The Importance of Stress Reduction in Overall Health

How Stress Impacts Health

Stress is increasingly becoming a root problem in most health conditions, and is an especially significant element in global pain and fatigue conditions such as fibromyalgia. Physical and occupational stressors are commonly encountered throughout life and may include a busy schedule, a demanding occupation, managing children and family life, financial burdens, a heavy school load, planning for a large event such as new move or job, and the never-ending pinging of electronic devices and communications invading everyday life.

Emotional stress is more complex and often stems from weightier matters such as relationship difficulties, abuse, death, fear and anxiety.

While everyone experiences temporary physical stressors throughout their life, emotional stressors can linger and lead to damaging feelings of despair and hopelessness if there’s no resolution. Both forms of stress can have a significant impact on physical and mental health, reducing the body’s resiliency and arresting the healing process.

Chronic Stress

The health effects of chronic stress have been the subject of many studies in recent years, owing to the fact that stress has been linked to increased risks of cardiovascular disease and upper respiratory diseases, not to mention psychiatric conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders, widespread inflammation, and autoimmune conditions. In light of this, the fight for optimal health requires a serious commitment to daily stress reduction.

An individual’s stress response is highly dependent on genetics, coping mechanisms, personality, and the presence of social and familial support. Any type of stress puts excess pressure and demands on the body, prompting various biological systems to respond. Individuals with a high level of resiliency and a strong support system are often able to cope with and manage greater levels of stress, compared to those whose constitution is weak and who lack the support of others.

Chronic stress triggers the production of cortisol and catecholamines such as dopamine and norepinephrine– hormones which activate the “fight or flight” response. As these hormones surge through the body, they suppress the immune system by blocking the production of various immune cells. Stress hormones also disturb normal sleep patterns and cognitive function as they interact with and alter brain neurotransmitters.

Temporary Stress

Temporary stress is unlikely to create long-term positive health effects; however, chronic stress easily disrupts several biological systems, illustrating why it has become a root element in chronic health conditions, and especially in global pain and fatigue disorders such as fibromyalgia.

Stress-Reducing Activities

One of the most basic behaviors that can help in reducing stress and improving health is to decide whether or not you are over-committed. Life is full of opportunities, but the human body is limited in its capacity. Learning to focus on a few important commitments— while simultaneously forgoing less important opportunities— will help prevent stress associated with over-commitment. Establishing boundaries and fully committing to a few select obligations often produces a deeper sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

Regularly participating in some form of mind-focusing exercise is shown to have significantly positive impacts on stress levels and mental health. Meditation, prayer and guided imagery are all excellent tools for focusing the mind. Meditation trains the brain to become aware of the moment and to be single-focused. Chronic stress often exerts itself as “mind-racing” and hyper-vigilance. Regular meditation brings thoughts into focus, improves attention, facilitatea problem-solving, reducing all stress biomarkers, and improves cardiovascular risk factors.

Similarly, prayer is a form of religious meditation that confers all the same benefits as other forms of meditation. Throughout history, it has been noted that religious practices such as prayer are significantly beneficial for reducing anxiety, improving mood and mental outlook, pain tolerance, and general health. Guided imagery is a powerful relaxation tool that encourages optimism and positive thoughts. It has also been proven to improve sleep, pain, anxiety and depression.

Cultivating Calm

Creating a calming environment through the use of music and light is a simple way to sustain a state of relaxation. Like guided imagery, music therapy promotes positive emotions while reducing anxiety and stress. Classical music, particularly, has been shown to positively stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system to slow the heart rate and relax muscles.

Colored light has the ability to affect brain hormones such as serotonin and melatonin, both of which are important for establishing a healthy wake/sleep cycle and contribute to positive moods. Specific colors have been used to foster specific moods in the practice of chromotherapy. Most individuals notice the positive effects of warm sunlight compared to the cold, fearful feelings provoked by dark, shadowy colors. Aromatherapy is yet another means of generating a calming environment, helpful for reducing stress.

Stress-Reducing Botanicals/Nutrients

Various botanicals may be helpful for supporting the biological systems that are weakened by stress.. Panax ginseng, Eleutherococcus senticosus, and Rhodiola rosea, are among the best known species of plants in a class of botanicals known as adaptogens. These botanicals support the adrenal glands and balance the production of stress hormones, thereby improving the body’s resiliency to stress and helping to recover. However, some of these classic adaptogens can be somewhat stimulating to the system and can make issues such as anxiety and hyper-vigilance issues even worse. I prefer using calming or neutral adaptogens mainly such as Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha).

Other botanicals can help reduce anxiety, promote relaxation, and improve sleep by supporting neurotransmitters in the brain. These botanicals include valerian, chamomile, lemon balm, Bacopa, passionflower, and hops. Natural brain hormones such as melatonin and 5-HTP are temporarily helpful when disrupted sleep patterns and increased pain perception prevent recovery from stress.

Similarly, amino acids such as L-theanine, L-tryptophan, and L-tyrosine can be useful in boosting natural hormone production. (Note: L-tyrosine may provide an unwanted stimulatory effect in some circumstances so it should be used under the guidance of a licensed naturopathic physician or other health care professional skilled in managing the stress response with nutritional and botanical agents.)

More Impacts to Stress

Stress is a major contributor to many health conditions. It’s both a roadblock to healing, as well as a root cause of poor health. Stress-reduction often clears the muddy waters of poor health and allows for a better representation of any genuine health concerns, making it an essential lifestyle modification.

References:

  1. Schneiderman, N., Ironson, G., & Siegel, S. D. (2005). STRESS AND HEALTH: Psychological, Behavioral, and Biological Determinants. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 1, 607–628. http://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.1.102803.144141
  2. Salleh, M. R. (2008). Life Event, Stress and Illness. The Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences : MJMS, 15(4), 9–18.
  3. Wimmer, L., Bellingrath, S., & von Stockhausen, L. (2016). Cognitive Effects of Mindfulness Training: Results of a Pilot Study Based on a Theory Driven Approach. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1037. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01037
  4. Andrade, C., & Radhakrishnan, R. (2009). Prayer and healing: A medical and scientific perspective on randomized controlled trials. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 51(4), 247–253. http://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5545.58288
  5. Chen, S.-F., Wang, H.-H., Yang, H.-Y., & Chung, U.-L. (2015). Effect of Relaxation With Guided Imagery on The Physical and Psychological Symptoms of Breast Cancer Patients Undergoing Chemotherapy. Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal, 17(11), e31277. http://doi.org/10.5812/ircmj.31277
  6. Lee, K.S., Jeong, H.C., Yim, J.E., & Jeon, M.Y. (2016). Effects of Music Therapy on the Cardiovascular and Autonomic Nervous System in Stress-Induced University Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 22(1), 59-65. doi: 10.1089/acm.2015.0079.
  7. Radeljak, S., Zarković-Palijan, T., Kovacević, D., & Kovac, M. (2008). Chromotherapy in the regulation of neurohormonal balance in human brain–complementary application in modern psychiatric treatment. Collegium Antropologicum, 32, Suppl 2, 185-8.
  8. Head, K.A., & Kelly, G.S. (2009). Nutrients and botanicals for treatment of stress: adrenal fatigue, neurotransmitter imbalance, anxiety, and restless sleep. Alternative Medicine Review, 14(2), 114-40.
  9. Dr. David M. Brady is a Connecticut and Vermont licensed naturopathic physician and author of the The Fibro-Fix.

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Deb Hubers

Debra Hubers is a serial entrepreneur and has started seven businesses; ranging from an advanced genomics to an employer health care purchasing cooperative. Deb has over 35 years of experience in healthcare finance, education, technology, and pharmacogenomics.

Ms. Hubers has dedicated her career to measuring and improving healthcare outcomes. Her expertise is leveraging technology to deliver personalized, preventative medicine. Ms. Hubers co-founded La Vita Compounding Pharmacy in 2007. Collaborating with her business partner, physicians and strategic partners, Deb has grown La Vita to be one of the most respected and sought-after personalized medicine providers on the west coast. She is also Co-Founder of EpigeneticsRx, a leading provider of precise, personalized, prevention which positively impacts genetic expression.

Alex Keller, ND

Dr. Alex Keller, ND, AFMCP is a graduate of the University of Ottawa with an Honours Bachelor in Health Sciences and Psychology. Although originally intending to attend conventional medical school, following a three-month volunteer internship at a rural Kenyan hospital where he observed how doctors used local food to treat patients, he shifted his career goals and pursued a degree in naturopathic medicine at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto.

After one year of practicing with the esteemed Dr. Chris Pickrell, ND, RH in a community acupuncture setting, in 2015 he and his wife Dr. Jenn Keller, ND moved to rural Ottawa, Canada where they started an organic farm and retreat center. In the same year, Alex and his athletic therapist sister Jess Keller combined their practices to form Keller Active Health, an integrative physical therapy clinic.

Ever curious and passionate about the education of evidence-based natural medicine, in 2017, Dr. Keller joined a fledgling Ottawa-based health tech startup named Fullscript. He serves as its Medical Director and oversees the development of medical education content for practitioners across North America.

Prior to medicine, Alex worked in the renewable energy sector, where he developed a deep passion for sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship. This connection between medicine and agriculture now drives Alex to focus much of his energy on bringing awareness to the quality and sourcing standards in the supplement and organic agriculture supply chains.

Today, he splits his professional time practicing as a clinician, working for Fullscript, and expanding the farming operation while chasing his kids with Jenn and occasionally running ultra-marathon trail races. He is also currently completing an Executive MBA through the Quantic School of Business & Technology with a focus on supply chain innovation.

Pamela Snider, ND

Pamela Snider, ND, is Executive and Senior Editor for the Foundations of Naturopathic Medicine Project, producing a first of its kind international textbook of Naturopathic medicine through a series of international retreats and symposia. A nationally recognized integrative health and policy leader, she is active in both national and regional integrative health initiatives. Dr. Snider serves on the Board of Directors, was founding Executive Director and co-founder of the Academic Consortium for Integrative Health (ACIH/ACCAHCa consortium of the councils of schools, accrediting agencies and certifying bodies of the licensed, traditional and emerging integrative health professions, and is currently Vice Chair and co-founder of the Integrative Health Policy Consortium (IHPC).  Dr. Snider served as a founding Board Member of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine from 2014-2016. Her public policy work includes completing a two year appointment to the DHHS Center For Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee (MCAC); serving as a Steering Committee Member for  the HRSA funded American College of Preventive Medicine NCCIM Integrative Medicine in Preventive Medicine Residency program, co-directing in USPHS Region X the Building Bridges Between Provider Communities Group, an exploration of interdisciplinary collaboration and common ground between public health and CAM; serving for 22 years on Washington State’s Health Professional Loan Repayment and Scholarship Program Advisory Committee (HPLRSP); providing technical assistance to and developing key language for the enabling legislation for NIH Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCIH/NCCAM); and staffing Joseph Pizzorno ND during his appointment as Commissioner on the White House Commission on CAM Policy.

From 1994-2003, Dr. Snider served as Associate Dean for Public and Professional Affairs and Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University, dividing her work between academic and public affairs activities, including chairing the Naturopathic Medicine Program Curriculum Review Committee.  Dr. Snider has been teaching, publishing and lecturing widely on Naturopathic philosophy, theory integrative health, public policy, and other topics for over 30 years. Currently, an Associate Professor at National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) in Portland, OR, Dr. Snider also continues at Bastyr University in her 22nd year as a faculty member teaching naturopathic medicine history, clinical theory, and global context. Among her Naturopathic medicine professional roles she serves on the Institute for Natural Medicine’s Leadership Council.  In 1989, she co-led the naturopathic profession with Dr. Jared Zeff, in developing a unifying definition of naturopathic medicine and its principles of practice adopted unanimously by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) House of Delegates. She was a co-investigator in the 2004 NIH NCCAM research study, the North American Naturopathic Medical Research Agenda and CAM Advisor in NIHCCAM’s Financing Integrative Health Care (University of Washington).  Her areas of experience include healthcare education; naturopathic and interdisciplinary clinical theory, curriculum development; clinical practice; government and legislative affairs, public policy, interdisciplinary collaboration, and community organizing.  Dr. Snider has received the Ontario Naturopathic Physician of the Year Award, the Physician of the Year Award from the AANP, the President’s Outstanding Vision Award and Distinguished Alumnus Award at Bastyr University, AANP’s President’s Award, an honorary Doctorate of Naturopathic Philosophy from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM), the William A Mitchell Vis Award from the AANP and The Gathering – NMSA’s Beacon Award. She received her ND degree in 1982 from Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences and is a licensed naturopathic physician in the State of Washington. She lives with her husband and children at their homestead in North Bend Washington, in the beautiful mountain to sea landscape and home of The Revival – Restore the Vis, an annual student-led community gathering.

Susan Haeger

Susan Haeger is Founder/Principal of Transformative Health Solutions Inc. She has applied her twenty plus years in executive leadership to help shape and drive adoption of progressive health policy for whole person healthcare. She was a section contributor to the 2021 INM/AANP published professional white paper, Naturopathic Physicians as Whole Health Specialists: The Future is Whole Person Health Care that provides supporting evidence for the profession’s significant and unique contributions to preventive, whole person care and models of integrative clinical practice.

Bruce Barlean

Bruce Barlean is an owner and founder of Barlean’s, a global dietary supplement manufacturer located in the Pacific Northwest in Ferndale, WA. Bruce has been actively involved in the Natural Products industry since 1989 and is passionate about making a difference in the world and positively impacting the lives of others.

Bruce believes that people can make a difference in the world through ordinary purchases. He is committed to improving the quality of life for every person on the planet by making the best products and by using the profits to support outreach programs. Bruce summarizes it simply, “We make good stuff to do good stuff”.

In the late 1980’s Bruce became passionate about how health could be dramatically improved with Flax Oil Supplementation. Bruce along with his entrepreneurial parents saw the potential to improve the lives of many people and in 1989 they began selling Flax Oil under the Barlean’s name. From 1989 – 2000 the business grew an average of 40% year over year. While most companies saw a decline in business in the 2001 recession, Barlean’s continued to grow and soon became America’s #1 selling flaxseed oil and continues to be to the present. The brand has since expanded to include additional oils, green food concentrates and other premium supplements. Bruce continues to drive innovation and over the years his products and company have won countless awards including: Eight consecutive Vity Awards for #1 EFA, Six consecutive Vity Awards for #1 Greens Food Supplement, Natural Choice Award for Best Specialty Supplement, Best Product of the Year, Best New Product, Gold Medal Taster’s Choice Award, Gold Medal American Masters of Taste Award, #1 Health Food Store Brand for Consumer Satisfaction by Consumer Lab, and Manufacturer of the Year.

In 2013 as the company was on the eve of celebrating the 25th year in business Bruce and his parents decided to take their desire to help people to a new level that they call Pathway to a Better Life – which is now seen in the Barlean’s logo. Bruce and his parents had always been generous in their giving and support of charities, but as part of the Pathway to a Better Life they decided to increased partnership with charitable organizations such as: Vitamin Angels, Compassion International, KidsTown International, Autism Hope Alliance, Engedi Refuge, Project 92, and others. And because so many people are unable to meet basic nutritional needs, Bruce created a comprehensive Omega-3 and multivitamin formula that he distributes free-of-charge to local food banks. In addition, Bruce decided the company would supply food banks with organic coconut oil to provide people with a health alternative to standard cooking oils.

Always generous with his time Bruce has served as a youth leader for his local church for several years and continues to mentor youth. He has been on several not for profit boards including; Whatcom County Pregnancy Center (2003-2006), Natural Products Association (dates?), and the Institute for Natural Medicine Leadership Council (presently).

The Barlean family have been avid supporters of Bastyr University since the 1990’s and in 2013 were given Bastyr’s most prestigious honor, the Mission Award, which recognizes their leadership over time in improving the health and well-being of the human community.

Bruce currently resides in Ferndale, WA with his wife Lisa and their two dogs: Heinz & Shadow. When he’s not helping others he can be found fishing (catch & release).

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Michelle Simon, PHD, ND

President & CEO

As president and CEO of INM, Dr. Simon brings her passion for working with organizations dedicated to improving the quality and delivery of healthcare. This desire stems from her years of practice as a licensed naturopathic physician. In addition to holding a Naturopathic Doctorate from Bastyr University she also holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She has served on boards for the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), the Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute (NPRI), and several advisory boards. Dr. Simon served nine years on the Washington State Health Technology Clinical Committee, as Ambassador to the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM) and was recognized as 2018 AANP Physician of the Year. Dr. Simon shares with her husband a passion for adventure travel, preferably by boat or motorcycle. She also enjoys teaching a women’s off-road motorcycling class.