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What to Do When All You Feel is Turmoil

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written, but when I go quiet, I'm thinking about what to share - rather than simply filling your Inbox with more noise, which can give us all 'inbox fatigue.' I've also been filling my website shop with all the things that have proven themselves to me and my clients over the years and I want to make these available to YOU! So you can check these out here. (I'm especially loving all the PPC Herbs, the Executive Digestive and of course The Gut Powders!)

So I want to share with you something important that Aviva Romm wrote recently on stress - I thought I'd just share this here on my blog below:

Speaking of fatigue, I’ve been thinking a lot about the nervous system - specifically, yours and mine – in this wild world we live in.

Dubbed 'crisis fatigue' is what we're now experiencing in the past two years. I'm sure you feel me on that without me even explaining a thing.

It has been my mission to tune into my nervous system and I hope this newsletter gives you (and whomever you share it with) permission to nourish and repair yours as well.

Here’s what I’ve come up with...

Even before the pandemic, we were already facing an epidemic: It’s got a lot of different names:- anxiety, depression, overwhelm, burnout.

I’m sure you've known the feeling - your heart races, your breathing gets shallow, you feel a lump in your throat, a hollow feeling in your chest, you feel like the world is crashing in.

You may become hyper-aware of everything that’s going on around you. It's commonly known as fight or flight mode.

You may also find yourself in another version of this: freeze mode in which you just can't get mobilized - you feel stuck. And then there's another mode called fawn mode in which your people-pleasing self goes into overdrive.

These are all ancient mechanisms our brain has created for survival and they are meant to be short-lived - like minutes to hours at most. But for the past couple of years, for most of us, it’s been activated a lot.

When you're stuck in survival mode, chemicals coursing through your blood are telling you to run, hide, freeze, fight, or fit in (hence the fawning mode).

You might be more frequently or chronically emotionally hyper-activated, agitated, and irritable - maybe even angry. Or you may feel overwhelmed, confused, unable to make a clear decision, or you may experience brain fog, anxiety, depression, and sleep problems. It may even be harder to stand up for yourself or get motivated even for things that you previously enjoyed doing - like exercising or being creative or doing your job at your best level.

While for a hot minute those reactions can serve us well, when we’re in that mode day in and day out, our body not only pays a price, but so do our relationships and happiness in life.

We aren’t meant to spend most of our time in overdrive or irritated, anxious, fearful, vulnerable, or fighting, or in the aftermath of feeling exhausted, depleted, spent, and down. And sometimes we get sick. Physically. Mentally.

As in at least 1 in 4 women was already on an antidepressant before the pandemic, about that many on anti-anxiety meds, and half of all women were having diagnosable levels of sleep problems. And don't get me started on hormone, gut, and autoimmune problems, but let's just say that moves us up to about 99% of women feeling it one way or another.

The tricky thing is that all of the activation I've described creates a vicious cycle in which we eat more sugar, drink more alcohol, binge-watch TV until we're going to bed too late, then we don't sleep well and we're too tired to exercise, get together with friends, and do the other things we need to for our health - like take long walks in nature or floss our teeth regularly. You know what I mean, right?

Too often we assume stress, anxiety, fear, and agitation are just how we’re “wired” or just “who we are.” Ditto that on the physical symptoms. But none of us is all that all the time or even most of the time.

Right now we're facing a sort of global overwhelm and fatigue. And this is really important to remember: it's not just you. It's actually a normal sane response to an insane moment in our world.

So what can we do? Like everyone else, I get stressed out, activated, mad, sad, or overwhelmed. So I've been really really really making the extra effort to take more and better care of myself and the people I love by doing all the things I share below. These practices help me stay on top of my game and my mood.

Here’s my personal resilience building practice - some tools for weathering the storm when it’s swirling around you - and it’s been swirling for most of us for at least the last two years. So I heartily welcome you to join me as we all take more time to....

Hit pause

The antidote that allows us to get out of survival mode and back into feeling like we’re thriving is getting into what is called the parasympathetic nervous system response - more commonly called the “rest and digest mode” because it’s how our body gets restored and replenished.

How do you know when you’re in it? It’s the feeling you experience when you let yourself take a nap, when you finally deeply relax in a massage, or the peace you have when you lie in savasana at the end of a yoga class. This restorative mode helps us recover from the wear and tear of daily life and times of stress, and reset our mind, mood, and body clock.

The problem is that most of us don’t take time to hit the pause button, because we think we can’t - or shouldn’t. But intentionally taking time to recuperate after an unexpected stressful event will lessen its effects. And building in regular time to hit pause can help us to build resilience - the ability to bounce back, stay centered in the storm, and recognize that “this too shall pass.”

Get enough sleep

Resilience is almost impossible to maintain if we're living with a sleep deficit, which half of American women are. We need a minimum of seven hours of sleep most nights for optimal health. Without it, cortisol can get really out of whack. When this happens, it can affect almost everything in your body.

To improve sleeping, make it a priority to get to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each day. Turn off all electronics - ideally an hour before you try to go to sleep. The blue light disrupts melatonin production, the counterbalance to cortisol, which also helps us detox our brains and hormones while we sleep. Finally, skip the alcohol in the evening. Even a glass of red wine has been shown to cause sleep disruptions.

Decide how you really want to feel and get there as often as you can

Do you often feel like everything’s spinning out of control? Take 30 seconds to tune inward and connect with how you want to feel. Is it energized, rested, centered, and happy? Next, jot down the top five obstacles in your life that are getting between you and the way you want to feel.

Focus especially on the inner obstacles, not what someone else is doing to you. Are you taking on too much? Do you need more sleep so your resilience is higher? Do you have trouble asking for help? Find at least one (ideally three) solutions that will allow you to bridge that gap, so you’re spending more time feeling how you want to feel. What do you need to shift, change, recreate, or get rid of? Do it. Starting now.

The next you find yourself triggered by a stressful situation, rather than retreating into fear, or getting activated into a reactive, agitated mode, take a deep breath and try asking yourself these 3 questions.

  • What’s really happening here?

  • What else might be going on that I’m not seeing?

  • What’s interesting about this situation?

Simply doing this can help shift your mindset and mood!

Make time to keep your blood sugar balanced

Too many women are skipping meals and living on quick fuel sources because we're too busy to hit pause for a proper meal. When your blood sugar is low as a result of running on empty, your brain thinks you’re in survival mode. Aside from carbohydrate and sugar cravings, this also causes you to lose energy, focus, and mental clarity. Keeping your blood sugar steady throughout the day is the secret to a focused mind, steady mood, and all-day energy.

Eating within an hour of waking up is the best way to keep blood sugar balanced. If you have coffee, be sure to have it with your breakfast - not before or instead of breakfast. Eat a snack or meal every three hours, and stick to the right foods: a high-quality protein combined with a high-quality fat (i.e. nuts, a hardboiled egg, avocado). Super low-carb and no-carb diets, interestingly enough, can zap energy in the long run and result in weight gain. But keep your carb choices healthy, e.g. energy vegetable (such as a sweet potato or winter squash) with your lunch and dinner will feed your brain, calm your cortisol, and also help you sleep better at night.

Learn to say no

Part of how we get into the constant overwhelm that keeps us from hitting pause is by saying yes to too many things and people, partly because we have a difficult time saying no. Next time you’re about to say “yes” to something, pay attention to see if your inner self is saying “no.” Take the time to listen to that voice. When you’re older, she’s the voice that will tell your younger self it’s okay to say “no” to taking on too much ,and instead to say “yes” to yourself.

Use stopping as a spiritual practice

Think of stopping as a spiritual practice, and something to be done daily. Whether it’s in the form of five-minute breaks during work or extended time off on the weekends, it’s vital to create more “you” time. Your work won’t suffer for it, I promise you.

You’ll be more creative, more energized, more inspired, more effective, and you’ll have the longevity you need to be at it for the long run.

Here are a few other ways to hit pause and shift into “rest and digest” that you can try anytime

  • Breathe slowly and deeply for three minutes before you jump out of bed in the morning, and before sleep at night.

  • Take a relaxing hot bath in the evening. Bonus: Add 5-7 drops of relaxing essential oil to get the benefits of bath + aromatherapy. Lavender is relaxing whereas deeper notes like amber and sandalwood are grounding.

  • Attend a yoga class. Sweating it out can bust stress or a restorative class can deeply replenish.

  • Spend some time outdoors, ideally in nature by taking a quiet walk at lunch or after work. But even if all you can do is sit by a sunny window, take it! Even having a few house plants can help you to un-stress.

  • Write in your journal. A strong body of research now shows that writing just for your own self, can not only help us feel better in the short run, but 15 minutes a day of free-form journaling for just 4 days in a row has been shown to alleviate PTSD for up to 8 months at a time! All you need are a notebook and a pen.

Phone a lifeline

There’s a reason it feels so good to call a friend when we’re feeling anxious, down, or just freaking out! UCLA researcher Shelley Taylor, PhD, has identified this as the “tend and befriend” stress response which she and her research team believe is how women have sought to protect ourselves on an evolutionary basis.

Put simply, it goes like this: Being pregnant or having small children around would have likely prevented women from running away from danger or being able to predictably fight and still protect the babies. Gathering together for protection may have saved us, so we instinctively want to gather when we feel threatened or vulnerable. I know there have been many times I felt saved by a best girlfriend being on the other end of the phone for me!

It’s thought that what’s happening is that along with the adrenal stress response chemicals adrenaline and cortisol that get pumped out in a stress response, the body produces a small amount of oxytocin in response to a threat. Sometimes called “the cuddle hormone,” oxytocin triggers us to bond with others, which helps us feel safer and calmer and interestingly, also boosts our confidence.

By connecting with another person, we amplify the oxytocin release - not only for ourselves - but for whomever we’re reaching out to! So instead of feeling badly for calling a friend when we’re in need, we can remember they are getting a boost by connecting, too. Here are some things you can do:

  • Connect with a friend on the phone or take a walk and talk it out. Studies show that verbalizing our concerns automatically turns off the sympathetic nervous system.

  • Ask a neighbor or co-worker to join you for a walk. Even being together in quiet can help boost your tend and befriend response.

  • Do something social - You don’t need to discuss problems to get the benefit of social bonding. You can go to a café and chat with someone, head to your local yoga class and make time to chat before and after, or if you belong to a group this can help you socialize.

Engage "Excite & Delight" mode

While we tend to want to shut down and retreat when we feel internal pressure (that’s the “flight” part of fight or flight mode talking) and sometimes we do need to hit pause and take some quiet time to ourselves, getting into something that engages your sense of curiosity or wonder can shift you from being in survival mode to a more relaxed inner state. Becoming more interested in what’s going on activates something called the “excite and delight” response.

Because it gives you a gentle healthy boost of cortisol and adrenaline, you feel the same level of alertness and awareness as you do in fight or flight, but it feels good and can benefit you by boosting your cognitive function and your immunity!

Ways to do this include:

  • Listening to music

  • Studying a language or something new

  • Going to museums (or looking at art books)

  • Reading and studying things of interest to you

  • Dancing

As I’ve gotten a bit older, I’ve realized just how easy it is for so many of us to unwittingly stress our lives away. And there are plenty of opportunities for it these days. But I also realize that taking care of myself is a radical act of rebellion against a world that’s threatening to destroy our very basic well-being.

Well-being is not a luxury - it’s meant to be our natural state. Keeping your health intact, especially in undeniably demanding times, requires a commitment to prioritizing our well-being and intentionally doing things that build our resilience.

I invite you to join me in flipping the switch on how we think we’re supposed to respond to stress, and choosing something radically different.

Pick just one thing to do from the selection I shared - or pick ‘em all – but most importantly, do take care of YOU.

You are needed.

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