For the fourth edition of our Soul Sessions Expert Interview Series, we spoke with Dr. James, an internal medicine doctor.
Dr. James shares how stress affected her during her studies at med school and the natural alternatives she found to help reduce her stress.
I’m sure the journey to becoming a doctor can come with quite a bit of stress. Can you share with us a bit about your personal experience with it?
“Going into the field of Medicine has been so rewarding and something I have always dreamed of, but with it has come tremendous stress, sometimes quite unbearable stress. As I navigated through my undergraduate studies, trying to get into medical school, I was constantly stressed about getting the best test scores and doing the right extracurricular activities to make myself stand out. I thought, I just have to be accepted and then the stress will stop.”
Did your stress affect your mood or take a toll on your relationships in any way?
Once in medical school, my stress did not stop. I kept striving for perfect grades, test scores, performance, etc.
“At times, probably more often than I’d like to admit, the stress and anxiety built up so much that I became short tempered, impatient with those I love, and I began feeling less joy. I felt lost, and I knew I had to make big changes in my life.”
I can imagine! What are some other things stress can affect?
“Chronic stress puts our bodies in “fight or flight” mode and causes release of the hormone, Cortisol (aka “stress hormone”). Stress can be emotional, physical or mental, each of which are perceived by the body the same way and result in cortisol release. Think about if you were in a life-threatening situation...Fight or Flight...what would your body need? Cortisol exerts its effects in such a way that it is trying to help the body survive a life-threatening situation. So how does this affect our bodies?
Well, cortisol relocates fat cells to our abdomen in efforts to protect vital organs and thereby increases central adiposity. (accumulation of fat in the lower torso around the abdominal area.) It also tells the liver to create more sugar. The problem is at the same time it is also causing cells to be in an insulin resistant state. A double whammy. More sugar is now in the blood, but the cells are unable to utilize this sugar without the effects of insulin (hormone that tells cells to use sugar). Now the cells are effectively starving causing signals to be sent to the brain to eat, leading to overeating.”
“Cortisol also is anti-inflammatory, which is good in short doses, but when chronically high it creates issues. If inflammation is suppressed for too long it will decrease the effectiveness of the immune system and create increased susceptibility to contracting illnesses, as the body is not able to exert its defense mechanisms against foreign invaders.”
When it comes to the GI system, cortisol slows things down and impairs digestion and absorption. This can manifest as indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers or even leaky gut.
What have you found to be some of the best ways to reduce stress naturally?
As mentioned before, my stress and anxiety got to the point that I was always on edge and emotionally labile. Initially I reached for medication for relief. After a couple months, I did in fact feel better, however I didn’t want to take a prescription medication and realized I should maximize alternatives first.
“So, with that, I began incorporating more natural methods of stress relief in my life. This included making time to exercise, meditate, practice deep breathing and utilizing CBD.”
- Exercise- Physical activity, such as walking or yoga, is a great way to reduce levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as cortisol, while also helping to boost the production of your brain’s “happy” hormones known as endorphins. Exercise can also help to improve the quality of your sleep, which can be negatively affected by stress. Lowering the intensity of your workout is important
- Meditation- The best part about meditation is that you can practice it anytime, anywhere- by just taking 10 minutes out of your day to focus your attention and eliminate any thoughts on your mind causing stress, you can produce a deep state of relaxation, giving you a sense of calm and improving your emotional well-being and overall health.
- Deep Breathing- By practicing deep breathing, you’re able to send a message to your brain to relax and calm down, helping to reduce stress levels. The 4-7-8 breathing technique is a great place to start: close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for a count of 7, then exhale completely through your mouth for 8 seconds-this counts as one breath.
- CBD- By interacting with our Endocannabinoid System, a system that plays a role in regulating different functions such as memory, mood, pain and sleep, CBD is able to act on the brain’s receptors for serotonin to help you feel less anxious, happier and calmer.
I’ll admit I was hesitant to try CBD at first, as I did not want to use any product with THC. Finding Soul CBD, with products that are grown organically in the US, THC FREE, and third party-lab tested, I decided to give it a try. I had no expectations, but I was so pleasantly surprised with the outcome.
“The CBD, likely in combination with my other lifestyle changes, really helped relieve the feeling of my chronic stress and anxiety. I feel more like myself, with more energy, and less of a weight carrying me down. I even got my husband to use Soul CBD, and he is loving the results too.”
I will say, I absolutely believe in the power of prescription medication, and if on a medication currently, please speak with your doctor before attempting to come off of it.
For more information about Dr. James, follow her on IG @doctorsheridanjames.