Stressing Is Stressful. Here’s What To Do Instead.

(audio transcript below)

Welcome to AIM For Health, Root-Cause Conversations with Dr. James Biddle. All content from the conversations in this podcast are created and published for informational purposes only. This is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on for personal medical decisions. Always seek the guidance of your doctor with any questions you have regarding a medical condition now onto the show.

Hi, this is Dr. James Biddle and we are doing a show today called ask Dr. Jim Bob, and we’re Asheville Integrative Medicine. Today is the 24th of June, 2020. And I have our new patient coordinator, Joy Lambert to help us out. Hi joy.

>>    Hello Dr. Jim Bob!

What are we talking about today?

>>   So we had a client in the office last week, commenting on how much she enjoys listening to the podcast. And she asked us if we would be willing to talk about stress and the mind body connection?

Absolutely. It is very useful. Please do send your questions in and we are happy to tackle them.

>>   We want to know what you want to know.

And obviously this is a huge topic, as most of them are, so we have to pick out the biggest part and here’s the thing. Our brains are so big and so efficient that we can no longer tell the difference between what we think and imagine, versus what is happening in physical reality. So it used to be, when you look at your animals, like your cat or your dog, they’re pretty much in the present moment, right? Unless they’ve developed some really bad neurosis, but you know, when a fireworks are going off, your dog is very, very frightened. But they’re not still frightened two weeks later.

>>  No, they’ve forgotten about it.

Right, they don’t think about it. But we think about it. We have great memories and we run that over and over in our head. And for us the fireworks are still going off, and they can go off 80 years later. So we’ve got to diffuse that, and there are many ways to do that. That’s deep work. What we like for people to do themselves…we like EFT, “Emotional Freedom Technique” also called tapping.

>>   Tell me about that.

When you tap …you use your body. I like mind body therapies. So you’re using your acupuncture points and your acupuncture meridians, and you’re tapping on them at the same time, you’re doing affirmations such as, “I deeply and completely accept myself. Even though I have this issue, I deeply and completely accept myself.” And meanwhile, I’m tapping on these acupuncture points above my eyebrows and next to my eyes and on my face.  And that’s a way you can work on stuff yourself. Now, if you have actual PTSD, you can possibly trigger yourself too much trying to work by yourself. So then you want to work with a therapist and the best therapy for that is called E M D R.

>>   And what does that stand for?

Eye Movement, Desensitization and Reprogramming. And that was developed originally on Vietnam Vets who were hospitalized for years with PTSD. And they wake up in the night with these terrible nightmares. That would be the same nightmare and never finish. And it comes from the knowledge that when we dream and process our eyes flitter back and forth side to side.

>>   The rapid eye movement.

Yes, REM sleep. And that’s how we process things. And so they would have these vets go through the story of their dream while they’re doing this rapid eye movement with a therapist.

And when they would get to the right place and actually get a process, then the next night the vets would go back and have that nightmare again, but it would finish and then it’d be done and then we wouldn’t have anymore. And now they can be discharged after 20 years in the psych ward.

>>   What a relief.

What a relief, right!? So this is a way to help your body process old traumas. And this is what we like to refer people out for when they really have deep seated trauma, especially childhood trauma or some big trauma. Luckily most of us don’t have that bad of traumas so we can work on stuff ourselves…but that’s one of the best ways to do it. The other thing about realizing that most of the psychological stress that we experience is our own doing…

>>  Yes! You get stuck in that repetitive loop of thought. 

Right, and you think you’re powerless about that. Like, Oh, I can’t control my thoughts. And it is true. You can’t control where your thoughts flit to, but it’s also true you can control where your thoughts dwell. This is one of those powerful places where you have this point, I call the point of choice where when you recognize, when you get into the observer, and you know, it has been well-published that one of the greatest skills in life is called metacognition, and metacognition is the ability to watch yourself, to watch yourself think. And if you can develop the skill of metacognition, your whole life can change in a positive direction, because you watch what you are doing and what you were thinking. And when you develop that skill, you then develop a point of choice where you can say, do I want to continue thinking about that old trauma?

Because right now there’s a million things I can turn my attention to, right? I can listen to the air filter running. I can feel my hand on the desk. I can look at your beautiful hair, right? I can feel the breath coming in and out of me, I can look at a picture of my daughter. And I can choose where to turn my attention now and turn it away from that thing that is creating me repeated trauma by, by playing that story over and over again. Now I’m not in favor of people avoiding emotions. I believe that we should feel our emotions, but I don’t believe that just feeling the same old emotion over and over again is helpful. It just runs the groove deeper on that record player.

>>   It makes you feel stuck.

It not only makes you feel stuck. It gets you stuck. You are stuck, but you can unstick yourself by point of choice, by will. And I think one of the best ways to do that is called a gratitude journal. So when you find yourself stuck, you just grab a sheet of paper and you start writing down 10 things you’re grateful for in your life. I have enough food to eat. I’m safe, nobody’s chasing with a machete, right? I have a warm house. I have air conditioning and I have a car. I’ve got a beautiful family. I’ve got…whatever it is you have you just write those down and start to dwell on those rather than dwelling on that bad thing.  And then if you keep doing that, and maybe you do the same things over and over again, but maybe you start to find new things. You realize that you have tens of thousands of things you can be grateful for. 

>>   All the time, in every moment.

And if you dwell on those, then your stress will decrease. And it’s not just a distraction, although it is a distraction, but it’s actually a rewiring of your circuitry so that you stop running that same groove of anxiety and if you’re stuck too much in the past, then that’s depression. If you’re worried that the past is going to repeat itself into the future, that’s where the anxiety comes up. So the fact that our bodies don’t know the difference between whether the tiger is chasing us or whether we’re just thinking about the tiger chasing us – that’s the root cause of most of our stress today. And most of us are in 24/7 stress. Cause we keep it jacked up by being on social media or watching the news or problems and not being in the present moment.

>>   Yeah, that is very true. I like that perspective of observing your thoughts instead of reacting to them, because then you can take a moment and decide how you do want to consciously react to it instead of letting it just take over and control you.

Exactly. And that moment is the whole thing, you know, we all have that initial reaction. It’s hard to retrain that, but it’s that moment after that initial reaction, when we decide, am I going to stick with that and act out on that? Or am I going to take a breath and choose a different reaction!?

>>   I’ve heard of meditations where you treat your thoughts like a visualization, like clouds or waves…where you’re observing it and you see it, but you’re actually separating yourself from it so that you can kind of be still in that space and really figure out what’s going on. 

Exactly. And many people get confused about meditation because they think, “I’m still having thoughts therefore I’m not doing it right.” And that’s not it. You just don’t want to get on that train and follow it down. You don’t lasso a cloud and go off on the horizon with it.

>>   No, you just watch it drift by.

Right, and then it goes away and then you have a moment of stillness and then another thought comes and you watch it drift by….and you’ll learn a lot about yourself that way. And this is one of the ways to develop metacognition, and strengthen that muscle.

>>   The screensaver on my computer here is a field of clouds to help remind me of that. Whenever I get stuck in my thoughts.

There you go.

>>   So I have some specific questions (from listeners) about stress. We’ll dig into that and how our bodies are reacting. So we’ve been talking about emotional stress and thoughts and kind of getting stuck in those grooves. I want to talk a little bit more and get your perspective on physical stress. And then of course, which comes first, the chicken or the egg!?

Well, our emotional stress can definitely turn into physical stress, right? Because you know, our body is going to respond to our brain. Our adrenal glands are actually big nerve clusters. They’re just the end of nerves that have enlarged, and so they’re producing a lot of the same things that our nerves produce, but they’re producing so much that it travels through the bloodstream now. So then it becomes an endocrine organ and producing hormones. But it doesn’t matter if it’s a physical stressor or emotional, mental stress, the result is the same on your body..

Then there’s stressors TO your body, like I’m cold, I’m hot, I’m exercising, I’m working, I’ve got an injury…which are primarily physical and they may have a secondary mental component to it. And one of these questions is, is all stress bad? Well, obviously it’s not. We have to have stress in order to grow…and grow stronger. Now I don’t agree with that old saying whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. My brother lost his leg. It’s not growing back. That didn’t make him stronger. You know, there are wounds that leave scars that make things weaker. But there are stressors that do make us stronger and their stressors and what we call the hormetic zone. H O R M E T I C and our nurse practitioner, Kamila Fiore just wrote an article about the hermetic zone. And we use this in terms of foods and herbs.

For example, broccoli has toxins in it that amp up our detox system and our liver, which is why broccoli reduces cancer and other problems. It makes us stronger. If you were to take those same toxins and overdose on them, it could actually harm you, potentially, if you get more than you can process.d So what you want as the hormetic zone, and exercise is something we talk a lot about to be in the hormetic zone because the most important part of exercise, from our point of view is recovery. If you exercise beyond what you can recover from, then you turn exercise into work. So in exercise, you stress yourself and then you rest, you regrow, you rebuild, you get stronger, and then you stress yourself again. In work, you stress yourself and then you stress yourself, and then you stress yourself…..and pretty soon you’re old, tired and worn out.

>>   Exactly! You’ve got to recover.

So we don’t want to make exercise into work. You got to have recovery and how much you stress yourself and how much you recover. That balance is a little bit different for everybody, but you got to find your point where you can actually recover and get stronger. And that’s your hormetic zone. And it could be very different between people.

>>   Now talking about exercise makes me think, of course, of muscles. And a lot of people have a very direct correlation between how their muscles feel and their stress levels. Why is it that when we get stressed our muscles tense up and we get knots, because that’s a real physical manifestation that a lot of people experience?

Right, well, I imagine that’s just your nervous system sending those signals. The muscle tension, like your shoulders, you know, climb up to your ears and somebody comes up and before we were all physically distanced here, someone might come up behind you and put their hands on your shoulders and start to rub those muscles on the top of your shoulders, your trapezius. And you go, ahhhh, and your shoulders drop down and you realize your whole body has been holding tension. You were really kind of subconscious about.  And so our daily kind of stress, many of us hold it in our muscles that way, which is something I learned about when I went through massage school.

>>   It’s amazing what a difference that can make, just letting your muscles relax, and how that affects the frame of mind. So another question we have is can one form of stress, such as emotional versus physical, make another form of stress worse. Can your emotional stress make your physical stress worse, or can they have a synergistic effect that would just make everything worse?

Definitely synergistic. You’ve heard of ACEs – Adverse Childhood Event Score. It’s a form you fill out and basically how rough was your childhood? How many different traumas did you have during your childhood? And that score has been shown to directly correlate to how long your diagnosis list is of medical problems in adulthood. So the more traumatic stresses you have in youth, the more illnesses you’re going to have as an adult that shows how much that chronic thing is. And the thing about our thoughts is, nobody knows this for sure, but it’s estimated that 90% – 95% of our thoughts are subconscious thoughts. So we can see 5% to 10% of our thoughts, but then this subconscious belief system going on, even though we can’t see. And part of what meditation does is allow some of that to rise up from subconscious, to conscious, to be seen and dealt with.

And there’s a PhD named Bruce Lipton who wrote a book called, The Biology Of Belief, who talks about this, how our subconscious belief patterns actually affect a lot of what’s going on in our body over decades.

>>   So it sounds like you’re thinking that the ACEs score, the higher your score, the more trauma you experienced in your youth, that your adult outcome is not necessarily a function of actual physical trauma one may have experienced, but more of the emotional, psychological repercussions as we age.

Right! I mean, you could have a childhood that had zero actual physical trauma and you could still have a terrible ACEs score from the psychological trauma.

>>   And that would set you up for medical problems down the road?

Absolutely. It’s been shown. Now, I don’t believe that’s fixed. I believe that we can get in there and untie that knot to some extent, I have never seen it be completely undone. You know we do have some amount of fate in that…of what we’ve experienced is still our history. But you can see people who have had identical kind of upbringings and ACEs scores, and one ends up with terrible chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, perhaps heroin addiction, or whatever it is. And the other one unravels that some and is able to live a functional life, even though that still comes up in dealing with themselves and their interpersonal relationships.

>>   It sounds like there’s always a lot of healing we can do.

There’s always a lot of healing we can do. Yeah.

>>   Which leads me to my next question for you. So just how amazing are our bodies in our ability to recover from stress?

They are pretty amazing. And, I’ve got to say that there are things we’re stuck with.

And I talked a lot about the adrenal glands, and I’ll notice that once people have adrenal fatigue, I’ve never seen anybody ever get completely back to normal. I’ve got adrenal fatigue, I got a high ACEs score. And then I went through medical school and residency and working in the emergency room, lots of stressors. Years of stress on my adrenal glands, as well as the subconscious belief stories that were being perpetuated. Because it’s not like medical school is a place to do personal healing. You come out worse than you go in. So my adrenals are fatigued and I’ve been treating them for 25 years now. And they’re better. I don’t pass out when I stand up now, but they’re not normal. I don’t think they’ll ever be normal. So there’s ongoing support that’s needed to continue that healing. So, healing is a relative term.

>>   But that is something that we can teach people how to do, how to support those functions so that they can have more control themselves.

That’s right. 

>>   Positive control, not neurotic control!

Positive influence….I wouldn’t say it’s control. You can influence the system quite a bit by your current choices and by the current supports that you have for your health.

>>    And another question regarding stress and how we react to it, “does comfort eating, drinking, smoking, all the things that people do, kind of the creature comforts…does that actually help our stress? Does that actually comfort our body in any way?

Well, I got to get back to the hormetic zone. I think it can. And my evidence for that is alcohol and heart disease. Because nobody knows exactly how it works, but if you’re a Teetotaler, you actually have more heart attacks and more deaths from heart disease than if you have an average of about four to six drinks a week. Now, if you get up to about above 12 drinks a week, you’re back to break even. And if you get above about 20 drinks a week, then you’re going to have more problems. And alcohol is definitely bad for some things like any alcohol at all, increased over time, increases the risk of breast cancer and prostate cancer, right? But since even women, for example, are six times more likely to die from heart disease than breast cancer. The stats work out then a little bit of alcohol can be very good. And the only theory I’ve ever heard for why that is, is as a stress reliever, because we know that stress increases heart attacks. When are most heart attacks? First thing, Monday morning, I mean does your body know that it’s Monday? I mean, we just created the calendar. We made all that up, you know, on Monday is no different than any other day, except for the fact that you had to get up and go to work and you don’t want to.

>>   And a lot of people have trouble falling asleep on a Sunday evening, specifically.

That’s right.

>>   Because you start thinking about what will the week bring and what’s going to happen and am I prepared?

And so there’s those stressors. So a little bit of alcohol for example has been shown to have definite health benefits. And you got to say that that’s one of the stress relievers, and perhaps some drinking and eating and different things….and sometimes those come with a social context. So the social context is one of the best stress relievers. And that’s one of the challenges right now. And we’re trying to not say social distancing, but physical distancing. We want people to stay socially connected. However, you can do it, whether that’s a meeting outside and having a drink for happy hour, but sitting outside six feet away from each other, but you’re still able to connect emotionally. It’s very important to do that. So I do think those things, but obviously if you go overboard with stress eating, with stress drinking with smoking things that are legal in some States, but not here, then you’re going to get past your hormetic zone, it’s going to be detrimental. So all things in moderation, this is a saying I like.

>>   And try not to judge yourself for it. If you do indulge from time to time because that probably doesn’t help stress either.

No, the judgment is a stress in and of itself.  So what are the fundamentals of managing stress?

Well, some of what you’re just talking about, you got to eat in a balanced way and especially eating the way that your blood sugar is stabilized. You want to eat in a way that you get all your nutrients. We see people who end up getting blood sugar roller coasters, and that’s a real stress, especially on the adrenal glands because when your blood sugar goes up, what goes up must come down, and then it crashes. And when it crashes your adrenal glands kick in or the fight or flight response of its own, and you get that shaky, wired, nervous feeling, and then you got to go eat something more and the blood sugar rollercoaster continues. So you want to stay off of that. You want to eat in a solid way.

>>   One thing you’ve taught me with regards to that I do keep in mind.  And it’s easy to remember if you’re going to have some sweets, pair it with a little protein, right?

Yeh, and fat and fiber. So a banana by itself is just all sugar, but a banana with almond butter on it….then you have fat fiber and protein and more nutrients. And that really changes the equation. The next is sleep, getting adequate sleep. And of course the biggest thing interrupting sleep these days is people being on their devices late at night and not being able to start their melatonin cycles on time. I’ve heard it said that an hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours after midnight. So the old Benjamin Franklin early to bed early to rise makes it makes the person healthy, wealthy, and wise. So, you know, get to sleep by 10:00, 10:30 or 11pm at the latest. And don’t be looking at screens for an hour before your bed.

Don’t have your phone right next to your bed, put it across the room to charge to get away from it….to decrease your EMF’s and you know, sleep hygiene is way important. We talked about that with almost every patient…and having your room very dark, decreasing your EMF’s and having a regular schedule. So you can only change your sleep schedule by an hour a day. So if you’ve got to get up, at seven o’clock on Monday morning, then you want to get up at eight o’clock on Sunday morning, nine o’clock on a Saturday morning. Cause if you sleep in later than that, you’re going to really be stressing your body when you do get up earlier.

>>   Well, another thing to think about with the EMF’s at night and the screen time is not only do you have the blue light, but what are you looking at right before you go to bed? Do you want to be watching the news? Do you want to be looking at everyone’s opinions on social media? That’s just compounding the stress factor of things to think about.

Right! Because you’re probably going to change some reason opinion on social media, right? You’re going to make that comment that just changes somebody’s life changes their opinion.

>>   Right, ha ha ha….that’s why I got away from social media.

And then exercise… a lot of people can’t go to the gym right now, but you got to find a way to keep active and getting outside, which kind of combines with nature. If you can get out and just go for a walk, get a touch of nature. In Japan, I understand they have this tradition called forest bathing…where you just you’re in the forest for a certain amount of time. And you’re bathing in the energies of the forest. And luckily we’re blessed to have lots of forest around here and you can get out and still find some nature. So those are really the fundamentals.

You to sleep right, you eat right, you get exercise, and you get out in nature. And then you journal and especially gratitude journal. Now also if you have some bad thoughts…if you have some adverse emotions and thoughts running circles in your brain, journaling those can also be very useful. I can find if I just roll over, grab my journal and write them down, then I don’t have to feel like I have to continue to try to problem solve them. And then I can let go of them and go to sleep.

>>   You got it out!

And then you might follow that up with some things like, “okay, so that’s what I’m worried about. Now, what am I grateful for?” And then you can lay there and count sheep and count your blessings. Sheep are your blessings.

So do we have any more questions about stress?

>>   That covers it for now…because as you said, it’s kind of a tip of the iceberg subject, right? So I think this is a great start.

Alright….but if you all have questions about anything and we like to make these questions more widely applicable, not just like, how should I change my blood pressure medicine? But if you have a question, like, for example, what causes blood pressure, what are the three main reversible causes of blood pressure? We’d love to tackle those types of topics, just send them in. And where would they send those to?

>>   They’re going to be emailing those to:, which is my email address here, the practice. So I’d love to get those questions and use them for upcoming podcasts.

If you want to see more about what we do, just go to and we’ll talk to you next week.


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