Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Stress Capacity: The Bucket Theory

If we dig in to any condition…thyroid problems, cancer, neuropathy, diabetes, etc., one common thread is stress.  Stress increases cortisol and adrenaline production, which is very useful in times of emergency!  It helps us escape…it helps us survive.  

Yet, when it is “turned on” or turned up daily, it compromises our blood sugar regulation, or oxygen delivery, our hormone balance, our digestion and absorption of vital nutrients…all physiological needs…requirements…you will develop SOME disease if you compromise your physiological needs day after day.  

It also leads to poor choices…it makes us crave sugar, alcohol, and other addictive habits.  

We all have a capacity for stress…and the stronger and healthier your body and mind…the greater your capacity.  I used to do a stress challenge in my seminars…we would eat about 70 grams of carbs (sugar)…in the form of cookies and juice, and measure our blood sugar after the seminar.  A person whose stress capacity is high would measure under 120, and the reigning sufferer of the lowest stress capacity measured over 400.  

If we think of this capacity as a bucket, our bucket sizes vary according to our current state of health and vitality.  Another consideration is, “how full is your bucket?”  You could have a thimble full to the top (blood sugar over 400 after our stress challenge), or a barrel with a few drops in the bottom (blood sugar under 120).  

Clearly it is obvious which one we want to be, or achieve, if our goal is health and happiness! 
What shrinks your stress bucket?  How do you end up with a thimble?  A:  Stress overload, over the long haul.  We all have days of stress overload…you go to bed early, feeling frazzled and exhausted.  When that becomes the “normal” day…every day, every week, month after month…you end up with a thimble. 

What fills our stress bucket?  How do you fill the bucket so you are spilling (stress overwhelm)?  A:  Compromised physiological needs…AND compromised emotional needs.  Both fill the same stress bucket. 
Physiological needs are simple…oxygen…glucose for energy production…nutrition to energize and oxygenate…and movement and thought to activate the central regulation hub of our energy and oxygen…the brain.  

Emotional needs include: certainty, variety, connection, significance, growth, and contribution. 
Here’s the kicker…stress can make you grow and connect, take action to feel significant…achieve financial and relationship security and feel more certain…which allows you to contribute to others and take nice vacations for a bit of variety.  

And stress can make you withdraw, lose focus, be inefficient, and effectively LOSE all these emotional needs, which is no less exhausting than severe anemia, low thyroid, or physical exhaustion.

It all depends on the capacity you have for stress.  How big is the bucket and how full is the bucket?!?
If your bucket is full all the time…it will exhaust your reserves.  If your bucket shrinks…you will be more and more sensitive to stress, sugar, exertion…you will be more sensitive to life. 

Then you have two choices…limit life…stress, sugar, and exertion…OR work on emptying your current bucket and building a bigger bucket.  A rocking chair at the nursing home…or like Jack LaLanne, swimming a mile pulling 70 rowboats…at age 70.  It all depends on your stress bucket.  Jack had a hell of a bucket at age 70, mostly through stimulation…exercise, and nourishment…fruits and veggies.  What if he knew about oxygen delivery and the whole gamut of emotional needs?  I’m not complaining for him…he lived 97 pretty awesome years.  BUT…scientists say we should all live 120 years (healthy years) based on calculations based on gestation periods and life spans in nature.  He did awesome…and could we (yes, you and I) do better with less effort?  

I personally don’t want to exercise 3 hours a day…that might be a path to a healthy 90+ years, but I think if we consider the whole stress bucket, we all could hit a healthy 97…or 120…by diversifying.  Let’s keep that as a goal, but the reality is that I see people as young as 20 and 30 in health crises…stress overwhelm, shrinking and full bucket.  

I measure oxygen perfusion in all my clients…and some bottom out on oxygen when I ask them to move the arm we are measuring…not a candidate for the Jack plan.  

Jack pushed his body (and mind) WITHIN its capacity…repetitively…and built up that bucket.  He filled it half full, maybe even full…and then fed his body…nourished, and rested….and emptied that bucket.  He probably never filled his bucket with blood sugar problems, anemia, or lack of nourishment (although as a kid he says he was a sugar addict).  He ate whole foods, is well known for his juicing machines, and more than likely had energy to contribute, grow, and be significant.  

He never spoke of these needs, so I assume he met them without intention…or intending to.  He did it because it felt good.  (Which is a good lesson for meeting our emotional needs…it always feels good).
He lived the process I am teaching…and here it is:  You have to notice your capacity, exercise within that capacity (and my version of exercise means anything that trains the brain, and can include thought and communication… any action or intention)…and grow that capacity.  

We can accomplish a bigger bucket through physiological nourishment…improving oxygen and glucose delivery…energized and oxygenated cells…which we accomplish through targeted nutritional support and treating your body kindly (treating injuries, balancing energy through stimulating meridians, centering your body in gravity, etc.)  And we can build a bigger bucket through improving emotional nourishment…certainty, variety, connection, growth, significance, and contribution.  

We have to start wherever we are…work within our stress capacity, and push the limits without overwhelming them.  We don’t want to miss any of our needs…simply consider them all.  A caretaker pattern meets contribution needs, but compromises significance, because they “over serve” others and don’t get what THEY want.  Not bad, but not good for the bucket.  It also compromises connection, because people who are over protected or over cared for do not grow…and they show you in the form of resentment or lack of appreciation.  

We can empty the bucket by eliminating unnecessary stressors such as artificial colors, preservatives, etc…food chemicals.  Most of my patients are on top of those changes.  We can empty the bucket by babying our blood sugar regulation hormones…it’s as simple as eating protein every two hours. 
We can empty our bucket by noticing our triggers…our emotional upsets…and noticing which needs are being compromised.  People triggered by disruption need certainty.  People triggered by unfairness need growth or contribution.  It’s not a hard and fast rule, but with a few questions we can easily figure out what needs are compromised.  

We can empty our bucket and build a bigger bucket by then demanding that those needs get met.  Not violently through accusations and demands, but through taking action towards your needs and asking for help.  

Whatever you are sensitive to…conflict, sugar, chemicals, exertion, ignorance, or stress itself…you are receiving a message that your bucket is full, and perhaps shrinking.  Any sensitivity can be desensitized by emptying your bucket and building a bigger bucket.  Bar none.

So, my challenge to you…is to take inventory of your stress capacity.  Just look at your sensitivities…if you hurt when you exert physically…your physical stress capacity needs help.  If you can’t eat sugar, at all, let alone 70 grams of pure sugar…your chemical capacity needs help.  If you are triggered, often and intensely, your emotional stress capacity needs help.  

Then do something to change.  For physical capacity, try gentle exercises and notice if you can exert 10% more in 3 weeks…see a chiropractor, a massage therapist, take some yoga classes.  And notice what makes you feel better…and repeat.  For chemical capacity, try protein every two hours, take some ashwagandha for cortisol, do a greens and protein smoothie every day with blueberries and spinach, all blended up.  Notice what makes you feel better…and repeat.  For emotional capacity, notice your triggers and use my article on triggers to categorize what you are needing.  Then ask for some agreements, allow others to struggle and learn on their own, do some Emotional Freedom Technique tapping…notice what makes you feel better…and repeat. 

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