How to Decrease Stress Through Nervous System Regulation

Polyvagal Theory is a term thrown around quite a bit in the world of counseling and functional medicine, but how does it play a role in our stress responses in the day-to-day? That’s what this episode focuses on. This is a deep dive into understanding what it means to be in a state of “fight, flight, or freeze,” and how to support your body in healing so that you can become more stress resilient!

Carly Stagg is a former nutritional therapist turned family nurse practitioner specializing in functional medicine. Her professional practice focuses on autoimmunity, hormone balance, and thyroid care, as well as complex chronic conditions such as mold, Lyme, PANS and PANDAS with a nurturing, gentle approach. She is passionate about the innate self-healing capacity of the body and especially practicing medicine in a way that supports the body in regaining balance rather than competing with its natural state. She currently sees patients via telehealth at Ritual Functional Medicine. She has partnered with Chelsea Blackbird in creating the upcoming School of Christian Health and Nutrition, a 9-month training program focused on empowering and equipping those who feel called to work in the field of health and nutrition.

Download and listen to this episode here or find wherever you get podcasts.

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How Adverse Childhood Events Impact Your Health

The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that controls impulses and helps to manage behavior. This area is rapidly developing all throughout childhood and adolescence. Many people don’t realize that chronic stress can shrink the prefrontal cortex and inhibit proper decision-making. So what happens when a child encounters trauma or chronic stress? This interview breaks down what adverse childhood events are, and how the brain and body responds to them.

Patrick Wanis, PhD, helps people rapidly change their behavior. As a Human Behavior & Relationship Expert, Wanis has developed SRTT therapy (Subconscious Rapid Transformation Technique) and is now teaching it to other practitioners. Wanis has also developed multiple online psychological and behavioral assessments on Emotional Intelligence, Empathy, Mindfulness, Relationship Breakups, Self-Defeating Behavior, Individual Core Values, and Authenticity. His clientele ranges from celebrities and CEOs to housewives and teenagers.

CNN, BBC, FOX News, MSNBC & major news outlets worldwide consult Wanis for expert insights and analysis on relationships, sexuality, human motivation, trauma, communication, body language, and persuasion. Over five million people have read Wanis’ books in English and Spanish.

Download and listen to this episode here or find wherever you get podcasts.

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Real Talk About Trauma

For most of my life, I didn’t view my trauma as Trauma. Yes, I was diagnosed with PTSD; yes, I dissociated; yes, I struggled with nervous system dysregulation… but I minimized my trauma.

It was just one thing that happened to me on one day when I was a child. It wasn’t ongoing. There are people who experience much worse than me.

When I minimized the trauma, I minimized the effects.

Everyone dissociates once in awhile, right? It’s not uncommon to view yourself outside of yourself when you look back on memories, right? Everyone has episodes of depression during April, right? We all are just waiting for the next big tragedy, right? None of that really MEANS anything.

That’s what I believed.

Add to that thought pattern all the ways we talk about trauma: we use phrases like big T, little t… say things like, “real trauma is only seen in war veterans…” or “trauma is just part of life.”

I minimized my trauma, and I minimized the effects, over and over again.

In high school I wrote an essay about the unique scents of each season and the memories attached (it actually became a finalist in a state writing competition, you know I have to throw that in there). In this essay, I described how the scents of spring felt sad to me because they reminded me of my grandpa’s traumatic death on my front lawn. Even when I wrote the words at the age of 17, I didn’t understand the effects of that trauma the way I do now.

Now I understand that because of that trauma, I dissociated often. I stared off into space randomly, sometimes in the middle of engaging conversations. In the early aftermath of the trauma, I was frequently sick with stomachaches and infections, namely tonsillitis and bronchitis. When an emergency situation arose, I froze, and watched everything that happened outside of my body until I felt safe to return to it.

None of this was intentional, and that is important to understand when we are talking about trauma. These responses were the ways that my brain protected me from a repeat injury. These were signals from my brain to my body, so that my body could go on alert and keep me safe in the way it was designed to.

We all, at some point in our lives, will experience trauma. It may not impact your brain and body the way it impacted me. But it will happen, and it will impact you, if it hasn’t already.

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How to Survive Stress Without Burning Out

It is well-known that chronic stress contributes to chronic disease. Research shows that as much as 90% of illness is attributed to the impact of stress. Finding a way to manage stress in our very busy world of constant notifications is a challenge. So I was excited to connect with Erica Cuni for this recent podcast episode. Spoiler: multiple listeners have written in to tell me that this is their favorite one!

Erica Cuni, known as “The Burnout Professor,” is a stress and burnout expert. She teaches high-achievers how to consciously thrive through an integrative approach. Erica is the founder of “The C.U.N.I. Method” – which stands for Create Undeniable Natural Impact. She is a former Trauma Psychotherapist, Clinical Director, and Adjunct Lecturer and Clinical Professor at Central Connecticut State University. Her mission is to help make the mental health field more effective, accessible, decolonized, and non-stigmatizing.

Download this episode here or listen wherever you get podcasts.

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75 Hard? That’s a Hard Pass… And Here’s Why

To all my hard-working, go-getting, goal-digging female friends:

Oh, how I wish I could sit you down and tell you how amazing you are and how hard your body works for you to keep you alive. How I wish you could truly see yourself the way I do. I would tell you to take a big deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. I would remind you that your body is safe. Your body is on your side.

Instead, I see the pressure. The pressure to punish the female body. To do extra hard things (as if your body isn’t working hard enough already). The latest and greatest in this masochistic movement masquerading as “discipline” is the 75 Hard program.

In case you’re unfamiliar, let me break it down for you.

In a program designed by a man (we’ll get back to that in a minute), it aims to promote mental toughness by engaging in the following activities DAILY for 75 days. Apparently, if you mess up, you start over.

  1. Follow any food plan designed for your goals, but zero alcohol and no cheat meals.
  2. Complete two 45-minute workouts every day – one of them outside.
  3. Every day, drink a gallon of water.
  4. Every day, read 10 pages of an educational or self-improvement book.
  5. Every day, take a picture of your progress.

Okay, at first glance it really seems like a great combination of holistic health – we’ve got the food piece, the movement, hydration, internal processing…. but hold up. A picture? Every day?

That’s the first thing that stands out to me that is troubling. I’ve posted many times about my personal issues with before and after pictures, so I can’t imagine the obsession a daily picture would create in me. I can just picture myself zooming in on every single roll, bulge, speck, spot, zit, crease, and stance. Making sure my pose is the exact same every day, or sucking in, not sucking in, sticking the hip out here, booty out there. Man, by the time picture time is over I could’ve been reading my 10 pages from a book! This seems to be quite triggering for anyone who struggles with body image issues – which is probably the exact type of person targeted for a program like this. Big nope for me.

Now, let’s get back to the whole “program started by a man” thing. I’m sure Andy Frisella is a very motivating person. He’s a CEO of a large company, and he gets things done. He’s created a movement. But Andy’s body is driven by a different kind of rhythm in order to get work done – the circadian rhythm. And while we females have a circadian rhythm as well, we also have something called an infradian rhythm. And where we are in that infradian rhythm – meaning, which phase of our menstrual cycle we fall into – makes a huge difference in how our bodies are going to be functioning optimally.

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Yoga for Mental Health and Stress Resilience

Yoga isn’t just a “fitness trend.” There is so much data to support yoga as treatment for mental illness, trauma, and stress management.

In this episode, yoga instructor Luci Davis shares her love of yoga in a practical, helpful way! Download here or listen wherever you get podcasts.

Luci is the founder of “Pajama Yoga with Luci.” She began practicing yoga in 2006 following surgery and treatment for thyroid cancer. She believes yoga was integral to her recovery physically, mentally, and emotionally. Her motto is “practice with the body you have today.”

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Stress and Your Immune System

I’m going to keep this short and sweet, but it needs to be said.

When you’re stressed, your body isn’t prioritizing immune health.

When you’re stressed – and this includes physical stress as well as emotional – your body’s main job is prioritizing survival of the stressor. All other functions get altered in order to survive.

Healing can only occur in a parasympathetic state. Learning to manage stress and actively rest, limiting stressful external physical triggers as well as negative self-talk, gives your body a chance to heal…which optimizes immune function.

Some of us are living as if every day we are running from a saber tooth tiger. Your body doesn’t know you’re just stressed from kids’ schedules, relationship conflicts, pandemic fear, work, sleep issues, your dietary restrictions or nutrient deficiencies, and your stressful exercise routine (yeah, that’s a stressor).

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Top Brain Health Killers and How to Flip the Script

Five things will always sabotage your mental well-being:

  1. Lack of sleep.
  2. Lack of nutrients.
  3. Lack of sunshine.
  4. Lack of movement.
  5. Lack of community.

I could leave it at that. It’s a whole post in itself.

But I want to flip this, because most of us know these things on some level. However, during times of stress, we often forget to take care of ourselves. We forget that we humans are basically just plants, and plants left without care will wither and die.

We were not designed to stay inside all day, blinking back at a screen with artificial light, head and neck perpetually tilted downward while the rest of our body is unmoving, eating food that is filled with hard-to-digest chemicals and additives, with a schedule so packed we don’t make time for people who are important to us.

Yes, I know that was a massive run-on sentence. It was exhausting (and convicting) typing it out.

Times of brief stress and opposition can be helpful for the body, but when we are continuously stressed, doggy-paddling up to the surface of the water all day long, we will start to feel side effects. It will impact our physical body’s health, and it will most definitely affect our brain’s health. It will cause us to be unable to make clear decisions, show empathy, and connect well with others – because we are in survival mode.

Our bodies are amazing at survival – that’s why you’re here. You’re here because your ancestors survived during difficult times. You gain weight after you diet because your ancestors were able to store weight during famine and not die. Your digestive discomfort is physical evidence that your body knows how to respond to mental stress and anxiety. Your blood sugar fluctuates in order to adapt to emotional stressors and physical stressors on your body. Your hormones are wacky, because duh, it’s never optimal to reproduce when there is a famine or threat to your safety (remember – your body doesn’t know the difference between a stressful job or a T rex chasing you). Even your afternoon fatigue that hits you like a load is a sign that you are overflowing with stress chemicals, and your body’s response system is working properly.

Your body is doing all the right things it is supposed to do. Your body is on your side.

Continue reading “Top Brain Health Killers and How to Flip the Script”

How Stress Makes You Close-Minded

Brain health truth bomb: When I am living under chronic stress, in “fight or flight,” I am physiologically incapable of accepting other perspectives and showing empathy. My brain can’t make sense of new information, especially information that is contrary to what I believe is necessary for my survival.

This is becoming more and more apparent to me, this year especially. I typically love welcoming other perspectives and opinions, which is the reason I will interview anyone and everyone on my podcast, no matter what side they are on for any issue.

So when I’m feeling triggered by something someone says, it’s a sign to me that I am not carefully self-regulating or taking care of myself the way I need to.  I have to do a self check-in.

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How EMDR Teaches Your Brain to Process Trauma and Find Healing

Everyone has experienced trauma in some form in their lifetimes. The fact that trauma is stored in the body is well-documented, and the various tools and therapies being developed for healing continue to amaze me. This is why I was so excited to take an entire podcast episode and devote it to one revolutionary healing method!

Zach Herrin is a Licensed Professional Counselor trained in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). In this powerful episode, we discuss how trauma impacts our lives, the affect of grief, and how EMDR can be a powerful tool for healing. Download here or find it wherever you get podcasts!

Key Topics:

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  • Why is a trauma focus important in counseling?
  • How do you know if you have trauma?
  • The connection between grief and trauma
  • The history and science behind EMDR
  • Who can benefit from EMDR
  • The methodology behind EMDR
  • Kids and EMDR
  • The importance of emotional vulnerability

Learn more about Zach’s practice at solacecounselingcenter.com.