that mimic depression, and could harm the hippocampus, which is an area of the brain plays a vital role in memory, according to Nelson.
Persistent stressors can also encourage unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, drinking, poor dietary habits, and impaired sleep.
“I know when I’m going through times of stress, I definitely engage in some unhealthy behaviors,” Nelson shared. “Ben & Jerry’s become my new best friend. I’m not eating well, I’m not sleeping well, I may be partying too much. Everyone’s a little different, but the bottom line is these unhealthy behaviors don’t serve anybody.”
Prolonged exposure to stress hormones can also cause headaches, high blood pressure, and lead to heart disease, Nelson added.
Once Nelson finished explaining the neurological side of stress, she demonstrated how to manage stressors.
“The first thing I would recommend doing is stress appraisal, which is how you view stress,” Nelson began.
Appraising stress as a challenge can increase focus and arousal, according to Nelson. Alternatively, appraising stress as a threat can cause fear and anxiety.
“All of the events that happen in our lives go through this psychological filter,” she expanded. “This is something we can put a stop in at the beginning to influence how much stress we actually experience and how we respond.”
Medications, such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and benzodiazepines, are another form of stress management.
“But medications aren’t for everybody,” she added. “While they are definitely effective, they have side effects. It’s not ideal to be on these for a very long period of time, so they’re not necessarily the best line of defense.”
Hayley Nelson’s holistic approaches to stress managementSource: Stress: The Physiological Effects of a Life Out of Balance | Hayley Nelson
Nelson then outlined a few holistic approaches to stress management, including:
- Social support
- Breathing routines and meditation
- Aerobic exercise
- Diet and nutrition
- Reducing toxins (smoking, chemicals found in personal care products, etc…)
In a study conducted on women with depression, the group who had engaged in aerobic exercise for 30 minutes a day had a significant decrease in their depression score, Nelson shared.
“Aerobic exercise counteracts depression because it is naturally doing what prescription medications do chemically,” she said.
Nutrition is also essential to cell functioning and serves as a precursor for neurotransmitters, Nelson explained. Incorporating different foods into your diet can naturally boost your levels of various neurotransmitters.
“I love working with clients on their nutrition,” she shared. “In the 30 day healthy living group that I coach, we eliminate potential allergens in your diet and slowly start reintroducing foods.”
Nelson then used serotonin and tryptophan as an example to demonstrate the relationship between nutrients and neurotransmitters.
The effects of stress on serotonin and tryptophanSource: Stress: The Physiological Effects of a Life Out of Balance | Hayley Nelson
“Stress comes into our life and alters serotonin,” Nelson began. “The stress response also increases the production of cortisol, which can lead to severe inflammation, weaken your immune system, and further reduce tryptophan.”
Introducing healthy probiotics into your diet can combat the gut pathogens in the stress response system by stopping the inflammatory signal, according to Nelson.
Not all probiotics will work, she warned the audience. Some strains are more effective than others, while particular probiotics can’t withstand the high acidity in the stomach.
Lastly, Nelson discussed the importance of reducing toxins to effectively manage stress.
Our skin absorbs whatever we put on it within 26 seconds and enters our bloodstream, according to Nelson.
Different toxins, including parabens, phthalates (fragrances), SLS, toluene, mineral oils, and other petroleum-based ingredients, can further the negative side of the stress response system.
Tina Curry-Logan’s holistic approaches to stress managementSource: Stress: The Physiological Effects of a Life Out of Balance | Hayley Nelson
Curry-Logan then expanded upon Nelson’s tools for holistically managing stress with a list of her own, including:
- Mindfulness and awareness
- Stress appraisal and reframing
- Healthy habits
- Relationships and connections
“Mindfulness is key,” Curry-Logan began. “We did the ‘Wheel of Life’ exercise in the beginning of the presentation to gain a sense of where we stand and where the stressors are coming from. That allows us to then move forward with that awareness to mitigate our stress response.”
To increase mindfulness, she recommended practicing meditation and yoga, exercising, and journaling.
“When we’re talking about connection, we’re talking about a few different things,” she said. “We’re talking about making new social connections and strengthening personal relationships with loved ones, friends, a partner, and so on.”
Laughter and fun are another aspect of connection, Curry-Logan added.
“We – especially as Americans – totally undervalue fun and enjoyment in our lives,” Curry-Logan said. “But laughter could give you some of those endorphins that really help reduce stress over the long haul.”
Fostering a connection with nature is also important, she said.
To get the maximum strength stress relief, Curry-Logan gave a few examples of how these holistic approaches could be combined.
“For example, going on a hike with a friend combines a few different components,” she began. “We’ve got exercise, nature, and social connection.”
Then, she explained how the dance lessons she began taking with her partner really benefits both of them, because of the combination of how dance exercises strengthen their relationship and teaches them something new. It also encourages both of them to laugh and have fun.
“One of my values is my love of learning,” Curry-Logan shared. “I go nuts for it. I feel in the zone and I get super excited when I’m learning something new.”
After she wrapped up her holistic approaches for stress management, Curry-Logan and Nelson opened the floor for questions from the audience.
When asked about dietary and supplementary suggestions for reducing stress, Nelson recommended investing in probiotics that will colonize in your gut.
“At Arbonne, we have a product known as digestion plus that has bacillus coagulan as well as prebiotics and other digestive enzymes to aid in the absorption of it, which has been shown to significantly decrease the inflammatory response,” Nelson said.
She also advised narrowing down potential environmental and dietary triggers.
“I really encourage people to try an elimination diet for 30 days,” Nelson said. “You’ll start reintroducing foods one at a time so you can really see how your body’s responding to them. For example, you may not realize you have a dairy sensitivity until it’s been out of your system for 30 days and you slowly start reintroducing it.”
Even though these triggers aren’t directly linked to our stress response, they are causing stress on our body by triggering the inflammatory response in the gut, which can decrease tryptophan and suppress the immune system, she added.
Then, Curry-Logan and Nelson were asked how they began their journey into the wellness industry.
“I’ve always been really into all wellness topics,” Curry-Logan said. “That’s how I got into yoga and learning about meditation techniques, as well as the philosophy behind the physical practice.”
Nelson, on the other hand, said that she had never imagined she’d end up in this field.
“Teaching, yes,” Nelson said. “Being a proponent of healthy living? Absolutely not. I wasn’t leading a very healthy lifestyle and it had a very negative impact on my health. Not only for me, but my family. My oldest son Charlie, who’s now five and a half, had a lot of allergies during his first year of life. I was nursing him, so all the foods I was eating was getting into the breast milk, and then into him, causing all of these really horrible things.”
Once she realized the impact of her lifestyle on her son, Nelson and her loved ones took notice of the positive impacts of striving to be more health conscious. In turn, she was inspired to share her knowledge and experience with others.
“You hear the saying, ‘you are what you eat,’ but in western medicine – and even in getting my P.h.D. at Johns Hopkins, it wasn’t something that was really talked about,” Nelson shared.
Keep in touch with Hayley Nelson and Tina Curry-LoganSource: Stress: The Physiological Effects of a Life Out of Balance | Hayley Nelson
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