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Confronting stress: stepping up to find healthy coping mechanisms

A couple of weeks ago, we published a blog about sleep disturbance. Prior to that, we interviewed a professional, Dr. Diaz, who linked stress to certain forms of sleep disturbance, such as insomnia. For this month’s blog, we just so happened to interview another medical professional—Dr. Deas—to learn more about stress itself, its causes, and coping mechanisms, both good and bad. Moreover, we want to learn about confronting stress. 

Specifically, the experts here at Total Nutrition & Therapeutics set out to discuss our default states of stress and coping. Each one of us manages stress daily, without anything in particular setting us off. School, work, family—any of these everyday aspects of life also cause us stress. In so many words, we wanted to better understand three questions:

  1. How are we stressed?
  2. How do we recognize we are stressed?
  3. What do we do to cope with our stress?

Consulting An Experienced Professional

Dr. Deas has a storied past. A caseworker in New York City back in the 80s, Dr. Deas lost everything to drug use. You could say he knows a thing or two about stress. But with decades of clean time behind him, he’s combined his work as a pastor with mental health treatment.

“Children mimic the behavior of their parents,” says Dr. Deas. “When they see their parents take a pill for something, whether it’s a prescribed drug or an aspirin, they will tend to take up that same behavior.” Almost everyone uses something as a receptacle for their stress. Be it sex, drugs, alcohol, or food. Even if someone puts all their excess energy into helping others, if it’s a way to escape stress, it can be used to avoid confronting oneself. 

Though not a dogmatic follower, Dr. Deas is a self-proclaimed student of the Carl Rogers school of thought. Like Rogers, he sees that things have a cause and an effect. This, in all its complexities, is effectively what makes us who we are: the world and its people affect how we respond to them. 

The professionals here at Total Nutrition & Therapeutics agree that these processes are hardly ever obvious. To understand why even the most everyday stressors drive us to overeat or drink, one must undergo active observation processes. The same goes for treating your response to stress. Nothing good in life comes free. But that’s the beauty of it. Our struggles and trials are what shed such brilliant light on our triumphs and reliefs. 

Both Spiritual And Scientific

In Dr. Deas’s work with patients, he helps patients recognize that stress is natural and a part of being human. He cites scripture that speaks to stressful occurrences not as punishments or poor reflections of patients, but as opportunities for improvement, healing, or forgiveness. 

His patients see him on the basis of his combining religion and mental health. But many of the same tenets of his practice go for anyone seeking to reconcile their stress. Twelve step programs use a similar approach. 

At the same time, Dr. Deas is just as interested in what his patients are eating. “We are what we eat,” he says. His patients are invited to reflect upon the full spectrum of human experience to best understand their stress and their coping mechanisms. 

Default Responses To Stress: The Bad

When it comes to stress, there are a lot of blurred lines. Some folks may not know that stress is actually necessary. We need that low hum of anxiousness to maintain our drives and wants. It’s when stress becomes pathological that fears evolved from more primitive times turn against us. The drive to do well during a presentation at work is good—the illogical panic we experience in front of crowds, not so much. 

These lines grow even blurrier when it comes to coping mechanisms. We all need or have natural drives to eat, mate, and be active. We sometimes take medicines and supplements to boost immune responses and natural functions. These are responses to some of our most basic stressors, such as hunger and restlessness. 

But practically any healthy coping mechanism you could think of can also be harmful. From the above examples, one can easily fall into:

  1. Overeating
  2. Sex addiction
  3. Alcoholism
  4. Workaholism
  5. Overexercising 
  6. Hand-washing and other obsessive-compulsive behaviors

The list goes on and on. Without understanding exactly what’s going on in people’s minds, it’s difficult to know when that line can be crossed. Often we just know. Other times, however, we deny that we are having issues with stress. It can be embarrassing to admit. We believe it is a sign of weakness. 

Understanding our default responses to stress begins with acknowledging our stressors. Stressors tend toward financial or relationship issues. Better yet, we must admit that we’re stressed, and dealing poorly with our stress, in the first place. 

It doesn’t have to be the admission of a problem. In fact, it might be better off if it weren’t. All of us get stressed out. We all find ourselves resorting to less-than-healthy coping mechanisms. We can all improve. Admitting that is far better than singling yourself out and beating yourself up. 

Default Responses: The Good

Our negative default responses can be extremely difficult to reconfigure. Our brains have spent decades wiring themselves to recognize and/or repress stress through good and bad coping mechanisms. 

This doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Even the most intensely addicted individuals have turned their lives around. Those with terrible childhood traumas have gone on to lead contented and productive lives. And those with lower-hum stress issues have learned to sift through the subtleties of their maladaptive patterns. Best of all, there are many ways to approach healing. 

Going Back To Childhood

Dr. Deas brings a multi-pronged approach to treating stress response. Whether it’s Carl Rogers or another psychoanalytic school of thought, he is a staunch believer in the power of our formative years. 

It’s important for anyone to investigate their childhood and past traumas. This is when we formed our default stress response and coping mechanisms. This is when we watched our parents have a few drinks, or how we learned to cope with their anger, or when we experienced our first toxic relationship. 

It’s important to avoid the notion that investigating your childhood isn’t necessary if you never underwent ‘serious’ trauma. Just because you never had an abusive or alcoholic parent does not mean you didn’t experience subtler traumas with their own nuance. Observation helps you understand yourself, regardless of what you went through. It is only through understanding that we can make change for the better. 

Prayer & Meditation

Breaking the cycle first requires awareness. People are very good at denial and avoidance. Going back to Dr. Deas’s religious tools, he cites that God does not think of our defects as bad. They are simply a part of us. Acknowledging health issues is half the battle in beginning to feel better about how we may respond less than optimally to certain situations. 

Speaking of which, Dr. Deas is a big fan of prayer as a healthy default mechanism. Prayer puts us in tune with our higher instincts. We begin to delve below our surface level impulses. We connect with God’s will, our deeper purpose, and how we can overcome the obstacles set before us. Through prayer, we often find that these obstacles aren’t what they seem to be—that they are points of reference for spiritual growth. 

Prayer and meditation can go hand-in-hand. Some like to combine the two. There is a deeply meditative aspect to prayer. Others prefer to use meditation as a blank slate. Rather than reflect or recite, meditation can be a time to allow yourself to let trifling matters flow right through you. This practice conditions you to let go of stressors that might have otherwise stuck with you throughout the day, or beyond.

Functional Medicine

And here at Total Nutrition & Therapeutics, functional medicine is a favored way of working through stress. Through quality diet and nutrition, along with observation and understanding of your emotional and physical wellness plans, you can begin to recognize your stress and bring it under your control. We also use phone apps like Calm to meditate, bringing us closer to our subconscious. 

Functional medicine also includes a deeper diagnosis of diet. Specifically, we look at how food can affect the body. Looking at, for example, how certain foods treat your GI tract can give insight into corresponding moods and behaviors. Getting diagnostics for your entire system can provide a deeper understanding, opening up a new perspective on what foods are best for you, individually. 

Of course, eating healthily is a pillar to managing stress. Sugar, processed foods, and trans fats all contribute to higher levels of stress. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone. It increases blood sugar levels. Increasing sugar and simple carbs in your diet works synergistically to spike stress levels. There are countless examples like these in which diet contributes to stress. Healthy foods do the opposite, evening out your adrenaline and glucose levels, leaving you steady and calm throughout the day. 

Crisis Of Mental Health

Right now, the United States is experiencing a mental health crisis. The pandemic has only exacerbated the problem. Suicides and overdoses are at record levels. It’s been more difficult than ever for folks to attend therapy or addiction meetings. 

Fortunately, the pandemic did greatly accelerate the nation’s telehealth capabilities. More and more people are getting the help they need through video-conferencing platforms and other online forums. Total Nutrition & Therapeutics is working tirelessly to increase the utilization and functionality of these solutions. 

Stress plays an enormous role in our lives. It acts as both the cause and the symptom for a lot of our problems, from general anxiety to drug addiction. Coming to understand how stress affects us is crucial in improving our mental health. Check out the Wellness Plans here at Total Nutrition & Therapeutics to see how we can help you begin managing your stress today. Additionally, please be sure to check in with Dr. Deas’s website, which contains more information about his practice, approach, and more. 

Contact Total Nutrition and Therapeutics for more about how you can cope with stress. 

Stress is at once universal and taboo in our culture. We work harder and longer than almost any country in the world, yet we don’t show or talk about how it affects us. From adolescence through old age, drugs, family, and relationships cause massive stress in certain instances. And yet, for many, dealing with daily stress is enough to send them into overeating and drinking. Contact Us to find out more about how Total Nutrition & Therapeutics can help you get a sense of control over your stress response today.

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