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EPISODE #07 – STRESS PART 2 – how to get out of fight or flight mode and improve sleep, digestion, & libido

  • Published on: 17 February, 2020
  • Last update: 25 May, 2020

THIS WEEK ON WHAT’S THE JUICE PODCAST

WHEW. This episode could not come at a better time. It’s with the release of this episode that I vow to slowwww down for the rest of the month. I can’t thank all of you enough for listening to the show and sending so much LOVE our way in response. It’s absolutely amazing and fulfilling to read your feedback and hear about the difference the show is making in your actual life, from your relationships all the way to your lymph (I see you all self-massaging!!). It seriously keeps me going. 

(to read the full transcription of this episode, click HERE)

That being said, this is a big undertaking and you know I keep my team really small. It’s really a family business at this point. That means launching a project like this takes a lot of me, and I’m okay with that because that’s why I started this. But releasing an episode OF VALUE every single week is like… having a research paper due every Monday morning… and your girl needs a bit of time to rest and digest. We’re going into production at the end of the month and I want to make sure I’m on my game. I’ve been taking a ton of time this weekend to take baths, organize all my herb files and just do what I love: read and learn in solitude, then share with you guys what I’ve found when it’s alllll processed and integrated 🙂

Today’s episode is the part two to our debut episode, “The Stress Bible,” and this time it’s all about ‘sympathetic dominance’ AKA chronic fight or flight mode!

When you can’t calm down, you can’t “secrete” properly (both hormones and fluids) meaning you may have issues sleeping, digesting, eliminating, or getting horny. This is a pattern that we get wired into when we forget how to be still and how to relax. I feel like this topic is something we can all relate too, & this episode just like the first is SO foundational… It’s the whole reason we decided to name the show What’s the Juice in the first place.

Today’s pod is for people who can’t relax, can’t put the phone down, and feel addicted to stimulation. Throughout the hour (or two), we’re constantly talking about hacks and tools you can use to spend more time in PARAsympathetic mode (rest and digest – which is the opposite of sympathetic dominance). These range from CBD and herbs all the way to simply using your own breath.

What is sympathetic dominance?

In order to understand this, we need to review the what the sympathetic nervous system is. We covered this briefly in HPA but here’s where we have a chance to dig a lot deeper into solutions re: what you can do when your nervous system is chronically over-activated.

The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is one branch of the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which also includes the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The sympathetic nervous system activates what is often termed the fight or flight response.

A lot of people with chronic illness wonder – how do you get so many broad symptoms with just one condition?! Because fight or flight mode / “stress” is always involved, there are a ton of different areas of the body that can be affected.

Here’s some examples of the many symptoms that come with chronic fight or flight mode:

  • Digestion issues
  • Dry mouth 
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Dryness in general (scalp skin etc)
  • Can’t fully urinate
  • Can’t get horny
  • No restful sleep / light sleeping
  • Blood sugar issues
  • Sensitive to loud noises
  • Sweating too much or too little (for me I see this post coffee- immediately my armpits get sweaty)
  • Slow digestion/constipation (which leads me to thyroid issues brought on by overwork overstressed adrenals)

And why does this affect alllll of these areas, especially digestion?

SYMPATHETIC DOMINANCE = makes you a “hyposecreter” of fluids – especially digestive fluids (inadequate stomach acid, bile etc). My herb manufacturer and co-formulator always says, “if you can’t calm down, you can’t sleep, secrete, poop, or get horny.”

What’s interesting is that: the longer you are up during the day, the more sympathetic you become. Therefore, your weakest digestion is in the evening. If you have a digestive problem, start out the evening meal with a bitter tonic. (Ideally this should be before all meals, but start experimenting here first). 

“Breakfast is the easiest to digest, but for people who are sympathetic dominant, breakfast is the least consumed meal.” – Michael Moore (herbalist, not the other guy).

Our goal is to decrease adrenaline, get into parasympathetic mode more often, and that happens in a variety of ways that we’ll get into in a minute especially specific bitter tonics which stimulate our vagus nnerve and get us ready to eat and secrete.

Before we do that, let’s just look at the root causes and triggers….

Triggers of sympathetic dominance

  • Sleep
  • Stress
  • Food

(Obviously the stress part is big, and relates to what we talked about in the HPA episode: “perceived” stress!)

Hot to get out and stay out of sympathetic dominance: 

Focus on 2 of the 3. Simply get into rest and digest mode more *often*.

In reality, our goal is to simply get into parasympathetic mode more often and for longer stretches of time. That’s where the healing happens. If you’re doing everything right and your gut still isn’t healing, ask yourself, am I getting into parasympathetic mode long enough for my gut to even heal & for all the remedies to promote that repair? Repair happens as we rest. 

It takes a long time to get better just like it takes a long time for a health issue to crop up. Your hair doesn’t start falling out after 1 week, 1 month, even 1 year of stress sometimes. It’s that uninterrupted inflammation and fight or flight that gets us. Our goal is to interrupt and inject some zen.

And it’s not just daily stress that can keep a person stuck in sympathetic mode, either. It could be stress from the past that has been hardwired into your brain, a concept referred to as negative plasticity. The neuron pathways in your brain have become highly efficient at stress so it takes less and less to trigger a stress response.

The most common example of this is post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. It can also come from long periods of overwork and sleep deprivation that have essentially trained your brain to be agitated all the time, even though your health is being sacrificed.

I see this over activation in women who have had a difficult upbringing at home especially with their mother – and I see many of these women go on to start businesses and achieve more than they ever thought possible. You get used to fighting for survival and one day that translates to providing for yourself.

This has been a benefit for me and many other female entrepreneurs I know who had a rough childhood… but it also burns you out. I’m still trying to find balance.

Bitter tonic list to flip the switch into PARAsympathetic

Back to digestion for a sec, which is where bitters classically have their shine, I want to reference Michael Moore’s teachings:

“The initiation of the sequence of the digestion with a bitter tonic is re-establishing the upper digestive reflex. The more you do it, the more pronounced become both the reflexes and efficiency of digestion.”

Michael Moore

1. Spillanthes – stimulates saliva so that you can better digest carbohydrates especially when you’re stressed out. When you’re stressed you become a hyposecreter and your juices including saliva don’t flow. Saliva is extremely important, especially for periodontal disease – which is why we use spillanthes in mouth and gum tonics. If you don’t secrete enough saliva the mouth is dry and bacteria can proliferate.

Michael Moore explains more in his book:

“The parotid gland releases digestive juice in the back of the mouth which is then, watery, alkaline, and high in calcium and phosphorus. It should contain enough potential bone precursor in solution to strengthen the jaw bones. The parotid gland secretion also contains lysozymes, bacterial inhibiting enzymes that slow down mouth bacteria, and a skin growth factor and nerve growth factor.”

Michael Moore

Now Let’s talk about SOLUTIONS: long term lifestyle changes for getting into parasympathetic!

– Remember the 4 HPA triggers from episode 1? Number 1 was PERCEIVED STRESS. Flip the script on “perceived stress.” We talk about this in our conversation!

– CBD (Although— before we look to CBD, let’s look to time tested plants! Kava!)

– Deep belly breathing before meals and throughout the day- set reminders on your phone to take a few deep breaths. My friend Nasya’s yoga teacher says it takes 8 breaths to fully let go.

– Yoga

– We can’t all move to an island and meditate all day. So make life a meditation. The key is being present and doing one thing at a time- being engrossed by that thing as if it’s play.

– Therapy: feeling processing and working on emotional health 

– Adaptogens! (of course).

Thirsty for more? Here’s the juice:

• Taking an additional 10 mins per day to sit with your eyes closed and calm down will not only support your adrenals in the short term, but in the long term it will protect the health of your teeth, gums, hair, and even sex drive.  

• Sympathetic and Parasympathetic are two branches of the autonomic nervous system. Sympathetic is fight or flight mode, when you’re in this state, blood flushes away from your digestive system and rushes to your extremities (so you can run faster). Parasympathetic is the opposite state, this is what activates rest and digest mode where blood flows to your intestines to digest your food and perform maintenance like waste clearing functions. Obviously, both states serve an evolutionary function.

• If you pay attention to your bodily functions, you can actually recognize when you’re in sympathetic and parasympathetic states — this comes with self-awareness and consciousness. 

• Perceived stress = your mindset around what stresses you out. This looks different for everyone… what stresses me out may not even register on your radar. No stressor is “silly,” even if it’s being overwhelmed by text messages. it matters what matters to YOU.

• A combination of modern life and sensitive humans = a recipe for many of us living in chronic, ready-to-respond, fight or flight mode.

• It’s IMPERATIVE that we get out of this mode more often so that we can heal deeply. Our collective goal, as a society, should be to decrease adrenaline and foster a lifestyle that allows us all to get into parasympathetic mode more often. 

• Stress can be one of the biggest catalysts for change. You don’t have to be afraid of stress, and it’s not always possible to avoid stressful situations. Suppressing stress will not benefit your overall health. Rather, learn what stress looks like for you personally, recognize when you’re overwhelmed, and try to offset by taking care of yourself in other ways (more sleep, disconnecting from tech, community and family time).

• This episode is a reminder that we need a healthy focus on getting into parasympathetic mode more often while becoming more resilient towards the natural stresses of life that are always going to be there.

• Do you sometimes feel guilty for resting or agitated when you feel you’re not being productive? Remember that you are more than your “To-Do list” and we didn’t evolve to be accessible at all hours of the day (thanks, Internet). Prioritize DEEP REST as part of your wellness routine.

• Rituals are a wonderful way to signal to your body that it’s time to get back into parasympathetic (rest and digest) mode. 

• Deep belly breaths on a regular basis can do more for your body than most other interventions.

• Remember: when you’re in sympathetic mode you’re not secreting digestive fluids i.e saliva, hydrochloric acid, enzymes, etc. and there’s a general dryness (dry mouth, scalp, skin, vaginal) that comes with being in a prolonged state of sympathetic dominance. Other symptoms include: low libido, poor sleep, sweating too much or too little, and poor insulin sensitivity. 

• The importance of saliva: the parotid gland releases digestive juice in the back of the mouth. This juice is alkaline, and high in calcium and phosphorus. It should contain enough potential bone precursors to strengthen the jaw bones. Saliva initiates the digestion of starch, inhibits the growth of bacteria, keeps the mouth alkaline, and redeposits minerals on the jawbone and teeth! We must secrete to digest and we must be relaxed to secrete — it’s a cycle. 

• It’s not just our current stress that impacts us. Negative plasticity means that stressors we were exposed to as children are hardwired into our brains. This means our neural pathways become highly efficient at recognizing stress. So, it takes less and less stimulus to trigger your stress response. This is a core piece of PTSD. 

• Herbs are one of the easiest ways to flip the switch in your brain and get you back into parasympathetic. When your tongue recognizes bitter plant compounds, it stimulates the vagus nerve which helps you to relax and secrete. 

• Glucose tolerance is the strongest first thing in the morning, meaning you have the highest ability to digest and tolerate carbohydrates at your first meal of the day.

Nickisms:

“It’s scary trying to predict the future. That’s why it’s best if you don’t do it”

“Try to leave work at work and enjoy your time at home.”

Hope you loved this candid episode with me and Nick. STAY JUICY, FOLKS!!

XOXO,

Olivia

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