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Sunday, June 20, 2021

Dealing With The Stress Response

Dear Melanated Sister and Brother

You are indeed strong. You have shown a strength, and power throughout history that is unmatched. You have been called God many times. But my sister, my brother you are also human, and sometimes it is indeed too much.

We have been so used to internalising our stresses that we do not realise what it is doing to our bodies. The symptoms we experience seem unrelated, but ‘fight or flight’ is real.

So what is fight or flight?

Is our bodies response to a threat. It is designed to prepare our bodies to either fight the threat e.g a lion or run away from it. It is a useful response short term. This response diverts blood from the digestive and reproductive system to our muscles so we can move, our eyes dilates, our hearts work harder,  our body speeds up the conversion of stored energy so we are ready to act in a moments notice.

What is important to note is our body doesn’t change its ‘fight flight’ behaviour because our perceived threat is our boss, or aunty and not a lion. Our modern day lives mean that we can be in ‘fight or flight’ mode for days, weeks or years. So imagine having that blood flow impacted longterm, imagine all that energy your body has released into the blood, all that sugar that you are not using because you aren’t moving, imagine being in this resource intensive state long term and the drain it will put on your body? Is it a surprised that our immune, endocrine, digestive and neurological systems are often the casualties? I have been there. So what did I find most helpful

Remove yourself from the toxic environment

We have a Dangme proverb that says ‘you cannot stand in thorns to remove a thorn’, if the environment is stopping you from thriving try and get out if it in order to heal. This can involve leaving a job, cutting off connections with the toxic relative (because blood isn’t more important than your mental health) or removing yourself from social media.

But there are times when you can’t leave e.g a job. So this is where your internal work becomes more important. We have to train ourselves to see what is really happening in this toxic environment and adapt our response – point 2

Inner work

Much of how we experience life is down to our perception, our perception then shapes our response. For example, did you grow up constantly being put down and now when your boss is doing it, you think it is a reflection of you rather than your boss – who most likely is dumping his unfortunate life experiences on you. A lot of what happens is more a reflection on the person perpetuating it than you. Understanding your inner self will help you know the difference, know when to ‘return to sender’ and when to take on board constructive criticism without triggering your ‘fight and flight’ response. The ways I did this was through :

  1.          meditation – start with 2 minutes and work you way up.
  2.          learning to be present by focusing on a daily activity like making tea. I have a tea station in my room and when I wake up, I make a nice herbal tea and my aim is to focus on nothing but making and drinking that tea.
  3.          A daily ‘how you felt today and why’ journal – this is brilliant in helping you listen to your body, understand it and identify potential triggers.
  4. A gratitude journal – this is useful in helping you change toxic mindsets that focus on the negative in all situations.

Herbs and supplements

The stress response can take a lot out of us and sometimes we have to supplement. There are also brilliant calming herbs and herbs we call ‘adaptogens’ that support the body in balancing itself during times of stress. There are so many but I have placed some examples below. Definitely do your research and please speak with a doctor before taking them.

Calming herbs and Sedatives

  1. Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla)
  2. Lemon balm (Melissa Officinalis)
  3. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

Adaptogens

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)

Tumeric (Curcuma longa) – not often listed as an adaptogen but its one powerful root with a range of benefits. It deserves its place here.

Supplements

Magnesium

Zinc

Diet

When you are stressed we often go for the quick release carbs, sugar and junk food – the exact opposite of what we need, in fact they make the situation worse. The link to the gut and brain has been established. Also remember that the digestive system is impacted in the stress response – this isn’t the time to aggravate it with junk. Also with the stress response being so resource intensive it is even more important to feed the body with rich, nutrient dense foods like your vegetables. Have a  good amount of fibre and water, and definitely limit the junk and sugar. One of my favourite recent additions is stinging nettle leaves (cook it first to get rid of the sting and you can use it in foods that require cooked spinach) it is high in Vitamins A, B complex, C, D, K and in the minerals Calcium, Magnesium, Manganese, Boron, Chromium, Phosphorus, Iron, Potassium- you see how amazing it is?

Another aspect is giving the digestive system some rest by not eating constantly. Try limit the constant snacking or eating at all times of the day. Intermittent fasting has numerous benefits, or even simply having a decent break between meals. But again please see your doctor regarding any new diet plan.

By Naa Adjeley Gborjorr aka Tsofanye

Student herbalist and cultural researcher

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