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Conquer (Chronic) Stress: The Ultimate Guide To Stress Relief.

Jul 24, 2018
 

Summary.

You probably know stress...

Maybe you're still thinking about:

  • a great love you once had?
  • how tuition for your kids?
  • what to do with your life?
  • the passing of a loved one?
  • a falling out with a friend?
  • how to ask someone on a date?
  • or how to successfully get through a date?

We all know stress in one form or another.

You do too.

There's lots of advice on stress out there.

You might have tried to follow some of that advice before:

  • "Just don't worry about your problem"
  • "Don't complain, everyone has stress"
  • "You'll be getting a heart attack with that much stress"
  • "Everything will be fine, just stop stressing"

And so forth...

And you know what? 

That's just bad advice. 

You cannot just stop being stressed.

Why?

Because (chronic) stress is like being unable to pass an exam. 

If I just tell you to study harder you'll probably keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

Stress is the same. If I tell you to relax, you might succeed for 20 minutes--but then the stress comes back. If I tell you not to complain I won't help you either, as your problem is still there.

So what's the solution?

You need a strategy.

A terrific long-term strategy to conquer stress.

That's exactly what I'll give you.

Stress makes me think about the 1987 movie Hellraiser:

"Angel to some, demon to others"

Although the context of that phrase was very different in that movie, applied to the concept of "stress" it's very true.

Stress can build you up or bring you down. I'll move you closer to the first option. 

Promise.

In this blog pots, we'll explore to what extent stress is beneficial, and to what extent it's not. We'll also look at different types of stress. Not all types of stress are created equal.

Firstly there's biological stress.

Biological stress included getting sunlight, fasting, exposing your body to cold and heat, exercise, and red light therapy. If you apply these types of biological stress in the right way, they inhibit your health in the short-term for which your body compensate by becoming stronger in the long-term.

If you're healthy, you'll need biological stress to become more resilient, live longer, age better, kick more ass, be stronger, and help avoid modern disease.

You'll also ruminate less about the past or future, gain more insight into what really matters in life. You'll become more centered, have greater courage, and gain more self-control.

Psychological stress is a totally different animal compared to biological stress though.

Contrary to biological stress, a complete elimination of psychological stress is best.

"That's easier said than done", you might think.

That's true.

And yet, I've included a mindfulness meditation mini-course in this article. Consistently applying mindfulness helps managing stress in your life.

(I've also included many other stress-reducing techniques in this article.)

To understand why mindfulness meditation works, we'll need to consider your brain.

Your brain has evolved hundreds of thousands of years ago in Africa, and geared towards living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

During that time as a human being, you acute stress reactions just once in a while...

Acute stress exists for a good reason: to warn you of imminent danger. Imminent danger can be a dangerous cliff, or a life-threatening predator. 

That acute stress response basically signifies a "fight, flight or freeze" response. Back in Africa, you would either fight the animal, flee, or be frozen in petrification.

Different brain areas are responsible managing that acute stress response. Your senses pick up on the stressor - such as a predator - which are connected to the "amygdala", a danger-sensing brain area.

That amygdala can sound the alarm and tell another brain area, called the "hypothalamus", to create stress hormones.

How to prevent that acute (psychological) stress response from occurring in the first place?

The savior in this situation is the "prefrontal cortex", which is exceptionally developed in human beings. That prefrontal cortex can calm down the amygdala, so that your hypothalamus does not create stress hormones such as "adrenaline".

Mindfulness meditation trains your prefrontal cortex for greater activation, so that your amygdala can be controlled. 

Although I'm oversimplifying here, the greater activation of your prefrontal cortex allows you to prevent acute psychological stress from occurring in the first place.

You might think: "how about chronic stress then?"

In chronic stress, you're basically experiencing one acute stressor on top of another acute stressor. During chronic stress you've got several brain changes whereby your amygdala can become overactive, and your prefrontal cortex less active.

Additionally, the threshold to have an acute response is very low in the case of chronic stress. Your prefrontal cortex' ability to regulate that "fight, flight or freeze" acute stress response is thus much lower than normal.

The end result is that your brain is continually acting as if you're in danger of being harmed by a predator.

While I give many solutions to help deal with (chronic) stress in this guide, the most important suggestions are to increase your energy intake, avoid useless stressors (such as mold or environmental radiation), avoiding biological stressors for a while, and taking up a mindfulness meditation practice.

Mindfulness is especially important, as it can stop acute psychological stress dead in its tracks, so that stress does not escalate into chronic stress.

Oh by the way:

Please don't rely on just this summary. This summary does no justice to all information contained in this full stress guide.

By the way.

Do you want even more tips to kill stress, besides the ones I already supply in this article?

Conquer Stress: A Guide For Taking Control Of Your Brain, Becoming More Resilient, And Mastering (Psychological) Stress.

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*Post can contain affiliate links. Read my affiliate, medical, and privacy disclosure for more information


Table Of Contents:

Stress Basics:

1. Introduction: Is All Stress Created Equal?
2. What Is (Chronic) Stress? A Definition
3. Stress Explained Through Different Brain Areas
4. An Analogy To Understand Brain Areas Involved In Stress

Biological Stress:

5. Why (Controlled) Short-Term Stress Is Essential To Your Health
6. Bad Stress: Avoid These Stressors At All Cost
7. Stress Relief By Providing More Nutrients

Psychological Stress:

8. Different Types Of Psychological Stress
9. Using Mindfulness For Killing Psychological Stress
10. The Mindfulness Stress Relief Technique

Finishing Touches:

11. Additional Stress Relief Techniques
12. Stress Relief From (Psychological) Trauma
13. Conclusion: Conquer Stress To Conquer Life

Ready?

Let's go... 

1. Introduction: Is All Stress Created Equal?

Stress slowly kills you.

You've got racing thoughts about things that shouldn't even be that important. Examples are  what to buy for your best friend's birthday in three days, or a presentation at your job next month.

Let's consider that presentation for example. 

In that case, you might be continually imagining worst outcome scenarios. Breathing becomes more difficult, and your heart is working extra hours this week. Maybe you're even nauseous or having sleep troubles.

You might tell a colleague about your stress, and she might say: "really? Don't worry about it. It will all be fine." 

But you already know that all is fine deep down. And yet, knowing that a presentation is not going to be the end of the world is not putting an end to the stress...

So, what's the real solution, contrary remarks that "everything is going to be all right"?

Before I give you the answer, let's first look at what not to do:

Hopefully you're not consuming alcohol, doing drugs, watching television, closing off from life, or engaging in other self-destructive behavior to deal with stress. With such "stress management strategies", you'll only dig a deeper hole for yourself.

After using such a strategy to "manage" stress, you'll be even more stressed the next day. This blog post I'll supply you with some much better ways to deal with stress:

I'll essentially give you a free stress relief management course, integrating all best techniques to conquer stress.

I have to warn you: you cannot beat stress in a single day. Beating stress is more like a small journey.

Don't lose your confidence if you cannot make massive improvements in one week.

So, let's talk about stress...

"Let's talk about stress baby, let's talk about you and me....". Oh, that's not the way the song went. Stress must already messing up my brain...

You might be asking: "what's stress anyway?"

That's a great question!

Stress is often talked about as a monolithic one-sided entity. In actuality, there are many different types of stress:

  • You've got your mother in law who's calling you three times a week (come on, just admit that's stressful...)
  • There's stress in the form of radiation you get exposed to, when you're undergoing an x-ray scan
  • You're fasting for 16 hours a day
  • You might have an important deadline at work next month
  • You've just started a business like me, and you're worrying about whether things will prosper
  • You're getting exposed to artificial light at night, which inhibits deep sleep. You're thus not getting rested at night
  • You've been chronically overtraining, killing your recovery
  • You just became a father, or mother, which scares the shit out of you

We'll explore all the different types of stress in more detail later on.

At the first sight, these types of stress mentioned above seem similar. 

And these different types of stress do indeed have similarities: they all increase the energy demands of your body. In turn, your body needs to turn up its energy production.

That increase in energy production helps your body cope with the cause of stress. If your body fails to increase energy production, there are often negative health consequences.

But remember that not all types of stress are created equal.

Different types of stress originate through different causal mechanisms, and how they affect your body and health is also different. Let's try to distinguish between various types of stress:

I'll explore different types of stress through the concept of "hormesis".[21-26; 86; 87] Hormesis entails that a light stressor can be beneficial for health, while larger stressors are unhealthy.

That concept of hormesis might sound difficult, but stay with me...

Let me give you a simple example.

Let's say I exercise twice a week. Let's also assume that I can recover adequately from those exercise sessions. In that case, exercise is a hormetic stressor: by placing some stress on my body, my body compensates by getting stronger.

In other words, the hormetic response occurs because the stress that exercise creates is not too light, but not too extreme either.

Alternatively, I might be visiting the gym 12 times a week. Let's also say I've never exercised intensely before committing to these twice a day sessions. In that specific case, the stimulus is too big for my body to handle.

The hormetic response subsequently doesn't occur: instead of getting stronger in response to stress, my body and health get weaker and weaker over time. I'll start overtraining.

Lastly, I can exercise too lightly. In that case, there's also no hormetic response. My health doesn't improve in turn.

In this guide, I make a distinction between four different types of stress:[2-15]

  • First, there is stressors which are both hormetic and useful - exercise is one example.

  • Secondly, there are stressors which are hormetic but not useful and therefore, do not cause the body to compensate in the right way towards the initial stimulus.

    In other words, by applying these types of stress most people will not actually get healthier and stronger. Pesticides fall into this category, for example, which many people are already overdosing on those.

  • Thirdly, there are stressors which don't give any hormetic response.

    These stressors are to be avoided at all cost. An example of this stressor are very low-quality vegetable oils, such as canola oil. All the stressors in this category just break down your health.

  • Fourthly, there are psychological stressors, which are (partially) in the eye of the beholder. You're all acquainted with such stressors: psychological stress is the customer yelling at you.

(The first three types of stressors are biological, which I interpret as having to do with your physical body. Psychological stressors, secondly, have to do with your mind.)

If that sounds complicated, let me simplify that message.

You'll easily understand once I give more examples. Let's further distinguish between these types of stress...

First, some examples of hormetic stressors:

  • Exercise that properly taxes your body. Again, the right kind of stimulus helps your body get stronger.
  • Sunlight exposure - at least when the sun emits ultraviolet light. Ultraviolet light is the type of light that can cause a sunburn, if you get excessive sunlight exposure.
  • Cold therapy with water that's cold enough. Cold showers and ice baths are examples of cold therapy.
  • Fasting for 16 hours a day

Of course, you can overdo all these stressors. Fasting for 2 weeks, and getting 8 hours of sunlight exposure will not make most people stronger, but weaker instead.

"Health expert" combining
three types of hormesis:
Sunlight, cold, and exercise

Secondly let's look at some examples of less or non-useful hormetic stressors:

These hormetic stressor generally kill your health:

  • Getting exposed to x-rays during a hospital visit. The dose of x-rays almost always exceeds what's healthy for your body.
  • The stress response when your tooth fillings emit a substance called "mercury". Mercury is a heavy metal. Most people already have toxic levels of this substance in their bodies.
  • Exposure to nuclear radiation, because the dose should remain very low for that radiation to be beneficial.
  • Electromagnetic radiation through cellphones, cell towers, 5g networks, etcetera

Bear with me.

My distinction between hormetic and less useful hormetic stressors is absolutely essential to the argument I'm going to make.

Thirdly, there are stressors which are non-hormetic, and non-useful:

All stressors from this category need to be avoided like the plague (or your mother in law...)

This category includes stressors like over-saturating your cells with too many vegetable oils, which may decrease energy production.[69-71] Other examples are:

  • Air pollution when living in a crowded city, or toxic mold exposure. There's no benefit to exposure to these substances.
  • Remaining awake clubbing until 4AM. You'll disrupt your 24-hour day and night cycle. You won't get any health benefits by getting "used" to such a rhythm.

Non-hormetic and non-useful stressors just plainly damage you, and don't provide any health benefits.



(Nerd section: I do think that polyunsaturated fatty acids - specifically EPA and DHA - from fish are different from polyunsaturated fatty acids from vegetable oils. Note that I'm not advocating for fish oils, but for oily fish consumption, or better yet: shellfish consumption. Fish oil (or cod liver oil) do not supply the fatty acids in their evolutionary package, and are often rancid.)



Fourthly, there are psychological stressors.

Psychological stressors are incredibly important to properly deal with, because they are present everywhere in our modern society.

Psychological stressors include your boss calling you in the middle of the night, road rage, ruminating about your marriage, or transitioning jobs. 

Psychological stressors can actually be divided into several categories - road rage is not the same as transitioning jobs. Different people experience different categories of psychological stressors differently. More on that later.

I'm actually also going to argue that psychological stressors are hormetic in some instances. 

Stay with me to find out why...

Before we'll look at different types of hormesis and psychological stressors, however, let's first define what stress fundamentally is. Giving a definition of stress allows you and me to know for sure we're talking about the same thing when discussing "stress". 

Believe me, I've had people argue with me on the exact definition what entails "stress".

2. What Is (Chronic) Stress? A Definition

In my 100% free Health Foundations Introduction course, I've defined stress as follows:

"Stress is a (perceived) inability to deal with demands placed upon you, which leads to both physical as well as mental burden and strain."

Now, per definition, stress denotes a stimulus that currently lies beyond our capacity to immediately deal with. In other words, the demand that's placed upon you cannot be dealt with through your body's current level of energy production.

If enough energy is not immediately available, your body increases the production of stress hormones, such as "cortisol" and "adrenaline".

Stress thus pushes you out of balance. Stress challenges you...

Just the perception of an increased need
for exertion can cause stress reactions.
(Unless you've been there many times,
and completely adapted to the stressor.)

A stressor is always the cause of the stress.

The stressor is thus what originates a possible stress reaction in you. Stressors can be found outside the body, such as a toxin or a lion that makes you afraid, but also inside your body, psychologically.

It's essential to get this part of my claim: the stressor that causes the stress reaction in you does not have to be real - they can be merely perceived.

For example, if I merely think that I don't have the time to catch the train, I'm subjected to a psychological stressor - although in reality I might be perfectly on time.

If the demand the stressor places on your body reaches a certain threshold, the result is stress. The increased energy production of your body in reaction to (perceived) stressors allow you to deal with the stress.

You have to realize one thing:

Stress is always there for a reason: helping you survive.

Even though there's always reason for stress, I do think there's a difference between what are commonly called 1) "acute stress"; and 2) "chronic stress". 

(There are also stress levels in between "acute" and "chronic" but for the sake of argument I'll simplify and just talk about the two.)

Acute stress would be having a stress response towards intense exercise, helping you deal with a deadline two days from now, or to get you through a 16 hour fast. In these cases, stress actively helps you deal with the situation.

Chronic stress, however, would be having an extreme stress reaction every time you have to leave the house, worrying every night before a deadline that still lies 3 months in the future, or having a chronic low-level anxiety because of a childhood trauma. 

Chronic stress does not go away very easily.

While there's a reason for having a stress response in the case of chronic stress, the stress response is fundamentally unhealthy. E.g., your childhood trauma is the reason (stressor) why you're continually having a stress response whenever you see a friendly face, even though that continuous reaction makes you unhealthier in the long term.

Other types of chronic stress would be an obsessive compulsive disorder, or neurotic reactions. In both situations, you're continually worried about something that should not really matter.[16-20]

I would thus consider stress beneficial insofar it helps you deal adequately with the world.

So if stress improves your ability to act in accordance with your values, also in the long term, it's great. Insofar stress inhibits your ability to act in accordance with your values, it's destructive. Chronic stress almost always falls within the latter class.

In all instances, categorically, chronic stress does not help you deal with your life's project you deem important. All types of chronic stress thus need to be eliminated as much as possible.

(More on dealing with chronic stress later.)

Hormetic stressor? Or plain stupidity?
In this situation, at least, there's
a good reason for having acute stress.

When exposed to stressors, you body can have several reactions. We'll distinguish between two possible reactions

First, your body adequately deals with the stressor

In that instance, a certain "toxic" substance you ingested my be eliminated, or you might become more motivated and assertive because of the increase in certain hormones and brain signalling substances.

I might just get motivated - which then helps me perform - and body adequately deals with the stressor.

There are also situations where your body cannot easily deal with the stressor.

In that case, you'll end up with what is called a "fight, flight, or freeze" response.[28-30]

Our ancestors might have come across a lion. As a response to observing that lion, they might choose to fight the lion (hopefully with the help of tools), flee from the lion, or be frozen in absolute petrification.

The hormones and brain signalling substances that are pre-dominant in your body differ for each response.

A fight response, for example, has predominance of other neurotransmitters than a freeze response.[31-35] The freeze response is so heavy, that your brain and body are shut down. That freeze response happens in situations where there's no way out, and both "fight" or "flight" are not an option.

The freeze response means that you'll literally be frozen in shock. During the freeze response, your heart rate and metabolism actually slow down, instead of going up as with a fight or flight response. 

Your body prepares for its ultimate demise when it's freezing.

Fight and flight responses, alternatively, are more characterized by the stress hormones "cortisol" and "adrenaline"

Male lions and cubs.
Is that lion a stressor?

You might be thinking: "what do these reactions have to do with me"/

Let me therefore tell you where modern life goes wrong.

We're triggering acute stress all the time.

Triggering the fight, flight, or freeze response too often will lead to chronic stress.[4; 36-40]

Instead of having an acute stress response just once, your body creates pumps out stress hormones all the time. Additionally, your body will increase its blood pressure, heart rate, and flood your blood with nutrients such as sugars or fatty acids - all to cope with the stressor. 

How to think about the difference between acute and chronic stress? I've paraphrased my favorite meditation teacher Thom Knoles of stress many times on this topic :

"It's not stress that's the problem. it's staying stressed that's the problem."

Phrased differently, it's not bad that you got afraid of the male lion. It's bad if the fear of the lion is still in the back of your mind one week after you met him.

Once you're in chronic stress, you're entering a vicious cycle. Stressed people often make choices that put them into an even deeper hole.

Watching hours of television, drinking too much alcohol, using drugs, or eating junkfood are common examples of what people use to deal with chronic stress.

During chronic stress, your inability to deal with stress also keeps stressors in the back of your mind all the time. As a result of having stressors in the back of your mind all the time, you're becoming even more stressed.

Even your threshold for acute stress is lowered if you're chronically stressed: smaller and smaller stressors already start to create a stress response in you.

Three months ago, you might be able to ignore your screaming boss with some effort. Now you're chronically stressed, however, you can immediately feel the stress hormones flowing once your boss has an outburst.

Chronic stress increases your chances for getting all kinds of diseases and adverse health consequences, such as:[40-52; 63; 64]

  • Burnout and depression
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Chronic pain, or intensifying regular pain sensations
  • Addiction
  • Poorer immune function
  • Ulcers, which are "breaks" in your tissues. Ulcers can occur in the gut or intestines as a results of stress.
  • A decrease in brain volume in certain areas such as the hippocampus. The hippocampus is responsible for memory formation, reward and punishment, and your sense of environmental navigation.

Excessive (chronic) stress makes you unable to deal with the demands placed upon you, because your body is less and less able to generate adequate energy.

To me, all stress is fundamentally an energy problem.

If you have lots of perceived stressors, such as a deadline 2 months down the road, the chance of going bankrupt, a bad family life, and even stressing about stress itself, your body's energy response can thus not adequately deal with the demand placed upon you. 

That colleague of yours who's always angry at your job might be chronically stressed - not having the recuperation available to lower stress levels again.

Let's therefore explore how the acute stress response originates, and how acute stress actually becomes chronic stress. That's how we end up in the third section: stress and your brain.



(Nerd section: for simplicity sake, I just talk about energy in this guide. In reality, both "information" and "energy" matter. An example of information would be how sunlight (and environmental light programs your circadian rhythm. That light does not just carry energy.



3. Stress Explained Through Different Brain Areas.

To understand how your brain creates acute and chronic stress, I'll talk about different brain areas. Understanding how these brain areas get conditioned towards continually creating acute stress responses will help you understand why chronic stress exists - and why chronic stress persists.

Let's consider the system in your brain that's most concerned with emotions: the limbic system. Emotions and stress are highly intertwined in your brain, so your limbic system plays a major role in stress.

Once emotions go haywire, it's hard to control your stress levels. Master your emotions, on the contrary, and it's easy to have low stress levels.

In gold I've emphasized three important brain areas that are related to that limbic system:

 

You don't have to remember everything on that picture.

Please also keep in mind that my depiction of the brain is an oversimplification. I'm just talking about general patterns of facts about the brain--the details are far more complex.

In reality, for example, there's no hard dichotomy between "rational" and "emotional" parts of the brain. These parts actually overlap. There are nevertheless areas which are specialized towards more rational thought, and areas targeted more towards emotions.

The distinction between "rational" and "emotional" brain areas will surely help you understand chronic stress though.

Let's consider the five brain areas displayed above in more detail:

  1. The amygdala is one of the most primal areas of your limbic system.[171-174]

    In this brain part, the most primal emotional responses originate. For now, we'll equate the acute stress response with that "primal emotional response"

    Very often you'll experience an emotion - like anger, fear, or disgust - which takes over your behavior, because the emotion originates in the amygdala. When the amygdala is initially activated, the higher parts of your brain do not have the ability to regulate that emotion yet.

    Your amygdala can be hijacked through trauma or chronic stress. In that instance, your amygdala is more prone to create destructive emotions which are very hard to regulate by other brain areas.[175; 176]

    How?

    Let's say you fail very badly during important presentations many times in a row. In that case, the amygdala is conditioned towards feeling negative emotions towards giving important presentations. The fear response gets triggered more and more easily.

    Any time you think about presenting, your body creates an acute stress response. As a result, you might even start to experience anxiety a week before you actually need to present. 

    If you're chronically stressed, your amygdala thus creates lots of stressors that shouldn't be stressors in the first place. The sensitization of your amygdala equals the "threshold of stress" being lowered, which I mentioned earlier.

    The amygdala has one important feature: it acts automatically.

    If you observe a dangerous animal - such as a snake - your amygdala thus automatically reacts. That instinctive reactions is great, because it helps you survive.

    In modern society, your amygdala can get "hijacked", and create acute stress responses towards events that are not existential threats. 

    Your amygdala can be programmed to consider almost anything a stressor: getting an e-mail from your boss, being stuck in traffic, or the thought of having to be early for the train tomorrow morning. All of these events are not existential life or death situations.

    If your amygdala gets hijacked, it reacts automatically towards stimuli that shouldn't be a stressor in the first place. Every time you see a projector with a presentation screen, your amygdala might automatically make you anxious, because it's been programmed to act that way.

    It's important to understand that the amygdala can trigger such a response before you become fully conscious of what's happening, and before you have time to think or react. 

    Most acute stress responses modern people are therefore is totally useless. You would be a lot better off to be motivated instead.

    Motivation is totally different than a "fight, flight or freeze" response. Motivation helps you perform at your highest levels, and boosts your creativity. With lots of motivation, and low stress, you'll perform as if you were playing a game with friends: both playful and serious, while blistering your highest expression of genius.

    In stress, your creative options are severely limited, and you're prone to repeat the behavior you're most used to. Stress makes you unable to think outside the box.

  2. The brain nerves, brainstem, and forebrain make up the most basic sensory system of your brain. 

    Many sensory stimuli - originating from the eyes and nose - are directly connected via the brain nerves to the forebrain. Other nerves in your brain, not directed at seeing and smelling, have pathways towards the brainstem.

    Don't worry about remembering all these areas. It's just important to know is that the brain areas from this second category give your brain its basic sensory input.

    That brainstem, for example, is also connected to the amygdala. Through its connection to the amygdala, parts of the brainstem gives the sensory input based upon which the amygdala can automatically ring the alarm bells.[183-187]

    Based on the input of your brain nerves, which connect your senses to the brainstem and forebrain, which then connect to the amygdala, you can be subconsiously triggered by anything in your environment.

    A foul smell, for example, can trigger your brain nerve tasked with smelling, and create an immediate fight or flight response.

  3. Located in your forehead lies the prefrontal cortex, the rational part of your brain. 

    You'll want the prefrontal cortex to be the driver of your brain as much as possible, because that's when your "higher self" is in control. 

    This part of your brain acts slower than the sensing brain areas that are connected to the amgydala. In other words, your senses and amygdala respond to potential threats first, and your prefrontal cortex can only be activated later.

    That previous statement entails that your amygdala can make you act unconsciously first, while the conscious thinking and rational thought only happen afterwards when the prefrontal cortex kicks in.[188-192]

    Fortunately, the prefrontal cortex can control your amygdala after anxiety, fear, or disgust sets in.[194; 195] With good self-control, the prefrontal cortex can thus regulate the amygdala, telling that brain-part that an excessive emotional response is unwarranted.

    In chronic stress, your prefrontal cortex gets rewired to be less active.

    That re-wiring is a problem, because it makes it harder and harder to regulate your amygdala. Through meditation - a topic we'll touch upon later - you can re-wire your brain the other way around: increasing the regulatory activity of your prefrontal cortex.

    Don't worry if your prefrontal cortex currently has little regulatory capacity over your emotions and acute stress responses: I'll tell you how to train your brain...

  4. The hypothalamus determines whether stress hormones actually have to be released.[195-197]

    Every time your amygdala creates a fight, flight or freeze response, it's actually the hypothalamus that tells your body to start creating stress hormones.

    Very simple...

  5. Lastly, there's the hippocampus, the main center where memories are stored.[198-201]

    The memories stored in the hippocampus can both inform the amygdala as well as the prefrontal cortex. 

    By informing the prefrontal cortex of what happened in the past, the hippocampus can help your brain make decisions.

    Under extreme stress, however, the hippocampus does not store memories properly. Your brain will thus not learn anything good from very stressful experiences.

    Nevertheless, your amygdala will still get sensitized under that extreme stress situation. You'll essentially learn nothing from the stressful experience, will that stress is more easily triggered next time.

    The amygdala and hippocampus can also reinforce each others' activity, which takes control away from the prefrontal cortex - the rational part of your brain.[208-210] 

    Moreover, the hippocampus itself is also impaired under chronic stress.[446; 447] The parts of that brain area associated with memory literally shrink, while emotional parts of the hippocampus enlarge. 

    Succesful dealings with stress can fortunately be stored in the hippocampus. The end-result of succesfully dealing with stress is that your prefrontal cortex can access the next time there's a difficult situation.

    In this guide, I'll tell you how you can store positive dealings with stress in your hippocampus, so that next time, you'll be better prepared. 

    Let's explore why memories matter...

    If you've got lots of reference experience with dealing with a certain stressful situation - like 100s of presentations - then the next time you're engaging in that situation won't be as stressful as the first.

    Practice thus does make perfect...

That's all you need to know about the different brain areas involved with stress. 

Let's now consider the (acute) stress response in more detail, especially in relationship to these brain areas.

Remember from the previous section that your brain pumps out chemicals once you get into a fight, flight, or freeze situation.[28-35]

These chemicals can include "cortisol", "adrenaline", or "acetylcholine". Keep in mind that the first two are stress hormones, while the third is more associated with the "freeze" response.

Remember that this stress response was mostly triggered in our ancestors for situations where there's a predator or another danger, such as walking a dangerous cliff.

The stress hormones increase the nutrients available in your blood - such as sugars or fatty acids - which help you perform in order to stay alive. This short-term stress also suppresses pain and fear. In that life or death struggle, stress literally helps save your life.

The more often you have a stress response, the worse you'll perform. Acute stress becomes chronic stress:

Chronic stress does therefore not only lead to a list of diseases, as laid out in the previous section. Chronic stress causes lots of other symptoms as well:[202-207; 211-223]

  • The functioning of your immune system is undermined
  • You'll gain weight - especially the more dangerous belly fat
  • Your blood sugar levels are disturbed. Stress floods your blood with sugars and fats initially, but done often enough (if you have chronic stress), your cells no longer take these nutrients up properly
  • Your long-term memory recall is impaired, while short-term memories are less likely to be stored
  • You're angrier and more anxious, and your overall mood is lower. You can even get depressed.
  • Your prefrontal cortex is inhibited, and can even shrink in size
  • You'll be more prone to self-medicate through alcohol and drugs
  • And lastly: you may age quicker

Chronic stress doesn't sound so great for performance and health after all right? 

I hope you can now understand why a chronic stress response is so toxic. And yet, many people tell me they need stress to perform. Big mistake.

I'll give you an example of how your brain works on (extreme) chronic stress:

John is 42 years old, and has been stressed for several months now. He's had deadline after deadline at his job, and he's really looking forward to the summer holidays. 

From the outside, people see the "normal" John. Maybe his appearances has changed somewhat, because he's sleeping for fewer hours at night, but otherwise he looks very normal.

When seeing the bags under John's eyes, his colleagues just assume he's been going out partying during the weekends. John's colleagues are aware John has split up with his wife 2 years ago, so they attribute the sleepless look to that event.

On the inside, however, John is boiling. He's continually anxious, doesn't sleep more than a few hours at night, and drinks liters of coffee each day just to finish his obligations.

When his boss spontaneously requests John present his findings next morning, John loses it. He yells "who do you think I am?! God? Can't you give that task to any of these 15 lazy bastards working here?"

John immediately apologizes after realizing what he's said, in fear of losing his job. He's deeply ashamed of his outburst.

That outburst, however, was only natural. John's amygdala has been putting out a danger signal multiple times per day for months now. For most of that time, his prefrontal cortex had been doing a good job of regulating his behavior.

Now, at a moment John was already extremely stressed, the increased demand of the presentation puts him over the edge. John does not have great experiences with presentations, so his prefrontal cortex cannot rely on his hippocampus suggestion on how to solve this problem.

Due to Jack's lack of energy - through many sleepless nights - his prefrontal cortex is helpless in regulating his amygdala this time. That helplessness caused the outburst. And after his outburst, John's amygdala fires up once again, after he realizes how he's just behaved.

John instinctually apologizes...

The pattern where your higher brain region - the prefrontal cortex - cannot control your amygdala is present in chronic stress, burnout, and post-traumatic stress disorder.[415; 416]

The world starts to become an unstable and unreliable place, because worst-case scenarios are continually raging through your mind. Once your prefrontal cortex loses control, you'll filter and imagine everything through a negative lens.

Chronic stress is thus not something you should allow to develop in the first place.

I can still imagine though, that it's difficult to understand how all these brain areas relate to each other. In the next section, I'll therefore give you a simple analogy to understand these brain regions.

4. An Analogy To Understand Brain Areas Involved In Stress.

There we go. An analogy to understand the brain regions involved in stress.

Imagine a car with two adults: a driver and a front passenger. There are also two children in the back, both in the passenger seats.

That car is an analogy for your body. The driver and passengers stand for different parts of your brain.

  1. The prefrontal cortex the driver of the car. The prefrontal cortex can direct the car when steering, or change the gears.

    The driver can also attempt to control all other persons in the car, but that act takes away attention from driving.

  2. The hippocampus is analogous to the front passenger. The hippocampus helps the driver navigate, but also tends to the needs of the children. Only if the hippocampus is undisturbed by the children in the backseat, can the hippocampus really help the driver.

    Remember that the hippocampus is your main memory area, that works best when there's little (chronic) stress.

  3. There's a three-year old in the backseat. This child stands analogous for the hypothalamus. If this kids starts screaming, the driver loses some of its control. The front passenger (hippocampus) also has to shift attention, and can no longer help the driver.

  4. There's also a hyperactive teenager in the backseat. That hyperactive teenager is an analogy for the amygdala. If this teenager gets unresty, he can set off the three-year-old next to him (hypothalamus).

    A disaffected teenager is the last thing the driver and navigator want. The entire journey becomes impossible if the teenager becomes rebellious over and over again (which signifies chronic stress' effect on the amygdala).

  5. The windows stand for the the input your brain gets through sensory input. These sensory input areas are the brain nerves, brainstem, and forebrain I've mentioned earlier.

    In other words, all passengers in the car get their input about the world from through the windows.

Let's consider how the car can drive properly, and how things can turn south...

First, if the car drives properly, the driver is fully in control.

The 3,5 year old (hypothalamus) in the backseat stays relaxed because all is well. The teenager (amygdala) has had a good upbringing, and stays quiet most of the. Because the passengers are well behaved. the front passenger (hippocampus) can help the driver nativigate without much stress, and the car arrives at its destination.

The driver can lose control in several ways though:

If the 3,5 year old in the backseat is set off, or the teenager becomes rebellious because he does not like what he sees, the navigator (hippocampus) will not function well and no longer navigate.

The more rebellious the teenager gets, the more the driver (prefrontal cortex) has to divert attention from the road, and calm down the teenager (amygdala).

Under chronic stress, the driver is losing control over and over again.

All hell breaks loose. The driver might shut down, and follow the instructions of the teenager, instead of following his/her own course.

The navigator (hippocampus) might not work at all anymore, due to the influence of the teenager (amygdala), making the ride impossible. The 3 year old (hypothalamus) in the backseat starts crying all the time (putting out stress hormones), creating havoc.

The end-result is that the car cannot navigate the world properly.

You know what's even more amazing? 

After driving towards the wrong direction a few times, the teenager ends up more stressed than before, begins to rebel even more, and intensifies the inhibition of the driver's ability to steer the car.

It's important to remember that the vehicle didn't become so chaotic within a month. It takes time to end up with a teenager (amygdala) that's out of control.

Of course, with good upbringing, the teenager might still throw a tantrum once in a while (acute stress). But nevertheless, the driver would be able to reign in the teenager, so that they can all arrive at their destination.

With very poor upbringing, however, the teenager can become ever more rebellious. If the teenager is not reigned in at the outset, he'll become more and more impulsive. In the end, with all the impulsivity, the teenager derails the journey for everyone.

You might be thinking: "how can we understand that development of the different brain regions through time?"

Great question...

Your brain - and your limbic system therefore as well - is actually "neuroplastic". Neuroplastic means that your brain can change over the course of your lifetime.

Remember that your amygdala can get hijacked through trauma or chronic stress. The good news is that you can also reverse that process by re-programming parts of your brain to react differently to stimuli in your environment, such as stressors.

The teenager in the backseat, and the driver, can thus be changed back to their proper role.

Neuroplasticity can help you recover from alcohol addiction, anxiety disorders, or depression, for example.[176-179]

Through neuroplasticity you can even re-program how your brain is wired, how different parts of your brain respond to each other, and the size of different brain areas. 

If you've experienced lots of stress during your early life, for example, your amygdala might be enlarged. Having traumatic experience can make your prefrontal cortex smaller, lowering the control your "main driver" has over your brain.[180-182] 

Overall, there are different reasons why brain areas give rise to stress.

Your amygdala might be overactive due to lots of stress early in your life, or your prefrontal cortex might have lost control due to a trauma. In chronic stress, your prefrontal cortex loses its ability to stay active.[417-421] Alternatively, the prefrontal cortex might not be able to dial in your amygdala properly.

In all these instances, the car (your brain) will be unable to explore the world properly (act in accordance with what you really want).

Getting the car's driver (prefrontal cortex) and all the passengers back on track will help you navigate and act out your thoughts in the world rationally.

We'll return to this analogy throughout this guide. First, we'll look at the elephant in the room to explore the world better: looking at the car itself. 

By upgrading the car, you'll also make sure that you can reach your destination quicker.

5. Why (Controlled) Short-Term Stress Is Essential To Your Health.

If you've reading up until now, you might almost get the impression that I'm against stress. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Some people do think that a life without stress is to be preferred:

On second thought, are these really "people"?

My argument entails, however, that life without stress is a mistake

Without at least some stress, you'll never get a hormetic response in your body. Once you're in good health, you'll even need hormesis to move closer towards optimal health.

The most important element in hormesis is getting the dose right. Engaging in too much hormesis means promoting chronic stress. No hormesis means you're devolving into a being who cannot tolerate any stressors.

Too much (biological) stress - which feeds chronic stress -  and you'll end up with anxiety, depression, insomnia, agitation, being overwhelmed, low energy, stomach problems, lower immune system functioning, poor memory and focus, and radical changes in appetite.

The right kind of stress, however, provides the opposite benefits: more energy, better mood, higher focus and memory, a stronger immune system, etcetera. 

Those benefits sound great right?

In the rest of this blog post, when I talk about hormesis, understand hormesis as intermittent (biological) stress. Intermittent stress can be conceived as the temporary stressing of your body, which is then cancelled out, so that your body can rest and recuperate.

To optimize the use of hormesis, periods of rest need to be cycled with periods of stress.

The other side of the coin of stress is thus the use of intermittent relaxation, during which your body recovers. 

Both an absence of stress and an absence relaxation are damaging.

Coins have two mutually supportive sides
In the body's energy department,
stress and relaxation act as two sides
of the same coin as well.

(This section considers the topic of healthy hormetic biological stressors. The following section considers all other types of biological stressors). 

Let's first look at some beneficial hormetic stressors:

  • Fasting.[53-57; 465-471]

    Fasting creates new stem cells. Stem cells which are primordial cells in your body which functions has not yet been determined in or specialized towards a specific role.

    Periods during which you do not consume any proteins lead to longer lifespans. For most people, these periods come down to fasting, although modern research also hints that abstaining from protein can be a valid strategy as well.

    Overall, fasting seems to promote cellular repair, slows down aging, strengthens your nervous and immune system, help you lose weight, and lowers your chance for getting illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. 

    The biggest disclaimer is that you should be healthy for fasting. I do not recommend fasting if you're unhealthy.

  • Infrared and sauna exposure. 

    Infrared saunas use "infrared light", which is also emitted by the sun. Regular saunas use hot air to warm up your body. 

    I'm not yet 100% sure whether I consider regular saunas or infrared saunas the better option. There are advantages to both options. Infrared saunas are better for drawing toxins from your cells, while regular saunas are better for exposing your body to lots of heat.

    Regular saunas get a lot hotter than infrared saunas. For that reason, regular saunas might be your preferred route to "stress" your body temporarily.[98-101] With "stress" I mean hormesis in this context.

    There are lots of benefits to regular and infrared saunas though. 

    Beware, here's long list:

    Saunas can lower your blood pressure, improve your hormone functioning, lower sensations of pain, help you detox, aid in maintaining muscle mass, enhance recovery, improve mental well being, and increase your overall metabolism.[103-116]

    And that's just a shortlist of sauna benefits..



  • Red light therapy is also hormetic. Low doses of red light therapy have great effects, while higher doses decrease the end-results of the treatment.[95-97]

    "But what's red light therapy", you ask?

    Red light therapy are LED light panels, which generally contain lots of LED light bulbs.

    If you've read some of my other articles, you know that the sun generally emits 1) ultraviolet light; 2) visible light; and 3) infrared light at noon.

    Red light therapy devices generally emit the red part from the visible light spectrum, and a very small part of the infrared light spectrum.

    That red light and infrared light does have tremendous health benefits. Red light therapy:[117-130]

    - Lowers inflammation, which lies at the basis of many modern diseases
    - Decreases joint, muscle, and chronic pain
    - Reverses hair loss
    - Help your thyroid function. The thyroid organ on your neck is necessary for proper metabolism.
    - Increases fat loss.
    - Aids in how well your body metabolizes carbohydrates. In other words, red light therapy makes sure carbohydrates are stored in your muscles, instead of as fat mass.
    - Help recovery after a workout, heals injuries, and increases your strength and endurance gains.
    - Improves your hormone levels, such as testosterone. 
    - Makes your skin look better
    - Clean your teeth, and prevents caries (yes, really!)
    - And finally: help treat depression and anxiety

    And I didn't even name all red light benefits here yet. Make sure to follow the optimal dosage provided by the manufacturer though, to get the best hormetic effect.

  • Cold therapy is yet another modality that places stress on your body, while also being hormetic.

    The list of benefits of cold therapy is as long as the list of benefits from red light therapy. I won't bore you with another long list, however.

    The most important benefits of cold therapy are improved immune function, hormonal levels, fat loss, muscle mass increases, and energy improvement.[131-139]

    Of course, remember that cold therapy can cause stress because it's hormetic especially at higher intensities. Engaging in too intensive cold therapy is even dangerous - and counterproductive if done too often.

    For many people, cold therapy is a big step to get used to:



    Read my extensive guide on cold therapy to learn how to implement less intensive cold therapy modalities first. Always start slow on the cold...

  • Exercise. 

    Yes, exercise is hormetic.[140-144] Why? If you exercise too often, or too intensely, you'll get overtrained or injured. If your exercise intensity is not high enough, you won't get many benefits.

    Part of the benefits of exercise is making your fitter, happier, and smarter. If you overshoot on exercise, however, you'll achieve the opposite: weakness, depression, and lower thinking ability.

    One of the ways in which exercise causes stress in the body is by the generation of what are called "reactive oxygen species". In simple terms, damaging reactions with oxygen are created. An analogy would be the rusting of metal, which also happens because of reactions with oxygen.

    The damage induced by oxidation is beneficial, however. If you try to inhibit that damage, through supplementing with lots of antioxidants (which inhibit the damage), you'll no longer gain the benefits from exercise.

    For overall health benefits, I consider a combination of resistance training (best for bone strength) and cardiovascular exercise (brain function) best.[448-450] There's no need to run long distances though. 20 to 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week is probably best. 

    Moreover, engaging in lots of high-intensity exercise damages the functioning of your brain. Don't hit the gym intensely six times a week. Unfortunately, I've been there, done that...

  • "Toxic" substances in plants.

    Polyphenols are one such"toxic" substances that are found in plants.[91-94] Examples of foods that contain these polyphenols are coffee, cacao, different types of berries, wine, and nuts, green veggies, onions, and tea.

    Your body - specifically your liver - has to work harder to digest foods that contain more polyphenols. 

    The food you eat is thus yet another stressor that can make you stronger.

One key discussion is how often you should commit to stressing your body.

Of course, by now you'll understand that some stress is good, and that both excessive and no stress are bad. That knowledge, however, does not tell you exactly when you reach the sweet spot.

The remaining question in my argument is thus:

"How do you know to what extent you should rely on hormesis, and to what extent you should not?"

The most important element here, would be to measure yourself. Self-measurement is an integral part of my Health Foundations Program. In that program, I teach people why they need to measure themselves, and how to do so.

But, let me give you a simple breadcrumb.

Just consider how you are feeling in general:

  • If you're bristling with energy all day and feel great, your libido is amazing, it's great to include hormetic stress into your weekly routine.
  • If you're doing good in the energy and mood department, you've got good libido, include some hormetic stressors, but take it slowly. 
  • If you're unhealthy, or if you've got very poor energy levels, I would take it very slow on applying any hormetic stressors.  I also recommend to consider many other low-hanging fruits for health improvement first, such as your diet or your 24-hour day and night rhythm. Deal with psychological stress first as well, for which tips are included in the bottom of this guide.

Of course, that advice is very general. Being 70 year old with no libido nor energy is a totally different situation from being 20 years with the same problem.

But, we're not done yet on hormesis...

Let's return to the car analogy I gave earlier, to better understand hormesis.

Hormesis helps you build a faster car, with a bigger and more efficient engine. Even if the driver (prefrontal cortex) loses control once in a while, if the car is simply quicker, you can still compensate. 

Of course, it would be best to have the children (hypothalamus and amygdala) in the back always act nicely. But you also know that children just don't always behave that way.

Remember that with good behaving children, the navigator (hippocampus) does not get off track, and the driver (prefrontal cortex) assures that everyone gets at the right destination.

But let's say the children at the back indeed get rebellious, especially the amygdala - who triggers the hypothalamus (which creates stress hormones). 

In that instance, a bigger car allows you to compensate simply because you're much more resilient to some setbacks. A car that drives 120 miles an hour arrives quicker than a car that drives 50 miles an hour, even with some setbacks.

You've thus got more energy to spare in your body.

Your body literally has engines called "mitochondria", which are often imagined as the "energy producing factories" of your cells. Hormesis creates new and bigger mitochondria, so that you get more resilient over time.

We thus want to upgrade both the car and condition the passengers to make the journey as quick as possible.

And remember: if you stress the engine too much, the engine breaks down, and no-one reaches their destination anymore. Hormesis can be overdone.

6. Bad Stress: Avoid These Stressors At All Cost

Let's consider why not all stress buildup is essential to your health.

In the introductory section of this article, I've talked about 1) useless hormetic stressors; and 2) non-hormetic stressors. We'll treat both stressors here, because they have one thing in common: degrading your health. 

Both options thus need to be avoided.

First, let's look at hormetic stressors which are useless:

  • Heavy metals and many other toxins fall within this category.[75; 76]

    On the one hand, exposing your body to heavy metals such as lead or mercury can have a hormetic effect. On the other hand, most people are already exposed to levels of heavy metal toxins that are too high .[78-80] 

    Remember that some stress is good to get a hormetic reaction, but too much stress negates the hormetic reaction. Exposing yourself to even more heavy metals while you're already overexposed is detrimental to your health.

    How do I know you're probably already overexposed?

    It's not coincidental to me that guidelines for the maximum exposure levels of heavy metals such as lead have been going down for decades. The safe dosage of heavy metals is thus probably very low.

    That lower tolerated exposure level demonstrates to me that there's very little benefit in risking exposing yourself to these toxic metals - especially because a too-high dosage can be so extremely harmful for your health.

    Intentionally exposing your body to these stressors is thus akin to playing with fire: it's almost impossible to get the dosage right with heavy metal exposure.

    Steer clear from heavy metals, which you might get exposed to by pollutant areas, working in industrial areas, eating fish high on the foodchain, and by working with chemicals.

  • Radiation from the environment.[81-85] Examples are electromagnetic frequencies emitted by electronics and wireless devices, and nuclear radiation. 

    Even though there's some indication that radiation might be hormetic, the exposure levels are becoming extremely excessive in modern environments.

    Electromagnetic frequencies - stemming from smartphones, cell towers, microwaves, WiFi routers, and other electronic devices - have been growing exponentially in number and intensity in the last few decades.

    Although these devices can have an hormetic effect, we've passed that threshold long ago, and these frequencies now put you in the excessive stress territory very quickly. In plain language, many people are already exposed excessively to electromagnetic frequencies.

    If you really want an hormetic response from radiation, you'll probably have to reduce the amount of electromagnetic radiation in the environment by many-fold. 

  • Mold might be another problem. Although some mold exposure might be hormetic, the amount of mold that's growing in many buildings nowadays is totally unnatural. 

    Our ancestors were never exposed to the amounts of mold that can grow in a modern building that has water damage.

    So even though mold might possibly be hormetic, modern exposure levels are so high that there's no upside to breathing in mold. 

Mold, radiation (especially from wireless devices), and heavy metals (but other toxins as well in general) thus need to be avoided like the plague. If you're not avoiding these stressors, you're increasing your stress levels 24/7, which happens almost fully imperceptibly.

Most people are not aware they have high levels of mold exposure, for example, until their health really turns south.

But there's more to avoid:

There are some non-hormetic stressors, secondly, which exclusively lower your health:

There's no benefit to ingesting these substances, ever.

These non-hormetic stressors cause a stress reaction in your body, without resulting in any adaptive response. In other words, your body is not getting stronger because you're exposed to such stressors.

 Non-hormetic stressors include:

  • Consuming too many low-quality fatty acids, such as vegetable oils.[158-170]

    Vegetable oils can increase your risk for cancer, lower the functioning of your immune system, increase your chances for heart disease, mental health problems, and obesity. That's just a shortlist of all the problems these fats cause...

    Consuming vegetable oils will thus cause stress - and that stress is not hormetic. Consuming these "frankenstein fats" - which have never been consumed before in human history - will thus make you weaker in both the short term and the long term.

    Avoid.

  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies. 

    If you're deficient in certain vitamins or minerals, that stress will not trigger a hormetic response in you.

    Because vitamin and mineral deficiencies do not give a hormetic response, they therefore do not make you more stress tolerant. Instead, being deficient in these nutrients makes you more stressed in the short-term, and less stress tolerant in the long term.

    Why do I mention vitamins and minerals? Many people - even in modern societies - are deficient in them.

    In terms of minerals, many have deficiencies in zinc, magnesium, iodine, selenium, and copper.[152-157] Regarding vitamins, lots of people are deficient in the animal forms of vitamin A, D, E and K2, but also vitamin B12.[145-151]

    Of course, you're saying: "I'm not deficient. I eat very well!"

    Are you sure?

    Are you really sure? 

    98% of people are potassium deficient, 50% calcium deficient, about 20% zinc deficient. My guide on magnesium demonstrates that 80-90% of people have sub-optimal magnesium levels as well.

    In terms of vitamins, an estimated 50-75% of people are vitamin D deficient, and 90% low on vitamin E and K2. (I've written guides on how to increase your vitamin D and vitamin K2 levels as well.)

    Don't assume that if you think you "eat well" you're not at risk for vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Many people who think they "eat well" don't actually eat that well under more scrutiny.

    Again, the most important thing to remember with nutritional deficiencies is that they create stress that makes you weaker, especially in the long-term. Nutritional deficiencies are not hormetic. Treat deficiencies accordingly and as quickly as possible.

  • Having harmful parasites in your body.[373-375]

    Some types of parasites can really wreck your health. And no, some dangerous types of parasites in your body will not "make you stronger".

    The topic of parasites is very complex, and discussions regarding this topic lie beyond the scope of this guide. If you suspect that you're infected by a parasite, do more research.

  • Poor gut function.[365-372]

    If you've got gut or digestion issues, I would recommend an elimination diet to avoid any foods that might potentially trigger your gut.

    Why?

    Gut function is intrinsically related to stress. If your gut function is poor, you're certainly going to be more stressed, anxious, and fearful. 

    What to do?

    Eliminate any grains, artificial foods, additives, beans, legumes, nuts, soy, nightshades, vegetable oils, and alcohol until your gut function is stable for 2 weeks.

    If it takes longer than 6 weeks for your gut function to become stable again, then consider additional testing for your gut, because something might be going on. In that case, food intolerance might not be your problem.

    If the elimination is successful, however, then re-introduce foods one by one, and wait for a couple of weeks to see whether your gut function remains stable. If you tolerate a food for a few weeks, you can definitively keep that food in your diet.

    Why re-introduce foods so slowly?

    Some foods do not cause an immediate negative reaction to your gut, but take time to manifest. If you consume a food that provokes you, but falsely conclude after a day that you're fine, you might re-introduce foods that cause an adverse reaction later on.

    Eliminating potentially irritating foods and re-introducing them can be a long-winded and slow process. But remember that if your gut is not functioning, your stress levels will always skyrocket. While more research is needed on this subject, an elimination diet seems to be your best bet if you have gut problems.

    Having poor gut function is, for example, tied to issue of inflammation.[365; 451-453] Excessive inflammation plays a role in many modern diseases.

    To lower inflammation, make sure to double check whether you need certain medications, such as painkillers and acid blockers. Inflammation is tied to many modern diseases again, such as diabetes and heart disease.

    Also avoid alcohol if your gut function is poor, make sure to eat enough fiber (not too much, but also not too little), and make sure your vitamin D levels are adequate.

  • not respecting your 24-hour day and night rhythm.[454-458] 

    Your rhythm is a big reason why you might get stressed. 

    That 24-hour day and night rhythm is called your "circadian rhythm". The circadian rhythm influences and even regulates almost all processes in your body.

    You might be acquainted with rhythm disruptions if you've ever had a jet lag. What many people don't know, however, is that the enormous amount of artificial light at night also disrupts your rhythm. 

    What light?

    Well, light consists in different colors. The sun emits both ultraviolet light (which can give you a sunburn), visible light (which contains all the colors of the rainbow), and infrared light (which makes the sun feel warm on your skin).

    The visible light - especially the blue and green colors - can be especially harmful for your circadian rhythm.

    Blue and green light tell your brain its daytime, and that you should stay awake. If you tell your brain to stay awake at nighttime, by exposing your eyes and skin to artificial light, you'll cause a mini-jetlag in your body.

    Of course, clubbing until 5AM causes a much bigger mini-jetlag than staying up until 1AM.

    The solution?

    Wear blue blocking glasses after sunset.

Cats: nine lives and allowed to party 
at night. Life's unfair...

That's it...

I could potentially have named more stressors, but this short-list should already help you take action. If you can eliminate all the stressors displayed in this section, you'll do your overall stress levels a big favor.

In certain instances you might be exposed to many of these stressors. In that case, your body might not be able to generate energy because your cells are busy with dell defense.

That cell defense mechanism can be triggered by parasites, heavy metal overloads, other toxins such as flame retardants which is commonly found on furniture, or simply stressing your energy production too much by too many workouts.[68] That cell defense mechanism plays a major role in chronic fatigue, for example.

If you suspect getting exposed to some of the stressors listed above, such as pollutants, please commit to some additional reading on these stressors. These topics are too complex to fully treat in this blog post. 

And again, it's important to remember that many of these stressors cause a low-level chronic stress 24-7, even while you sleep...

Lastly, how to understand useless stressors from the car analogy?

Simple: using the stressors displayed in this section is similar to not repairing your car, doing damage to your car, and driving recklessly with your car. Avoid, because even slight damage to your car can already slow how quickly you get to your destination.

7. Stress Relief By Providing More Nutrients

The worse your overall health is, in general, the more careful you need to be with applying techniques that stress your body even more, such as hormesis. The better your overall health, instead, the more hormesis you can (and must) apply. 

Increasing energy intake is one of the best ways to lower your overall stress levels, without having to rely on hormesis.[1]

Increasing energy intake simply means consuming more high-quality calories. These calories need to be high in nutrients, such as high-quality fatty acids, protein, vitamins, and minerals.

"Old animals: not made to withstand
high levels of stress, such as extreme cold and heat"

Let's say you've got a modern disease, or you're having high chances of getting such a disease because you're obese or in poor physical shape. In these cases, improving your energy intake should be the first strategy you apply.

Increasing energy intake can improve both biological and psychological stress.

There are other situations where you'll want to increase your energy intake. Let me give you an example:

Amy is a 32-year old woman, working at a prestigious law firm. She working 70 hours a week, and also has children with the ages of 2 and 4.

Amy has been chronically stressed since a few years. That period has coincided with 20 pounds weight gain. 

One reason she's so stressed is because Amy has a high-stress job while simultaneously having to take care of the kids. Her husband has a company of his own, which places much of the responsibility of taking care of the children on Amy.

Summer is coming. Amy decides she wants to lose her excess 20 pounds of weight, so that she can look great on the beach during vacations. She goes on a low-calorie diet, eating lots of vegetables to combat hunger.

10 pounds of excess bodyfat come off within just one month. But then the weight loss stops. Amy doubles down by eating even fewer calories, and 3 months later Amy's in a burnout.

In time, her weight rebounds (with a vengeance), she has to dial back her work at the law firm, and takes years to fully recover...

While Amy's example might sound like a horror story, radically cutting calories is far more common than you would think.  

What's the solution?

Do the reverse. Take the long-road of losing weight by eating lots of high-quality food.[59-62] Taking that long road might not help you lose 10 pounds in a month, but that strategy will help you lose weight and improve health for a lifetime.

The bottom line is that the higher your stress levels are, the higher your nutrient requirements also become.

Let's go through some great nutrient-rich options.

First of all, make sure you consume lots of foods that have an extremely high nutrient density, such as shellfish and organ meats. Fresh organ meats are best, but for people who slowly want to get used to consuming organ meats, high-quality supplements also exist.

Also make sure you consume copious amounts of grass-fed meats, and some oily seafood that's low on the foodchain (sardines, mackerel, herring, anchovies). Add lots of high quality fats such as butter from grass-fed cows, beef tallow, and extra virgin coconut oil.

Add high-quality salt to all your meals, increase your fruit intake, and consume some vegetables and lots of spices.

If you tolerate milk, add some raw organic milk from grass-fed cows. Also add bone broth, gelatin, or collagen to your diet.

Remember: the overall goal of these foods is not only to eat more calories, but also to increase your vitamin and mineral intake.

Avoid ketogenic or very low carb for long periods of time. Such diets increase the stress you place on your body. 

Our ancestors never went without carbohydrates for long periods of time - even Eskimos. When Eskimos consumed freshly-killed meats, for example, these meats themselves still contained carbohydrates.

Lastly, make sure you sleep well each night.

Although sleep is a very low-hanging fruit, lots of people actually sleep very poorly in modern society. For that reason, I've created a guide with the 50 best sleep tips to increase deep sleep and the sleep periods during which you dream.

Before moving on to the next topic, let's summarize the last few sections first:

The last three sections treated the topic of biological stress. I've talked about both hormetic and non-hormetic stressors:

  • Firstly, the most important lesson in managing your overall stress levels is that you shouldn't expose yourself to hormetic stressors if your health is not good. If your health is good, add hormetic stressors such as heat or exercise.

    In terms of the analogy I've used, hormesis is like upgrading your car.

  • A second lesson is that by avoiding the "bad" stressors listed above - such as toxins, vegetable oils, or radiations from technology.

    These stressors are like damaging your car and engine.

  • Thirdly, by increasing your energy intake, you'll stave off even more stress.

    To return to our car analogy: your body simply cannot function without enough energy. In the same way, your car also needs sufficient energy, or metabolism will shut down.

Now we'll look at a topic that concerns us all: psychological stress.

By the way.

Do you want even more tips to kill stress, besides the ones I already supply in this article?

 

8. Different Types Of Psychological Stress  

Not all psychological stress is created equal.

The goal of this section is to make you more aware at what causes psychological stress. By getting insight into what causes psychological stress, you can more adequately deal with that stress.

If you don't know that some types of psychological stress harm you in the first place, then you'll not be in the situation to adequately manage that stress.

Psychological stress is the most important reason most people end up  being chronically stressed in modern society.

Remember that most people are not exposed to many hormetic stressors, and yet, still end up with chronic stress.

One of the reasons people can no longer expose themselves to many hormetic stressors is because psychological stress drains their energy levels all the time. And because of the absence of exposure to hormetic stressors, these people's resilience goes down.

Let's look at different types of psychological stress that strongly affect your life:

  • Negative life events can cause enormous stress.[225-229]

    Whether you're losing your job, getting sick, or failing in one of your life's projects, these negatives outcomes can thoroughly set you back.

    The somewhat related big life transitions - such as getting your first child, or leaving the house for the first time - affect stress levels in a big way.[261-264]

    Make sure to go easy on yourself when you've got some negative life events or transitions. Lots of people just "power through", which can give rise to problems later on.

  • Financial problems (can) also explain why you're worried all the time.[233-237]

    Worry about finances can often put you into a vicious cycle. More stress and worrying make you unable to deal with your financial problems, which leads to poorer choices, which lead to even more stress.

    More often than not, moreover, financial worries are there for a reason. Statistics show that half of Americans have less than $1.000 in savings. In such an instance, it's somewhat good that you're worried. Stress, in this instance, hopefully helps you take (the right) action.

    Make sure to consider what I've written about a more minimalist lifestyle to take care of your finances as well.
    Cats: never worried about finances....

  • working lots of hours increases (perceptions of) stress.[238-245; 270-272]

    No shit Sherlock!

    Working more than 60 hours is especially deadly for your stress levels. Depressive symptoms are an often-experienced side-effect of long working hours. Shift work and being on call can add stress on top of existing stress.

    Additionally, some factors increase the perception of stress at work:

    If you cannot influence policy, or have almost no say in your working hours, your stress levels increase. Work targets, having problems balancing work with family life, a terrible boss, the danger of being fired, and repetitious work have the same outcome.

    There's thus some truth to the dictum to get a job you love.

  • Being a parent by itself increases your stress levels.[252-254] 

    Of course, most people already intuitively know this is true. The biggest stress levels develop when you've just become a parent. 

    Parenting is also more stressful if you don't have social support, if your children don't do well in life, or if you don't have many financial means.

    Make sure to anticipate higher stress levels if you or your partner is pregnant...

  • Having lots of uncertainty adds stress - an inability to accept uncertainty adds even more stress.[255-258]

    This is a big one for me. When I started this blog, I was unaware with how much uncertainty comes with running a blog and website. 

    If you've got lots of uncertainty, you'll often start to anticipate worst-possible outcome scenarios. People who can accept more uncertainty in their lives, on the other hand, are better able to deal with (chronic) stress.

  • Speaking of uncertainty: losing your job increases stress. 

    Another no brainer right? 

    Being out of work in the long-term can even cause chronic stress on its own.[265-267] If you're looking for a job for a few months, for example, your body creates more of the "adrenaline" and "cortisol" stress hormones.

    After a few months of unemployment, you'll also be more sensitive to pain, depression, and have greater anxiety. Support from friends and family can help you through these periods though.

    The reasons job loss increases stress are the financial worry, the thoughts whether you'll find a new job, and anxiety over the fact that other people might depend on your salary.

  • Perfectionism.[259; 260]

    Yes. If you're a perfectionist, you're more prone to engage in critical self-talk. Stress is the end result of that perfectionism.

  • Breaking up a relationship. As you know, breaking up (almost) always hurts, even if you're unmarried.[268; 269]

    Relationship difficulties alone also give you more stress.[246-251] Pretty self-evident actually...

Of course, many other stressors are imaginable, such as illness (of your loved ones), being lonely, having lots of pain, living in areas of noise pollution, not having a life's purpose, etcetera.  

Again, I lay out these different psychological stressors to give you more insight of how stress is created in the first place. 

More psychological stressors in your life often result in higher stress levels. 

The problem is that not many people experience just one of these stressors. Some people might even experience several of these stressors on a daily basis - without being aware of how stress affects them.

Let me give you an example:

Mark has just lost his job. He's been working for the company for 12 years, but he's actually in his late 40s now.

Mark is really worried whether he'll get another job in the coming months, because he thinks he's too old to be hired. He's never been without a job for longer periods of time before, which feeds on his already negative self-imagine.

Additionally, Mark is not on perfect terms with his wife and their relationship has already been under pressure for some years. He's got many friends, but most of them just drink a beer with him, and comfort him that "it's all going to be all right".

Mark verbally agrees with that assessment, but deep down, he still remains worried. Is all really "going to be all right"?

Then there's Kathleen.

She's fired as well, but she's actually somewhat delighted that she's lost her job - she hated working at that company. 

Kat's job was rough, with lots of deadlines, long working hours, and always demanding clients. Kathleen worked as a management consultant. 

Because Kathleen's partner also has a good job, she's not too worried about finding a new job tomorrow. She doesn't even know whether she'd wish to continue working as a consultant. 

Even though Kathleen is very perfectionistic, and always doubles down on any life decision she makes, she thinks its time for a change.

Instead of making 80 hour weeks, she's thinking of starting a business of her own. Even if that business fails, she's got her husband (and some great friends) to fall back on.

Even though I've laid on the differences between the scenarios described above thick, and they're kind of obvious, some of the lessons to be drawn from these stories are not.

Most people actually intuitively know that losing their job, being lonely, or no longer having a great partner makes them stressed.

It's essential to actually assess your overall psychological stress levels, and work from there. Without knowing where you stand, it's impossible to assertively deal with that situation. 

Psychological stress is a complex issue, and I cannot give an "algorithm" that's applicable for anyone to deal with these issues. For that reason, please just assess your overall psychological stress levels, and take action from there.

The bright spot about many of these psychological stressors is that adequately dealing with them is partially up to us. You can prepare for setbacks that give lots of psychological stress.

With that strategy, you can alter your life to be less vulnerable to succumbing to psychological stressors over time:

  • Got fear of losing your job? Double down on creating a great CV, and start looking around for opportunities even while you're employed. Just knowing what to do once you get fired can massively reduce your overall stress levels in case you do get fired.
  • Are you worried about your finances all the time? Well, if you've been worried for years its probably a sign that you might need to actually change something in your financial management. Cut all useless spending from your life, and you'll immediately feel better and more confident.
  • Are you afraid of your relationship ending? Ask yourself why you're so afraid. Are you afraid of being lonely, or afraid of never getting a great partner again? In that instance, maybe you need to develop some social skills so that you can take care of yourself in case your relationship does end.
  • Stressed because you're a parent? This is a tough one for me to give advice on - knowing that I'm not a parent myself - but I do think there's therapeutic value in questioning whether you're 100% responsible for how your children end up in life. I don't think you are. Instead, focus on yourself: did you give your children all the support they need in life? Yes? Then that an indication that you can allow yourself to worry less about how your children end up. You don't control their actions...

You thus need to dig down and question why psychological stressors are psychological stressors in the first place.

The solution?

The biggest problem with psychological stress is that people overstretch themselves.

Think about that for a second.

It's easy to deal with being a parent, dealing with uncertainty, or with financial worries - in isolation. But if you're a parent, and have lots of uncertainty in your life, and have lots of financial worries, it becomes much harder to deal with psychological stress.

Let's consider that example:

At some point, you made decisions that destroyed your financial life, and you made the decision to have children. You took on more responsibilities than you could handle. 

The mistake, then, is to not take psychological stress adequately into account in your life's strategy. 

But what can you do when things already turn south in the psychological stress department? In that case, I've got a technique for you: mindfulness...

9. Using Mindfulness For Killing Psychological Stress

Before I tell you about mindfulness, let's first make a quick detour:

You can engage in many different relaxation techniques to lower your (chronic) stress levels. I've described one such technique in the second week of my 100% free Health Foundations Introduction course.

That stress relief technique entails disconnecting from technology, while simultaneously fully engaging in an activity that you really love.

It doesn't matter whether that activity is dancing, swimming in the lake, paining, or walking in the woods, as long as you love that activity. The activity cannot be inherently unhealthy - so binge drinking alcohol does not count as a de-stressing activity. Additionally, it's important to fully disconnect from technology during that relaxation period. 

Spending time in nature: check.
Disconnecting from technology: check
Relaxation levels: sky high...

As an alternative for relaxation, you can also engage in "mindfulness" meditation. 

I've written shortly about mindfulness before. In my blog post that gives the 50 most important tips to improve sleep quality. Tip 16 denoted using mindfulness meditation.

In that sleep blog post, I had given a short introduction on how to practice mindfulness. While I do consider mindfulness indirectly very beneficial to sleep, the meditation technique is even more beneficial for lowering (chronic) stress.

I've included a mindfulness mini-course here because I think it's such an amazing technique that helps you with the psychological equation of stress relief.

Eating a better diet and engaging in hormesis, are great for lowering the biological aspects of stress. Mindfulness, on the other hand, helps you deal with the psychological side of the equation.

Let me give you a short introduction to meditation first. I divide all different types of meditation into two categories:

  1. Focus meditations, where you focus on your breath, an object in your environment, body-parts, your sensation, or movement. Mindfulness meditation falls into this category.
  2. Un-focusing meditations, where you effortlessly let go of all focus. Mantra meditation is an example of this meditation form. I'm teaching mantra meditation as part of my Health Foundations Program.

Let's now consider mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness can help you with the continuous acute (psychological) stress reactions that emerge when you think about events in the past or future, such as a deadline in a month, whether you'll keep your job, or the addiction of a spouse.

Over time, the results of mindfulness become permanent, and less acute stress emerges in your brain.

Why?

Remember I talked about "neuroplasticity" in the fourth section. Neuroplasticity allows your brain to change over time, so that you unlearn to stress so much about the future. Instead of dealing with acute stress, you'll free your brain capacity to deal more assertively with any task at hand.

Let me give you an example:

"Mary has a type A personality: she's highly ambitious and has been all her life.

During her childhood years, her parents broke up while ending their marriage. While her parents stayed on relatively good terms, Mary experienced lots of sadness during her teenage years.

Nevertheless, Mary pushed on, went to college, finished her degree cum laude, and started working at a high-paying but high-stress job.

Mary's also a health freak. She's been exercising since she was 17. Running and weightlifting are her favorite activities, but since a few years she's also heard that cold therapy and fasting might beneficial to her health.

Even though Mary is doing well in life, what people don't see about her is that she's constantly worried. She's constantly thinking whether she'll get the next promotion, whether she's keeping up with people around her, or whether a friend of her is going to eventually "stab her in the back" by betraying her. 

Even though she knows many of these thoughts are irrational, they are draining her continually. She also has problems opening up to friends. 

What Mary doesn't know, is that the breakup of her parents have sensitized her brain towards rumination, worrying, and self-sabotage. All the hormetic stressors she's applying, such as cold, fasting, and exercise, won't heal her brain that's hijacking her.

All the hormetic stressors even add stress on top of existing stress, draining Mary of her happiness. Mary needs to resolve psychological patterns to restore her brain to its full health.

Fortunately, the example of Mary also shows a bright spot: 

Mary already knows stress is sabotaging her, that stress is irrational, and that she would be a better human being without stress. Lots of people, on the contrary, think that psychological stress is helping them, which is fundamentally untrue. Fortunately, Mary also knows her friends won't really turn on her, and that her stress reaction is lying to her. 

Why?

When her prefrontal cortex is in control, Mary's fully aware of how stress is sabotaging her.

The goal of mindfulness is to calm your mind. Psychological stress actually originates in relation to 1) how you were negatively influenced by something in the past; or 2) because you foresee negativity occurring in the future. 

Rarely is there any reason to be that psychologically stressed in this very moment, right now. In the present there's usually no real stressor at all, just an imagined one.

Let me explain...

Anytime you're thinking negatively about the past or future, you're creating psychological stress. If you think more deeply about what's happening in that instance, the problem you're thinking about is not actually with you right now.

Let's say you're ruminating, imagining worst-case scenarios, or reliving bad experiences. These instances have taken place in the past, or will take place in the future.

Next week's presentation you're worrying about is not with you right now. An insult someone made on the street yesterday is not with you right now. 

Mindfulness makes you realize that there's nothing currently to worry about. Bringing you back to the present moment is where mindfulness shines. Without worry, you can takt the right action that actually solves problems.

How?

Let's consider how mindfulness changes your brain:

Mindfulness can literally decreases the connectivity between the amgydala and a part of your higher brain areas associated with pain, blood pressure, and heart rate.[273]

The role of the amgydala in your brain's stress reaction is thus toned down. Other brain areas such as your prefrontal cortex are changed in a positive way as well.[274]

Brain areas concerned with emotional regulation, learning, memory processing, literally gain "grey matter". Grey matter consist in the nervous system cells of your body.[275] 

The amount of grey matter in your amygdala, however, decreases. That decrease in grey matter in the amygdala signifies that you're becoming more proficient at emotional control.[276] 

Let's look at the full list of mindfulness benefits. Mindfulness:

  • makes your brain more interconnected.[277-280] Specifically the "white matter" in your brain is stimulated qua growth, which helps your brain's different regions communicate.

    Just a few hours of training, such as a long mindfulness course, already induce this effect.

  • improves emotional regulation, and decreases worry, stress, fear, panic, depression, and anxiety.[281-289; 293; 326; 327; 430] 

    You'll be less troubled by negative emotions, have improved differentiation between emotions, and can regulate them better.

    And yes, mindfulness can also decrease the hormones that we've been associating with (chronic) stress, such as cortisol and adrenaline.[327-333]

  • helps you focus, by improving your capacity for attention.[284; 290-293; 425]

    This effect is even present if you have Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), which is a mental disorder where people have problems with attention and controlling behavior.

    Mindfulness increases focus because you'll be less prone to ruminate on useless psychological stressors.

  • let's your immune function properly do its job.[338] 

    Although more research is needed to study the effects of mindfulness on the immune system, current studies demonstrate that inflammation, the aging process, and your number of immune cells are affected.

    Mindfulness is even proven to work in instances of (chronic) pain.[339-344] Why? Mindfulness makes you better able to accept what is and take action, instead of uselessly stressing over things you cannot control.

  • makes you happier and gives you more well-being.[312-319]

    In a sense, happiness and well-being are opposites of (chronic) stress. That stress-reducing and happiness improving effect has been proven in several populations, such people with diseases, health care workers, and generally stressed-out business employees.

  • enhances sleep at night. That effect is a big advantage for (chronically) stressed people.[294-302; 308]

    The effects of mindfulness are especially strong if you're already an insomniac, or experience sleep problems. In other situations, such as chronic pain or pregnancy, the technique also works for improving sleep.

  • gives you more conscious control over your behavior.

    Like I said before, mindfulness improves how well your prefrontal cortex can regulate lower brain areas such as the amygdala.[320-324]

    Your prefrontal cortex also takes part in attention or focus. By strengthening your control over this part of the brain, you're better able to control any emotions that come up in the moment.

    Examples of such emotions are bursting out in anger towards a colleague, thinking about a deadline in 3 weeks, or being overwhelmed by anxiety.

  • makes you more compassionate, both towards yourself and others.[303-311]

    In addition, mindfulness helps you identify your own emotions, get more in touch with these emotions, and accept your emotions.

    If you're more present, you're also better able to engage with the emotions of other people.

You might be thinking: "why list all these benefits? I thought we were talking about (chronic) stress in this article?"

Yes, I am talking about stress.

And that's exactly why I listed all these qualities...

Why? Many of mindfulness' qualities can help you with stress.

Let me explain.

Better interconnected in your brain, for example, can help the higher parts of your brain control your amygdala. Better sleep at night will help you feel more restored during the day -further decreasing your overall stress levels. Making you more compassionate - both towards yourself, as well as others - aids in building better social connections, and treating yourself more lovingly.

All the qualities which I've listed above help lower stress - sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly.

Even better focus, for example, can give you more awareness during chronic stress, so that you've got better perception of what's going on, and give you the means to find a way out of the situation. 

Let's look at what the mindfulness technique exactly accomplishes. Mindfulness trains you to be non-judgmental towards your experience.  

The ocean is not concerned with the 
movement of individual waves.
In the same way, your consciousness
should not be judgmental towards its experiences - 
which is what mindfulness teaches.

During mindfulness meditation, you're placing yourself at a safe distance from your thoughts.

Because of a certain distance from your thoughts, you'll no longer want to continually change them. Please understand how wanting to change your thoughts matters:

  1. The more you cling to positive experiences, the more you suffer. Why? You'll actually destroy the positive experience because you don't want that experience to go away.

  2. The more you try to avoid negative experiences, the more you'll suffer as well.

    Let me give you an example. Let's say you're actually doing pretty good in this present moment. You're not in any immediate danger. If your mind then starts thinking about what could go wrong, or what went wrong in the past, you're creating your own suffering.

    Your present moment, which was without any danger, is ruined by suffering created in your mind.

Mindfulness undercuts that suffering. Of course, mindfulness cannot do away with all the pain found in life. Instead, mindfulness removes the suffering associated with the pain.

Hard to grasp?

Let me give an example again:

Steve was in a car accident, and has broken his leg. Fortunately, his health is otherwise doing good - and no-one else was hurt in the traffic accident.

Steve works at an oil rig, and has to stay home to recover from his broken leg. The break isn't actually that bad, and his physical therapist thinks that with a few sessions per week, he will be able to go slowly get back to work.

The economy is in an economic downturn, however. Oil prices have been falling, and Steve is continually thinking about how he needs to recover as quickly as possible to get back to work.

The longer he's absent from work, the higher the chances he'll be the first to let go if there are any new layoffs at the oil rig.

Steve's also worried about whether his leg will recover properly, and whether he can continue his work in the first place. His physical therapists has treated many roughly the same issues, and assures Steve's everything is going to be all right.

Steve's not so sure, however.

Since the accident, Steve's having sleepless nights about the prospects of his job. These sleepless nights aren't caused because his leg hurts, but because Steve's continually thinking about his job prospects...

Observe that Steve's got two separate problems. His first problem is his broken leg, which needs to heal. His second problem is the suffering associated with his situation.

The big problem with the suffering (or stress) associated with Steve's situation, is that it undercuts solving his first problem.

Why?

Let's find out:

  1. Steve's constant worrying throughout the day means that he's constantly creating cortisol and adrenaline, which actually undermine the recovery of his leg. Steve's body also runs through vitamins and minerals quicker, which means that his nutrients get depleted quickly, which means that fewer nutrients are available to heal his leg.

  2. Steve is sleeping poorly, even though he needs good sleep to heal his leg in the first place. It's important to observe that the suffering that causes the poor sleep, instead of his leg.

  3. All the worrying takes up lots of mental space for Steve. If he used the time spent on worrying on actions that are actually helping his leg heal, his leg would recover far quicker.

In other words, if Steve could replace two hours of worrying each day with two hours of preparing world class meals, some movement, and some deep relaxation, he would remove massive time from his recovery.

I hope this scenario demonstrates that stress (or suffering) is not helping you get ahead in life.

To be more precise: having high perceived stress increases your difficulties in life.[377-383]

Let's compare two persons, who have the same job and are both otherwise in average health. If one person perceives their stress levels to much higher than the other person, the person with the higher perceived stress levels will have a much harder time getting through the day.

High perceived stress levels lead to a vicious cycle, which inhibits your ability to cope with stress in the first place. You'll end up with worse health after having some high perceived stress levels for some time, your ability to cope with stress goes down even further.

It's not just the stressor which makes your life difficult--instead, it's your perceived ability to deal with the stressor that making your life difficult.

The influence of perceived stress demonstrates to me that stress is not purely biological. Instead, your psychological expectations play just as big a role in stress.

The non-judgmental attitude developed in mindfulness allows you to stop clinging to positive experiences, and stop ruminating over avoiding negative experiences.

How?

I'll explain in the next section.

Stay with me...

Seems like we've found the solution Steve needs. 

Let's now dig deep into the actual technique...

10. The Mindfulness Stress Relief Technique

Animals: mindfulness experts.
Less prone to worry about the past,
Not likely to be ruminating about the future,
More present in the now

Mindfulness works by accepting your experiences as they come

What do I mean with experiences?

Our experiences are constantly changing. Under "experience" I subsume any thought, sensation, desire, belief, intention, etcetera. Phrased differently, "experience" is anything you can hold in your consciousness.

That conception of experiences is actually really important to understand how mindfulness works.

Any time you want to change your experiences, you're holding onto them.

By fully accepting your experiences, your:

  • negative experiences will not be held in your mind, but you can allow them to pass over until other experiences arise. 
  • positive experiences can be experienced and enjoyed fully. What's the alternative? If you're holding onto positive experiences, you're creating suffering, and "dilute" the positive experience.

Let me give you an analogy of how you can "dilute" a positive experience. I've actually experienced this before while eating all you can eat sushi. 

When eating sushi, I wanted to make sure to make the experience as good as possible, by eating as much as I could. The end-result, however, was that I ended up bloated and stuffed. An otherwise good experience turned south.

An example of holding onto positive experiences would be meeting a long-time friend. Instead of really enjoying the single day you have together, you're thinking about how this moment may never end, and how you must make absolute the best out of your time together.

The end-result, again, is that you've not maximally enjoying your day together...

Through mindfulness you'll essentially learn to accept that negative experiences are part of life, and that accepting positive experiences are transitory.

That's as good as it gets for the human condition...

Stopping to hold on removes the suffering from the process.

Remember the five brain areas we discussed in the third section. Let's tie mindfulness to these brain areas.

First I'll do a quick recap:

  1. Through your senses, your brain nerves, brain stem, and forebrain become aware about the world.
  2. If there's a threat in that world, your amygdala gets activated.
  3. The hypothalamus, which is connected to the amygdala, can then release stress hormones, and activate your nervous system, to ready your body to "fight, flight, or freeze", in relation to a threat.
  4. Your prefrontal cortex has the ability to calm down that amygdala, if its regulatory capacity is strong enough.
  5. The hippocampus can store memories of you successfully dealing with stress.

From the car analogy we've talked about, mindfulness allows the driver of the car to take control, while the children in the back become more calm and silent. Because the children are silent, the front passenger (hippocampus), as navigator, can help the driver even better.

During mindfulness, we're thus training your prefrontal cortex to carry out the job of inhibiting the amygdala's activity.

The more often you practice that, the better you're able to return to a restful state, avoiding the "fight, flight" or "freeze" response.

How?

Remember I talked about being non-judgmental towards your experiences. 

Let's consider how the actual mindfulness meditation technique works:

  • Make sure you've got some time to use this technique, like 10 minutes. If you practice more often, you can even increase the time to 30 or 40 minutes, once a day. Short on time? Even a few minutes or as little as 20 seconds will give results.
  • Use a comfortable position, such as a chair with back support, which allows your feet to touch the ground. If you're short on time, you can use the technique anywhere - even in an airplane or at work.
  • The overall goal of the mindfulness meditation is to allow everything that happens to happen. You'll let your experiences be in the present moment, without judging them, accepting them as they come.
  • There's a good analogy for understanding the process of accepting your experiences without judging them: imagine that you're the ocean, and not the waves. The ocean is undisturbed the waves. Waves here, are analogous to your individual experiences, which come and go. The ocean is the "screen" upon which the experiences (waves) are projected. You are the screen.
  • Whenever you have an actual experience, such as a thought about the past or future, make sure to return your mind to the present moment. That step is the absolute key to applying mindfulness. You thus  need to stay aware of what's happening right now using your main senses. For example, you can focus on your visual or auditory experiences.
  • It's absolutely essential to remember that the goal of mindfulness meditation is not to "stop your thoughts" or "get rid of thoughts". If you try to get rid of thoughts or stop your thinking during mindfulness meditation, you will not get results. "Stopping thoughts" is an often found false imagination that people have regarding meditation.

Alternatively, you can also focus on your breath during mindfulness:

  • Again, make sure you've got some time to use this technique, like 10 minutes. If you practice more often, you can increase the time. Short on time, and stressed in this very moment? Take just 30 seconds to focus on your breath to lower acute stress.
  • Use a comfortable position, such as a chair with back support, which allows your feet to touch the ground. Close your eyes.
  • Move your awareness to your breathing. Accept the rhythm of your breathing completely as it comes. Don't try to make your breathing slower or faster, deeper or more shallow, more or less rhythmic. Only become aware of your breathing, and accept its pattern in any way it comes.
  • Now, it's perfectly understandable and even expected that your mind wanders during this process. Whenever your mind has certain experiences, make sure to bring back your mind to your breathing. Remember that your breathing exists in the present
  • You might, for example, be thinking about having to do the dishes, a problem you had with your colleague last week, or financial problems. Accept all these experiences as they come, and gently re-direct your mind towards your breath.
  • When your re-direct your mind to your breath, do so with compassion. Don't conclude: "damn, I should have focused on my breathing" while becoming angry that you failed. You never fail if experiences come up, because your mind naturally creates experiences. Instead, gently and compassionately, without judgment or emotion, redirect your awareness to your breath.
  • The exclusive goal of this exercise is to notice that your mind is having experiences, and to redirect your focus towards your breathing.
  • Any time you have negative experiences - such as thoughts that are critical thoughts towards yourself - that's actually great. Experiences are an opportunity to re-direct attention. 

It's crucial to understand that the re-direction of attention over and over again is the reason you're doing mindfulness meditation.

Again, the goal is not to "stop thoughts" - the goal is to re-direct attention. I cannot emphasize that claim enough.

By re-directing attention, you train your prefrontal cortex to stay in the present moment. Being in the present moment ends suffering. 

Your self-critical mind will give way for a more open mind. Suffering about the past and future will no longer inhibit your performance right now. Let's look at how this happens with yet another example:

Remember Steve who had had broken his leg? He was putting his job at the oil rig at stake because of his worrying, which inhibited his recovery process.

After a few weeks of sleepless nights, Steve's had enough. He's followed a mindfulness meditation program, and started practicing 30 minutes per day.

After the first week, he's already starting to see benefits. Steve's less judgmental toward himself, and he's more able to accept thoughts about the future in any way, shape, or form they come.

Of course, not all his problems have magically vanished, but at least during the day, he's able to focus on his recovery a lot better. After a few weeks of mindfulness meditation practice, he's also starting to sleep better at night.

Steve slowly starts to be more detached from his feelings, thoughts, sensations, and desires to change his situation. By detaching, he's no longer identifying with the ruminating thoughts, allowing them to be, and therefore letting these thoughts pass over quickly.

And because his worrying thoughts are accepted and allowed to pass over quickly over and over again, his amygdala slowly gets the signal that it's fine to calm down.

In the end, mindfulness allows you to be attentive and notice what's happening first, before your brain starts a stress reaction.

In most situations in life, there's actually no need for a fight, flight, or freeze response. What you need instead, is to think things through.

The fight, flight, or freeze response doesn't often provide an accurate solution for modern life. The only instances in which you need such a situation, is when you're in physical danger, such as a robbery, or if you're almost hit by a car.

If you can prevent the fight, flight or freeze response from occurring in the first place, you'll end suffering, and free up energy to engage in action that's useful.

And because you're no longer identifying as strongly with your experiences, you're better able to making the choice that's right in that particular instance, instead of getting carried away in emotions.

Again, in other words, by returning to the present moment, and not being struck in experiences that are tied to the past or future, you regain your ability to act in that present.

Another great mindfulness exercise would be to immediately focus on the present once a stress response gets triggered.

This is my personal favorite by far. 

This exercise is really simple. Let's say you're ruminating about your mother in law, and you actually notice that you're doing that. Realize that in essence, a minor fight, flight or freeze response just got triggered in you.

In that instance, focus on your breath, or switch between focusing and describing a few objects in the room for 10-20 seconds. Just that short period of time will already lower or even vanish your fight, flight or freeze response. During that time, your prefrontal cortex takes over from the amygdala.

Over time, it's essential that you start to notice when a fight, flight or freeze response is triggered. Only by becoming aware of that response, can you use the mindfulness technique to undercut acute stress right away.

What happens when you practice that technique over and over again?

Stress will become your servant, instead of your master.

And because you're better able to deal with stressful situations through this technique, you're starting a vicious cycle of success in dealing with the world.

Your hippocampus - or navigator - gets trained in the process. You'll start building a "library" of successful experiences in that hippocampus. The next time you have a challenge, your prefrontal cortex can access the hippocampus to improve its ability to deal with the situation.

The absolute most important strategy with a acute stress reactions is to stop them dead in their tracks.

Yes...

It's not enough to practice mindfulness 10 minutes a day. Stress needs to be removed right now.

Why?

Once you allow a stress reaction to occur, the stress reaction magnifies. Mindfulness meditation allows you to start focusing on the present immediately, so that the vicious cycle of stress never starts in the first place.

I'm repeating that claim so often because it's absolutely essential.

Why?

At the moment one negative thought pops up, many others arise later as well. The cascade of negative emotions might start with "how about that deadline next Friday?". If you undercut the negative emotion right then and there, and let your prefrontal cortex focus on the present, the cascade stops immediately.

If your prefrontal cortex is unable to regulate your amygdala right then and there, the next thought pops up: "what will my boss think about me when I don't get my work done by the deadline?". 

Next, you'll be thinking about how well your standing is among colleagues, and whether you're the first to get fired. Then you'll be thinking about what job to get once you indeed get fired...

The more you ruminate, and imagine worst possible outcomes, the more your body creates stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.[431-435]

By applying the mindfulness technique immediately after acute stress you'll stop rumination.

Just practicing mindfulness will also help you notice when you're having acute stress in first place.

So, that's all taken care of. Apply mindfulness whenever you've got stress.

Are we done?

No...

I do want to be radically honest.

I don't think mindfulness meditation is the only very powerful meditation technique out there. I actually teach mantra meditation as part of my Health Foundations Program.

Most people get good results with mantra meditation after the first few sessions - but only when applying the technique absolutely correctly.

(Note: during that Health Foundations Program, I also teach proper breathing, which will reduce stress levels even further.)

Because mindfulness meditation is a lot easier to teach, and because it lies much closer to our everyday experience of focusing, I've included the technique in this guide. Mantra meditation, on the other hand, is totally counter-intuitive because it's absolutely effortless, and often requires more teaching.

Nevertheless, there are hundreds of studies showing that mindfulness also works great, and that it can bring changes to your brain over time. Integrating mindfulness into your life is a no-brainer, because it's so simple, especially in short-circuiting acute stress immediately.

To be sure, mindfulness meditation can be applied in many different ways I've not described.

Instead of focusing on the present moment before you, or your breath, you can also focus on a candle, or other objects in the environment. 

As an alternative, you can also focus on your bodyparts, such as how your abdomen are moving while breathing, and then focusing on your legs, feet, arms, or head...

As long as you can engage your prefrontal cortex
on the pressing moment, while being non-judgmental

to any emerging experiences,
you're practicing mindfulness meditation.
Simple...

There's no need to over-complicate the technique though. Using mindfulness meditation with a candle, your breath, or objects in the world in front of you is sufficient for getting great results.

Use which ever option suits you. Fortunately, mindfulness can be practiced anywhere. You don't need an expensive gym subscription or take yoga class to get results.

Always remember that practice makes perfect. Mindfulness is like a gym for your self-control and attention, and thus: your mind.

Of course, if you can combine mindfulness with activities which are inherently pleasurable, such as walking or spending time at the beach, that would be highly recommended. 

Lastly, mindfulness can also help you deal with troublesome emotions you might have from the past.

How?

It's important to remember that in the long-run, you'll actually have to work through your emotions. 

In modern society, we have the habit of suppressing our emotions instead of working through them. Suppressing your emotions will not make them go away, but will store them for some time, after which they come back more violently.

Mindfulness gives you a safe way to let emotions be present in your awareness, without actually identifying with them.

Even negative emotions, like anger, frustration, fear, apathy, grief, and hopelessness, can be explored with mindfulness. By being non-judgmental towards your emotions, you can hold there negative emotions in consciousness, without identifying with these emotions in the first place.

Accepting that these emotions exist, without suppressing them, allows these emotions to dissolve. If you suppress them, instead, they'll come back at a later time, with a vengeance.

To use this exercise, simply think about something that angers your, or over which you grief. Any negative emotions will do. You can do this exercise in a stressful situation, or when you're relaxed and intentionally start to think about a previous stressful situation.

By allowing emotions to be, without identifying with the emotions, they will start to dissolve.

Don't worry about "being struck" in an emotion. Your mind - by its very nature - is changing experiences continuously. You'll never "stay" with an emotion for very long, because your mind is change by its very nature.

If you don't let emotions into your consciousness in a safe way, however, they'll will keep returning in your mind forever though.

That's it.

A full mindfulness mini-course...

To me, mindfulness meditation teaches an important lessons with stress.

Always tackle acute stress head on, instead of letting the problem grow and get out of control. If you can tackle most acute stress reactions with mindfulness, you'll prevent small stressors from making you chronically stressed.

Your body was made to deal with acute stress, not chronic stress. Building your prefrontal cortex is the key to taking control. Remember the analogy of the prefrontal cortex being the driver of your car:

If that diver can quiet down the children in the backseat, the diver can navigate the car to the proper destination. The same is true for your life. With a well-functioning prefrontal cortex, you'll navigate life easier.

So, what's left to say about stress?

A lot actually.

Let's look at some other techniques you can use to lower (chronic) stress...

11. Additional Stress Relief Techniques

Mindfulness meditation and hormesis are not your only strategies for dealing with stress.

There are many additional strategies that can help you as well: 

  • Building a good social network with family and friends.[229-232; 389-393]

    I've written about the enormous importance of social connections in my 100% free Health Foundations Introduction course. Unfortunately, social connections are rarely talked about in the broader health community, even though they're very important.

    Social support reduces your overall stress levels. Of course, you need the right social support. There's no advantage to having toxic people in your life who motivate you to do the wrong things, such as committing crimes when things turn south in life.

  • Do brain training games targeting your "working memory" - especially if stressed.[414; 426; 427]

    Just like you computer has a working memory, the prefrontal cortex of your brain functions as working memory as well. That prefrontal cortex can keep several pieces of information in its working memory at once.

    By training your prefrontal cortex' working memory, you're increasing the control you have over this brain region. That increased control helps your prefrontal cortex calm down your amygdala.

    Brain games thus have a similarity with mindfulness meditation: training your prefrontal cortex.

  • Engage in yoga, dance, gymnastics or any activity during which you need to learn a complex skill.

    These activities work for the same reason that memory training works: you engage your prefrontal cortex.[428; 429]

    Beware if these activities are too intensive, because then you'll engage in stressful exercise, which can counterproductive against lowering chronic stress.

    When you're noticing that you're getting stressed, it's essential to stay busy instead of resting. By staying busy - especially when engaging in a complex motor activity such as dancing - you're avoiding ruminating on the negative thoughts.

    Doing nothing while stressed actually increases rumination. Of course, remember that mindfulness meditation can also break patterns of rumination just as well.[436-439]

  • Spending time in nature.[334-337] I know I've mentioned this tip in previous blogs before. But this tip worth reconsidering: merely spending time in natural environments, such as a forest or the beach, has massive benefits. 

    You'll lower your stress hormone levels such as cortisol and adrenaline, enhance your immune system, improve mood, lower blood pressure, and decrease your overall stress levels.

    Just looking at nature already brings down your stress levels - even if it's just by watching a picture.[440; 441]


    Are your stress levels lower already?

  • Hug someone.[442-445] Very simple. Or have sex...

  • Having an optimistic attitude.[355-360]

    Optimism seems to counter one side-effect of stress, which is always imagining the worst possible outcomes. 

    There are indications that optimism or pessimism are largely a personality trait - and thus very hard to change. So why would I talk about optimism and pessimism if you cannot change that behavior anyway?

    Well, if you're a pessimist, you need to emphasize more other strategies in this guide to compensate for that trait.

  • Increasing your perception of control. The less you feel in control, the higher your overall stress levels will be.[345-354; 361-364]

    By increasing perceived control, you're more likely to persist in your endeavors because of lower stress. The more unpredictable the stress is, however, the higher your stress levels become.

    If you're exposed to uncontrollable stress for long enough, you'll even develop learned helplessness. People who develop learned helplessness will no longer see a way out of their stress.

    An important strategy to increase your perception of control, and avoid learned helplessness, is to learn to control all you can control, and to avoid wanting to control things you cannot control.

    Controlling everything you can indeed control is a technique already practiced by the ancient Greek Stoic philosophers. According to the Stoics, only our own actions are controllable, while actions of others and outside circumstances are not.

    I'm quoting the Stoic philosopher Epictetus' Enchiridion here:

    "Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions."

    So according to Epictetus, not even your health (body) and reputation are within your own control. Your actions in the moment, however, are, which can affect your body. You thus have to focus on your actions instead of the outcome (health) to improve your perception of control.

    I actually use this control technique a lot when writing these long blog posts. For example, I cannot control how people respond to my blog posts, or control how many people visit my website. What I do have control over, is how many words I write per day, or even better: how many hours I work at my maximum brain capacity.

    So it's always the number of full-brain-capacity hours I set as a guideline and which I try to beat...

    What are other strategies to improve your perceptions of control when you get stressed?

    First, think about a similar situation in the past - how did you successfully deal with that stressor back them?

    Secondly, focus on the resources that you have, instead of thinking about everything you don't have. Focusing on your resources will improve your inventiveness and creativity in dealing with stress.

    Thirdly, imagine the worst-case scenario. Can you live with that outcome? If so, just allowing yourself to imagine failure gives you the freedom to fail - which paradoxically, helps you succeed. You'll let go of negative thoughts and ruminations, and take action.

  • Getting used to successfully dealing with stressors.[384-388]

    Remember the hippocampus we've talked about before? That hippocampus remembers when you've succesfully dealt with a certain situation, such as presentations.

    The hippocampus subsequently present those success to your prefrontal cortex, which gives you confidence to deal with similar situations.

    Over time, successfully dealing with stress - and even intentionally subjecting yourself to psychological stress - can increase your resilience, which helps you deal with future stressors.

    Do what you fear. Run towards fear. Your hippocampus learns. Even psychological stress is thus hormetic in a sense...

  • Having compassion for yourself.[394-400]

    Yes, really.

    This might sound strange, but being less harsh on yourself can decrease feelings of stress. Having a compassionate attitude to yourself will help you make better choices, that support your health in the long-term.

    Self-compassion increases your perception of control and your well-being. Both control and well-being directly counter psychological stress.

    If you're under stress, you're very prone to be hard on yourself, which triggers the fight, flight or freeze response. That response is actually oppositional to self-compassion. Self-compassion thus undercuts the acute stress response.

    What makes self-compassion so great is that it isn't circumstantial. When you're self-compassionate, you're deserving of love whether you're having a good or bad spousal relationship, whether you're doing well or not so well at your job, and whether your finances are great or poor.

    If you're self-compassionate, you cannot be hard or excessively critical towards yourself...

  • Actually being prepared. 

    I hope this tip does not come as a surprise: actually doing the work before an important deadline will make you feel much better and less stressed.

    The less prepared you are, the higher your perceptions of stress. Why? Your amygdala is (correctly) sending out the signal that things might turn south in cases of very little preparation.

  • Practice gratitude - or even better: happiness.[406-408]

    Celebrate all the small moments in life, and envision these small victories becoming part of your new happy self.

    Or write in a gratefulness journal

    There are indications though, that the gratitude should not stem from an "indebtedness" gratitude, but instead a happiness with what you have. Thinking of gratitude as an indebtedness may trigger feelings of shame or guilt, because  you might think that you are not really deserving of positivity in life. 

  • Your perception of stress alone can alter whether stress destroys your health, or not.[405]

    In other words, the more you think stress is detrimental to your health, the more stress actually is detrimental to your health.

    Of course, it's never great to have very high stress levels for several years. But if you can have high stress levels while also believing that stress does not affect your health, the downsides are much lower.

    Having strong perseverance, moreover, also helps you overcome chronic stress. If you finish what you started, find meaning in your goals (even though there might be suffering), and see that your stress levels exist for a good purpose, you'll be better off in the long run.

  • Get into a flow state.[423; 424]

    During a flow state, you fully immerse yourself in a given activity. If you get into a flow state after having an acute stress response, you can divert your mind from the stress response and lower its negative effects.

    During flowstate, you also prevent new stress responses from emerging. I can attest to that effect - if I'm really in a flow state by writing these blog posts, stressful thoughts never entertain my thoughts.

  • Lastly, realize that you need to let stress go for greater cognitive flexible.[401-404]

    Stress makes you blind to creative options and solutions that are available to you. Decreasing stress expands your horizons, and makes you see new opportunities.

    With too much stress, you'll create tunnel vision toward what you merely assume are good solutions. You'll also close off from the outside world - and even friends and family, in the hope of working more efficient towards the project that's been stressing you.

    It does seem that the cognitive flexibility of men is hit harder than that of women. Unpredictable stress also causes bigger declines in cognitive flexibility than "regular" stress.

    Try to stay creative, and avoid closing yourself or your world off, which perpetuates stress. Don't succumb to the illusory type of thinking that stress puts you in, such as telling you that staying home for 2 weeks will help you recover.

There you go: many additional techniques you can use for stress management. 

My job of relieving you of stress is not fully finished though.

There's an exception to this guide, which is stress relief once you've had traumas. In that case, the stress system in your body works differently. I at least need to say a thing or two about trauma.

12. Stress Relief From (Psychological) Trauma

Some people experience chronic stress that's not resolved by any tip I've given in this guide. 

Childhood traumas would be an example of a chronic stress response that this guide does not help you with. PTSD is another one.[459-463] 

In people with childhood trauma or PTSD, the threshold for triggering stress responses, and the means through which these stress responses are triggered, are fundamentally altered.

A continuation of that stress response throughout life, however, will sabotage any efforts you undertake to change your life for the better.

Just imagine a stress reaction being triggered in you, because someone smiles at you, or because a car passes by - which is exactly what happens with Daniel:

Daniel is 42 years old. He's got a construction job, but he know he can do much better in life. 

Building automobiles and motor vehicles from scratch are some of his favorite hobbies. Even though he's working on these hobbies for 10 years now - and built some amazing vehicles - Daniel has chronic anxiety which prevents him from actually going to car shows and showing off his "beauties".

Daniel's also an alcoholic, but many people don't know that. There's a very specific reason for Daniel's chronic anxiety and alcoholism though: he got beaten by his father when he was a kid.

Since that time, Daniel's got an enlarged and altered amygdala, that warns him of other people whenever someone smiles towards him. His dad actually smiled when he tried to make up with Daniel, almost every time after the physical abuse.

The end-result is that Steve's always anxious, which prevents him from really connecting to people and moving on with life.

As you can hopefully observe by now, Daniel's brain is hijacked, with an overactive amygdala. His alcoholism further degrades the activity to which his prefrontal cortex can take charge of his brain.

Every time a person smiles at Daniel, his brain releases cortisol and adrenaline, to deal with the situation. That changed stress reaction - which would not happen in other people who are chronically stressed - is just one characteristic of trauma.

Daniel's highly creative though, and when he's not with people and working on his cars and motorcycles, he's shining.

If he could just change his brain to no longer experience chronic stress, and to react differently to human faces, he could quit his construction job and sell his vehicles at a premium price. Right now, however, his anxiety prevents him from going to car shows.

Daniel thus needs to deal with his trauma first, before he can move on in life.

Of course, my treatment of these traumatic event is oversimplified.

I did want to stipulate the problem of trauma to indicate that you can find help for these instances.

I do know that there are therapies that are proven to be effective, such as " Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing" (EMDR).[464] Psychotherapy is another option.[473]

The bottom line is this: if you're traumatized, please get adequate help, and do not rely on my guide for dealing with your stress.

You can get better, but I'm not able to help you, sadly enough. 

Do you want even more tips to kill stress, besides the ones I already supply in this article?

13. Conclusion: Conquer Stress To Conquer Life

I hope I've supplied you with a guide on stress that takes both biological as well as psychological stress into account.  

Let me go into a philosophical perspective for a while:

A remaining interesting question would be to what extent psychological stressors are actually biological stressors. My answer to that question is that I assume that the former can be reduced to the latter, although, for convenience sake, I still talk about these two categories because that terminology lies closer to the intuitive understanding of many people.

I thus hoped to provide a unified account of stress in this guide, that explains how both biological as well as psychological stress function.

And thereby ends the philosophical discussion...

With this guide, you should have a more systematic method of tackling (chronic) stress in your life.

For a complete plan to tackle stress, don't just rely on this guide though. Read my articles about improving sleep quality, sunlight, how to properly use cold exposure, and strategies to increase happiness as well.

Please also practice mindfulness to properly deal with any acute stressor. By short-circuiting any fight, flight or freeze response immediately, you'll directly counter the buildup of chronic stress over time.

To counter stress, also make sure you follow a good diet, and don't add any unnecessary stressors in your environment (which have been laid out in section six of this guide). Only add "hormetic stress" - such as cold therapy, exercise, or saunas - once you're no longer in poor health.

Remember that hormetic stress is defined as a temporary stressor for which your body compensates by getting stronger.

Oh yeah:

One last suggestion:

Your body loves hormetic stress - and even needs hormetic stress - to move towards optimal health.

Seeking out biological stress is built into your human system. Psychological stress, however, should be eliminated as much as possible.

The upside is that you can do it. Many people have learned to overcome their stress. You can do so too. 

Start your stress-reduction plan today. And remember: conquering stress is a marathon, not a spring - but a very worthwhile marathon to run. If you finish that marathon, you'll have achieved a big accomplishment.

Do it. Overcome stress today. You're worth it...


*Post can contain affiliate links. Read my affiliate, medical, and privacy disclosure for more information


For other articles, see:

Why Vitamin D Supplements Are A Poor Choice: Why You Need Sunlight Exposure Instead

Rethinking Magnesium: Why You're Deficient And Need To Supplement

Beat Insomnia. Everything You Need To Know About Sleep Quality.

Cannabis: CBD (Oil) And THC For Health? The Scientific Verdict (2018)

How To Be Happy: Why Health Is Essential In The Pursuit Of Happiness

 

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