Stress Management: Tapping Into Your Biology to Reduce Stress

11/09/2010 08:51 am ET | Updated May 26, 2011

In 1981, I sat quietly at the table in our favorite hangout bar in Fort Collins, Colorado, the blonde across the table smiled. My heart sped, the blood vessels in my face dilated and a feeling of warmth filled my whole body. I didn't know it then, but the woman across from me would eventually become my wife. Remembering that day still makes me smile and flush. My office manager thinks it's cool that I light up when she drops by our office for a quick visit even though we have been married three decades.

Romance is fun, but this story makes me acutely aware of how subtle changes can have powerful effects in our body, mind and spirit. Sometimes, a very delicate communication is far more powerful than a much more forceful one. We see this in dosing herbs, homeopathics and drugs, as well as in our relationships with other people and animals.

This really isn't a surprise. The body works naturally on very small levels of chemical mediators. Here are a few of those:

  1. A tiny amount of thyroid hormone brings about vast changes in the condition of the tissues. A small fluctuation in blood sugar changes the actions of the pancreas as it secretes insulin to regulate the uptake and usage of sugar.
  2. When one of the body's immune cells -- called a macrophage -- ingests a foreign protein, it secretes a few molecules of powerful substances known as cytokines. Cytokines act as communication particles which direct a host of immune responses. A storm of cytokines can kill a patient rapidly. A few of them direct and bring about healing.
  3. A single tiny puncture of the intercellular matrix triggers an instantaneous response involving the entire body. That tiny reaction rapidly amplifies into the response that is one reason why acupuncture works in assisting healing.
  4. The miniscule alteration in electrical potential leads to cellular electrical changes that allow the immune system to function, the heart to beat, the brain and nervous system to function, and as Huffington Post blogger Dana Ullman recently wrote, modern science is just beginning to discover how to measure and research how subtle energies are part of the normal functioning of our bodies. Without these subtle energies the entire body may not function optimally. And we can use this information to create health and support healing.
  5. By simply shining a red light on a small spot of skin can bring about changes in blood supply and cellular repairs. Fibroblasts move and change their action quickly when exposed to pulsing light. Those photons from the light cause effects that no drugs can.
In medicine we frequently get caught up in the fancy machinery and powerful drug therapies, but we should always remember that health and healing begin with gentle, subtle energies, communication and control systems that work on very small changes. This is more than philosophical. It's life-saving. Let's look at emotions for a minute. The word "emotion" means energy in motion. Our emotions reflect our thoughts and intentions. Our animals are very perceptive of the emotional states of those around them. Dogs, as pack animals, will mirror our emotional content as they normally would mimic the emotional response of their pack leader. That means if we are happy then they tend to reflect that emotion. That is creating health. When my wife to-be smiled at me in that bar, a host of physiological changes took place. This happens when any one smiles at us and we see them and smile back. Happiness makes our immune systems work better, and it does the same thing for our pets. Chronic fear, grief, anger and stress makes our immune cells less effective. When a body is stressed it releases cortisone. This hormone assists the body initially by increasing sugar levels and allowing the body to live under difficult circumstances. If the stress lasts too long then the cortisone suppresses the immune system, damages the gastrointestinal lining, makes the body less responsive to other hormones like insulin, and blocks the body from being able to cycle through its normal fluctuations of acid and gel phases. A stressed body cannot heal optimally. It cannot repair properly. Such a body ages prematurely, but if we diminish the stress, reduce the fear, increase our understanding, improve the communication and take other steps toward addressing the correct cause of the stress, then the body can begin to manifest its normal care, control and repair systems.

I've seen clients who are constantly terrified that their pets will get sick. These people continually worry and every time they look at their pet, they get nervous and fearful. The pet can become stressed by this behavior and because it is stressed, its hormonal pattern changes and it can become ill. In many of these cases simply informing the owners of the fact that their pets mirror their behavior can lead to rapid improvement in the pet's condition. That knowledge leads them to awareness of how their actions can positively affect their pet's health. It is empowering to know you can do things or stop doing things to create healthier conditions.

Here are some simple ways to handle stress in our lives:

  • Associate with people who help us live better, understand things more clearly and who don't sell things that depend upon our fear but rather on our improved awareness and ability.
  • Search for data that supports the natural, biological mechanisms of the body. Things that are toxic or suppressive may have therapeutic use, but healing comes from cooperating with biology, not by fighting it.
  • Stress is part of life, but be aware of your emotional state and the fact that you can change it by choice. If you find yourself afraid or worried, seek out correct information and understand the area more completely. Relax and smile joyfully for your breath and then once you note your breathing, then proceed with whatever you are working on.
  • Realize that the larger part of damage from stress comes from feeling there is nothing you can do about a situation. This is rarely true, so if you are stressed smile and state, "I will learn more about this and take steps to improve the condition." The moment you stop worrying and begin acting effectively your stress levels begin to fall, and your chances of being effective increase.
  • Separate your emotions from outcomes. Be happy because you are alive. Be happier when you are moving towards your goals but realize that your goals are not you, but rather the results of your decisions and actions. These can always be adjusted to improve your survival potential.
  • Connect with others spiritually, mentally and emotionally. Take those connections as your most valuable and cherished treasure. You are never alone if you have these connections. There is a reason that those who pray experience less stress. Spiritual health creates ease and relieves "dis-ease" (dis-ease -- meaning "not at ease."). Many of my clients find this simple prayer is helpful in reducing stress. Simply ask, intend or command, "Divine Intent Manifest," then relax and see what happens.

And that all begins with a smile, a caring, healing touch, a gentle conversation that effectively conveys how the body works, how powerful and amazing life's systems of repair truly are and a realization that we can do simple things to improve health. And simply realizing that there is SOMETHING that can be done actually reduces stress and helps us transition from stress and anxiety to more constructive emotions and actions.

If we seek truth we find healing. Bodies like that. So do I.