Written By Morgan Knull
Our current landscape is strange, but you’re handling things well, right? Or maybe you thought you were, but you’ve recently hit a wall. Believe me, I get it.
When the COVID-19 restrictions started, I was determined to handle the stress of the situation thoughtfully. I told myself that I would not buy into conversations, news, or social media posts that would feed my propensity to feel stressors and emotions intensely. I tried to carefully reserve my cortisol (stress hormone) so I could calmly manage situations as they arose—rather than spiraling or letting the stress catastrophically flood my life.
But then I completely shut down. I felt disconnected…from everything. I was no longer able to move gracefully through daily life. My rational and well-laid intentions had failed me! And here’s why:
Everyone has two states: stressed (sympathetic) and relaxed (parasympathetic). Our bodies are designed to live in the relaxed state for 23 hours a day and manage the stressed state for only one hour per day. Because we can’t be in both states at once—aaaand because, let’s face it, life isn’t a bowl of cherries—we tend to get stuck in the stressed state. Most of the time, when we’re stuck in what I call the “reaction loop” we aren’t even aware of it. We’re operating from a sympathetic state all day, every day—and draining our precious stress hormones all the while. Remember: we’re only designed to access these for no more than one hour per day.
So what happens when we’re stuck there for longer than our bodies can manage? Burnout, emotional hangover, disconnection, adrenal fatigue…it’s a beast with many names, and with many warning signs. Some of mine are:
Waking up every night around 3 or 4am with racing thoughts. It’s tough to go back to sleep because my stress hormones no longer decline at a natural rate; they start to spike far too early.
Playing out arguments in my imagination or being judgmental of those around me. This is also called hypervigilance; it’s our bodies’ way of assessing risk when we are in traumatic or stressful situations. However, being stuck in a place of constant hypervigilance is not ideal, and certainly not a way to gain popularity…oops.
Craving foods like sugar, carbohydrates, caffeine and alcohol, which are all things I know will give my neurotransmitters a temporary boost. But, it’s a trade-in that will ultimately impact my stress hormones further.
Zoning out more than I’m connecting. A surefire way I know I’ve let things go too far is realizing that social commitments feel overwhelming. And if I’d rather stare at my laptop for hours than type, work, or connect it’s definitely a problem.
Your cues might be different, but whatever they are, I recommend you don’t sit in them for too long. These days I tend to spot the signs of depletion quickly, because the heavy lifting that’s necessary to get myself out of the reaction loop is so unattractive. My awareness encourages me to be committed to a self-care routine that includes a genetic diet and the right supplements.
This time it was different though, with so much of the current landscape completely out of our control and yet still feeling somehow controlling. I strive to be healthy and happy no matter the circumstance, but this time it felt especially…icky. I couldn’t just do the work and then *poof*—have life be “normal” again.
But I did it. I picked myself up, replenished my stress hormones, and got back to that relaxed (parasympathetic) state. How? By doing these four things:
I know my genetics. I’m predisposed to exaggerated emotional responses with a lack of dopamine. This means that I tend to have large reactions to stressful situations and I don’t feel the same level of pleasure or reward from things that recharge others. This is important to know in a stressful situation. Discovering my genetics was life-changing; I removed years of self judgement and replaced it with an understanding of why I am without blaming myself for who I am. I learned about very specific supplements that support my exact nutritional needs based on my genetics. (Two of these are Dopaplus and Sereniten Plus, which help me make dopamine and stay away from that reaction loop.)
When I want to wash down an entire pizza with a bottle of red wine, I recognize that it’s my neurotransmitters talking, not me. I quickly see it for what it is: my body acting out from a lack of the proper nutrients it needs to keep me balanced. So, I eat a healthy diet. This typically means balanced protein in each meal, an abundance of vegetables, and some healthy fats. If I’m on the road, I use a high-quality powder like Designs for Health Pure Paleo as my protein source.
I go for a 45-minute walk outside—rain or shine. Because if there’s one thing that our neurotransmitters love building from, it’s exercise! For me, that means plugging into a podcast (I’m obsessed with the Armchair Expert) and moving my body in a way that works for me. One of the reasons I encourage my clients to test their genetics is so we can find out what style of exercise is the most beneficial for them with the least risk of inflammation or injury.
Lastly, I talk to a friend. I have 2-3 friends who I know have the same reactions as I do. I start by asking if they have space for a conversation, then I say, “I’m having a tough day, can I share with you?” It’s truly amazing what this connection can do. Being seen, heard, and accepted in an unconditional way is powerful. I was recently speaking with a friend whom I admire, and she admitted that she had also hit a slump and was frustrated. I told her that knowing that someone as successful and intelligent as she is has these days too helped me accept my own moods more, and I thanked her. (One note here: trust your emotions with people who have earned that trust. And always ask if they have space first—sometimes people are already at their limit and aren’t able to carry your issues at that moment—but it has nothing to do with you. If you don’t share this common ground with a friend, reach out to a counsellor).
Obviously it’s ok to not feel ok sometimes. Like anyone, I’m not immune to getting stuck in a reaction loop. But in many cases, there are workarounds, and the ways I’ve learned to mitigate my reaction state are nearly always effective.
If you suspect that you’re living in a stressed state more than one hour a day, and you’d like to know how your genetics can support a healthier way of being, book a free 15 minute consultation with me. I may not have the answers about how long this situation will last—seriously, what is going on in the world?—but I can certainly help you add tools to your kit that will make the ride a bit easier.