Let’s face it, close to 100% of the global population is experiencing a common set of stressful circumstances right now. While the specific intensity of the stress differs based on a myriad of variables, the fundamentals are the same; concern for one’s own health or the health of loved ones and concern for economic prosperity enough to maintain a reasonable standard of living.
There is at least one other fundamental thing we have in common. The fact that we don’t have much power to dramatically change the situation ourselves. With such a tremendous amount of stress to manage and it has begun to take a toll on many of us.
Just about every day, I am working with patients who have been under a level of stress that has exceeded their ability to adapt to it, and they are experiencing symptoms of breakdown, either physically, chemically, or emotionally. What is interesting to me is that the same type of situations can impact two people in very different ways. One person can crumble under certain stress, and another one doesn’t seem to be phased by it.
Over the years, our office has built a solid reputation for helping people with very nasty, chronic digestive issues. One of the many triggers for a breakdown in gut health is the development of food hypersensitivities, and I’ve shared some of those mechanisms in previous posts.
I recently tested a patient to look for immune reactivity to 24 of the most common foods in the average diet – foods like gluten, dairy, corn, rice, potato, eggs, etc. This patient, unfortunately, had evidence of sensitivity to ALL of them. Their gut had been irritated and imbalanced for so long that their immune system had lost its ability to tolerate any foreign food proteins without reacting. As you might imagine, this is a difficult, spot to begin from.
Chronic intense stress is shown to be a significant cause of the physical barrier of the gut lining become weak, allowing things to get into the bloodstream that should have been filtered. Once this breakdown happens, the immune system gets triggered to react to protect the body. Over time, that immune reaction can lead to a loss of tolerance to many things in the environment.
I’ve given you a specific, physical example, but what about a more general application? Can the same lesson be learned from the emotional stress that we’re experiencing?
Stress tolerance is a measure of the amount or intensity of stress that one can experience without breakdown. It is inversely related to sensitivity. When tolerance goes down, we can become hyper-reactive or hypersensitive.
If the stress is brief and occasional, our body can easily resist and adapt and even become stronger. Still, when the stress is unrelenting or particularly intense, it can overwhelm our resistance and trigger a downward spiral.
- Have you seen evidence of this phenomenon in your interactions with others over the past few weeks?
- Has your relative isolation forced you to lose some of your interpersonal barriers?
- Are you feeling “triggered” by comments on social media, the evening news, or by friends and family?
- Have you noticed that you are quicker to overreact to your spouse or kids?
4 Steps to Building Resiliency
As I mentioned above, each of us processes and responds to stress differently. What can completely shut one person down may be the building block of strength for another. This ability to bounce back from a challenge is called resilience, and research tells us that we can increase our resilience over time by creating a healthy lens by which we view our world.
Mindfulness is about slowing down, paying attention to the intricate details of your present moment. Mindfulness is the opposite of “multi-tasking” or having multiple streams of entertainment going on around you while you eat and have a discussion with someone
Many people find resilience by recognizing that they have a purpose that is greater than themselves. They realize that their actions have an impact on their family, community, work, or faith group. As humans, we seek to find meaning for our lives and our experiences and having a strong connection to a powerful purpose provides that meaning.
When we understand our own strengths and weaknesses, our habits and tendencies, we are better able to learn from our experiences. We can self reflect and choose to make different decisions than we have in the past to enable us to create different outcomes in the future.
Being self-aware and having a purpose bigger than ourselves helps us see the need for interdependence with others. We realize that when we’re down, we need the help of others and that when we are strong, we can lift those who are in need around us.
Whether we’re talking about immune resilience from a food sensitivity or emotional resilience from an existential threat, we all need to make sure that we are working on being both strong and flexible enough to bounce back from any adversity we face quickly.