Why do people find it so hard to “reduce stress”?

After a couple of very busy years and some curly turns on my personal health journey, I can honestly say that sitting down to write this email feels like coming home. The last time I wrote (back in May in 2015) I was finishing off the calcium blog post series and said that when I came back I intended to talk about stress. Why stress? Because it is insidious! It’s horrible stuff. I think it’s become one of those things we are a bit blase about nowadays. You know… you’re sitting in your doctors office and asking them “So why is my hair falling out?” and they reply after assessing your results which are “normal” even though your hair is falling out and they say “Could be stress.” And you think… Oh. right. Stress.

But you look at your life and think well… what is causing stress in my life?

  • my job? We need to pay our bills and retirement is looming so I cant just quit my job.
  • my friends? We love them but some may frustrate us with their addiction to drama and chaos. There can also be issues with betrayals (this kind of thing doesn’t just happen on The Bold and the Beautiful;-)
  • my family? Again, see my friends;-)
  • my relationship? Again see above;-)
  • my late nights? But if I sleep when the kids sleep I’ll never get any “awake time to myself”
  • my lack of exercise? I don’t have time to exercise (see above!)
  • the clutter in my house? I really want to clean but I have no time (see above!)

So what can I do to reduce my stress? You ask the doctor or you start to research it for yourself and you see things like meditation, yoga, tai chi, exercise in general and you think “but I don’t have  enough time in my day now to do the things I need to do and all these stress reducing activities cut into that time!”. And so in the end it all seems too hard to maintain for too long. So it becomes one of those causes that we “know” about but don’t really “do”.

Over the last few years (where my health has gone all over the place) I’ve questioned the logic of some of our clinical advice (as health care practitioners in general, both mainstream and natural health). There seem to be 2 options for advice and support from practitioners:

  • medications, supplements or herbs
  • lifestyle activities like mindfulness, exercise, yoga, tai chi, etc. and looking at things like relationships and work stress

Apart from suggesting someone looks for a new job or seeks relationship counseling or begins a regular exercise routine with a personal trainer – I don’t feel that we are really hitting the mark here.
All these things we are asking people to do to “reduce” stress are actually just adding more into an already over cluttered life.

Sure we can give some herbs to help reduce stress and help the body cope with stress better, or b vitamins etc. but are we just delaying the inevitable? Sometimes I have a bit of ambivalence and a bit of an ethical dilemma with supplementing to help give people more energy or cope with stress better when it’s clear they need some serious lifestyle changes (as my clients in clinic would understand). I question whether taking a herb or supplement is really helping us learn to reduce our stress or does it just give us more energy and help us struggle on with the massive load we’ve been carrying for a bit longer and delay the inevitable need for change?

The three long term stress pictures tend to go something like this:

  • poor health
  • burnout
  • burn out with poor health

Since one of our goals in naturopathy is to help find the causes that are driving poor health in our clients I think in recent years we haven’t looked back far enough. If you read this post of you’ve chatted with me in clinic, you’ll know that I think part of the problem is the heavy focus on the biochemistry, pharmacology and molecular biology nowadays. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that naturopathy training is including this information (I have a B.Sc. majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology – so I am “pro” knowledge) my concern is that we’re starting to forget our “roots” as naturopaths which have an emphasis on diet and lifestyle and bringing those factors back in balance. I feel that too much emphasis nowadays is on identifying a molecular or biochemical cause for an imbalance but not looking at the whole person in front of you. Instead it’s : “oh you’ve got the MTHFR mutation” or “It’s adrenal fatigue”, or “PCOS” or something similar rather than, “But what is happening to make you get symptoms from this now what changed? When did it change? Why did it change? When did your body stop coping and start showing these symptoms?” (You’d have had the mutation all your life, so what has changed now to make it express itself?)

Rather than saying ” lack of exercise is the cause of your health problem, exercise more” we should be asking “Why is there not time to exercise in your current lifestyle?
Rather than saying ” lack of sleep is the cause of your health problem – you need to go to bed earlier” we should be asking “Why are you going to sleep so late every night?”
Rather than saying “You’re working yourself into the ground, you need a holiday” we should be asking “Why do you feel driven to work so hard all the time? What does working ‘give’ you that a holiday wouldn’t”.

Don’t get me wrong, supplements and herbs certainly have their time and place in clinic.  But my clients and I have a very long chat about the dilemma. Are they going to be making some big changes or are they just going to keep having herbs and not change anything – or worse, add more on their plate because of the energy boost they get?

I see it in myself, I see it with other practitioners, I see it in my friends and family I see it in my clients I see it in acquaintances. So many busy stressed out people. So many tired people. Why is this?

So I’ve spent the better part of the last 6-12 months really looking at my lifestyle for the things that are causing stress, looking at the things I find hard to change, can’t change or know I should, but haven’t been changing and looking at ways to reduce stress without adding more onto an already busy plate. Producing an online TV show, authoring, publishing, promoting and distributing my book keeps my days more than “full” and that’s without adding in children and clinic so I’ve developed a few theories about how and why we find it hard to “reduce” stress and how we might make it easier and create real change this year and I’ll talk about these more in the coming blog posts. Nutrition is important, but I think there are some more things getting in the way making it hard for people to really integrate this information into their lives for the long term. But more about that next time!

Do you resonate with my thoughts here? If yes, what resonates. If no, what doesn’t resonate? Have you been told to reduce stress? Did it work for you? How long did you maintain the changes for? I’d really love to hear from you.

Are you on the mailing list?  Getting healthy – and maintaining it over the long term is something which fascinates me and I’m on a mission to try to find ways to make this easier and more doable for people, so if you’re on that journey too and you’d like some company and fresh insights then enter your name and email address below and I’ll keep you in the loop:-)