Of course we eat certain foods as a delicious treat to reward ourselves, but it is also common knowledge that we eat these same foods as a medication to soothe our mental well being. We encounter stress at work, and we temper it with a couple doughnuts brought in by a coworker. Our ornery kids not only drive us crazy, they also drive us to the pantry for something to nibble on in the moment, maybe a few cookies can take your mind off the chaos of little ones screaming about the house. After a long stressful day, it is oh so easy to sit down in front of our televisions while eating an entire pint of our favorite ice cream to reward ourselves for getting through another tough day. The problem though, soothing our souls through food is the equivalent of placing a Band-Aid on an axe wound. It does not work in the long run and we are often worse off when we do not change our ways. It is fact, many of us who have, or have had weight problems, also have emotional issues that run deep. Reaching for junk foods to ease our troubled minds can be just as harmful as burying our pain in drugs or alcohol. It is a fact, people often eat themselves to death over the course of several years.
For many people, being overweight is a result of self esteem issues. As odd as it may sound to some, there are indeed people who suffer from weight issues who feel as if they do not deserve to be thin. We know this through personal experience, interaction with clients, and through research and study of good people on weight loss programs. Many people, men and women, lack the self esteem required to control their weight. Women are known to also place the needs of others over their own needs, especially the needs of their spouse, their children and grandchildren.
Self esteem often comes from two forces; when we overcome obstacles and when we accomplish goals. When it comes to weight management, think of what happens to your mind when you cannot overcome the obstacle of an open package of cookies, or when you cannot accomplish your goal of reaching a certain weight in an arbitrary amount of time that you have set for yourself. These “failures” often result in a rapid lowering of our self esteem. Many people will often project that they no longer care, but deep inside, they are still horribly troubled individuals no matter how they appear on the outside. This is why we believe in keeping life as simple as possible and lay out a program that is not full of strict standards except for excluding sugar and simple carbs from your lifestyle. People often fail at diet and exercise regimens simply because they can get too caught up in minutiae that is really not helpful to living a healthy life. There can be too many rules to follow, which quite often only leads to failure at the program which keeps people in a constant state of yoyo dieting coupled with a never increasing drop in self esteem each time they fail at some convoluted diet.
There is no doubt in my mind, this all sounds familiar to many of your reading this. Of all the actions in life we take, eating is one we should be able to control, but it is obvious from the obesity epidemic that controlled eating is quickly becoming a thing of the past. We have a problem in that food brings us a temporary sense of joy, but this temporary fix is about like fixing the leaking foundation of your home with spackling compound. It looks good in the moment, but the first time it rains, the water will soon find its way to trickle back though the crack in your foundations wall. Could this be a part of a cycle for you?
Do you long for something deeper in life?
When you cannot find it, do you eat in order to feel better?
Do you feel lousy when you gain weight?
Do you feel that you do not deserve to be at a healthy weight because you can’t keep weight off?
Has your self esteem ever suffered from not overcoming obstacles or accomplishing the goals you have set for yourself?
And then you self medicated with food…
People use food as a cover up for their emotions, they can be terrified at the thought of actually getting to a healthy weight. It is one of the reasons we have seen people do exceptionally well at losing weight, only to regain it when they have become close to reaching their goals. It is a simple fact that being fat gives people an excuse to fail, an excuse to be depressed, and an excuse to chow down on a large chunk of cake where no one can see what they are doing. I know this from personal experience, when I left my military career, I felt as if I had lost my identity. This coupled with my PTSD is how I found myself more than once sitting on my kitchen floor eating canned frosting from a can with a spoon. I have been there my friends, I write from not only my Nutritional Consultant certification, but from living the life of one who has self medicated with food. This cycle can be kicked when you set your mind to that of being sick and tired of being sick and tired of how you are living out your days. You need to drop this psychological baggage off at your local landfill, it is unnecessary weight that only serves to further pull you down. When you understand that you may use food as a painkiller as a solution to your daily problems, it becomes easier to actually fix your life with this knowledge.
To fix any problem, you must first actually understand it.
Join us here at David’s Way to Health and Fitness, subscriptions are free and easy to all. We can also be found on Facebook @ David’s Way to Health and Fitness, Sugar Free Living. Help spread the word, we are here to help!
The allostatic load is defined as the cost of chronic exposure to elevated or fluctuating endocrine or neural responses resulting from chronic or repeated challenges that the individual experiences as stressful. There is a difference between being stressed and being stressed out. Stress is a necessary function of survival while repeated negative stress increases the allostatic load to the breaking point. This negative over-loading is a major contributor to fat deposition, changes in brain structure, atherosclerotic plaques, left ventricular hypertrophy of the heart, glycosated hemoglobin, sustained hyperglycemia, high cholesterol with low high-density lipoprotein, increased oxidative stress, elevated proinflammatory markers and chronic pain and fatigue. (1) We need to learn how to adapt to the demands of everyday life in a way that will reduce this killer.
Eat a Healthy Diet
We always tell you to avoid added sugars and other refined carbs. They cause inflammation in your body and insulin fluctuations that increase cortisol production. Cortisol is the “fight or flight” hormone that is so good at turning on your stress levels that it sometimes enables people to perform super-human feats. The little ole’ lady that lifts the car off of the accident victim is pumped full of cortisol. Avoid foods that tend to increase this powerful glucocorticoid. Choose a variety of whole foods that include complex carbohydrates and lean protein. The healthy fats found in olive oil, avocados nuts, seeds and fatty fish will satisfy your hunger and decrease inflammation which is a huge physical stress and the beginning of almost all disease.
Get Some Exercise
The benefits of a good workout, with your doctor’s permission, are almost too many to list. Good aerobic activity can improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels, help increase the good cholesterol in your body, lower your total cholesterol, help you manage your weight and improve your blood pressure. Only you and your doctor can find the type of exercise that is best for you. While we are heavy strength trainers, we are well aware that this type of exercise is not for everyone. Sometimes gentler exercise is better to reduce cortisol levels. You might like yoga, tai chi or qigong that directly improve stress levels through breathing techniques. Walking, low-intensity cycling and swimming are good mid-level aerobic activities that many people can enjoy.
Coming from the Deep South, highly religious, super critical background that I do, optimism was actually discouraged in the culture where I lived. There was pressure to “measure up” for appearances. Everything about me was critiqued to a near psychotic level. Almost everyone in that culture is constantly struggling with a negative outlook on life. I never accepted this. I really just want to have fun and enjoy life so I never fit into that culture. The old question about whether the glass is half full or half empty is the eternal test of optimism and the answer is David’s answer, “It doesn’t matter, refill the glass.” which leads right into another method for reducing your allostatic load.
Control Your Life
Feeling in control of your life is one of the greatest stress reduction tools that there is. Even though the glass isn’t full, knowing that you have the ability to refill it is satisfying and soothing. When I set out to remodel my life at 62, people thought that I was crazy. I was living in a situation that would make a saint cuss and probably stroke out. When I tell you to “Create Your Life.” I am not telling you to do anything that I have not done. The stress that I was living in when my home was destroyed by tornadoes was deadly and that night I changed everything. When life hands you lemons, make sugar-free lemonade. When you are in control, you are not at the mercy of every whim of society or an individual. Believing that you can affect the course of your destiny is empowering and calming. Helplessness is a health disaster. While working to effect change in your life can be hard, it’s necessary to reduce your stress. People who live large and in charge are free from the oppression that individuals and societies attempt to hurl at us. At the very least, you can ALWAYS control your reaction to insult, stress and trauma.
Like many veterans following our military careers, I had a difficult time integrating back into civilian life. I never felt like I fit in with people who had not lived the same life as I had been living. For many of us, the transition from being a high speed, low drag member of the armed forces to being just another dull cog in the wheel of life is an overwhelming anti-climatic end to the the lives we had truly excelled in. Going from a life fueled by adrenaline to one fueled by morning coffee, donuts and alcohol causes you to feel as if a heavy anchor has been connected to your ass, and you begin to not even care anymore. The more you quit caring, the more isolated you begin to feel, and this can be despite the fact you still have your family and friends surrounding you. Still, in your mind, they cannot relate to who and what you are now days compared to who you were when you were still in uniform. You see people professing to care about veterans and veterans issues, yet do not feel as if they give a damn about connecting with you as a veteran, and still you think you just don’t give a damn.
Chronic insomnia set in for me a few decades ago, and I suffered in silence.
Nightmares came in the middle of most nights, yet I suffered in silence.
The only one who knew about them was my dear wife Loraine who had to deal with my terrified screams during the night until my trucking co-driver began hearing me scream out too after I had retired to our trucks sleeper berth.
The details of my story are somewhat irrelevant as everyone can have different triggers for PTSD and Depression. Any time you get into details, people will tell you to just shrug that shit off, because they have been through worse than you. These statements may be true, or they may not be. The one saying this to you might be quietly suffering too, and like I was, just too damn ashamed to ever admit it to anyone, including those we have served with.
I finally let go of my pride and sought out help from my local VA where I underwent group therapy and individual Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I also allowed myself to begin a couple of prescription medications, one to help settle my constantly racing mind and to lower my state of constant hyper-vigilance. I was diagnosed as having severe PTSD coupled with a major depressive disorder, you cannot just shake this shit off your shoe as some would like to think. Too many with this mentality become the part of the national tragedy and statistic of being one of the 22 Veterans per day on average who take their own lives.
Healthy Nutrition for a Healthy Mind!
Let’s be real now, if you are sincere about doing something beneficial for yourself, then you have to be all in.
If you believe that therapy alone should be enough to fix your mind, you are wrong.
If you believe that medications alone are going to be your cure, you are wrong.
If you believe that you can continue an otherwise unhealthy lifestyle of eating like shit, living a sedentary lifestyle of drinking and possibly doing dope too, you are wrong!
If you go to therapy and follow that with a trip to your tavern to wash down your psychotropics, you are wasting your time and that of those trying to help you. If you want to fix your mental status then by God, you have to be proactive in your overall health and not just depend on others to be the ones who fix you. And you can do this by beginning with adopting healthy nutritional habits which will bring you great benefit overall.
Too few among us ever consider nutrition for a healthier and fitter brain despite the fact that the brain is the most important organ in the human body. If you fuel your car with bad fuel it runs like crap, the same is true of your brain. And, the most critical nutrient you can fuel yourself with for a healthy mind is glucose. Our brains use glucose as its primary source of fuel, more so than other tissues in the body. Glucose is the preferred source of fuel for the brain in any state except for starvation, when it is forced to burn fat for fuel.
And what is the healthiest source of glucose?
Your healthiest choice for complex carbohydrates are found in unprocessed foods that come from plants. When you eat these types of foods, your body breaks down the carbohydrates into glucose. Bear in mind, the closer a carbohydrate is to its natural form, the better. So that means a wide variety of veggies and fruit and beans and nuts and seeds and whole grain products and skip the damn added sugars.
For optimal brain function, appetite and mood regulation the brain doesn’t just need a good supply of glucose, it requires a steady and balanced supply. Without enough glucose, the brain’s ability to produce neurotransmitters is hampered and that can lead to mood swings, which is why people often get very irritable when they are hungry. Conversely, rapid spikes of glucose to the brain also lead to mood swings. When we suffer from PTSD and or depression, the last thing we want or need in our lives is irritability and moods swings. Eating healthy is a major component to my mental health and wellness as my blood sugar and hormones are always in balance. This is because I am proactive in maintaining my wellness!
Foods that contain fiber, or complex carbohydrates, stabilize blood sugar which helps to balance your mood. When your blood sugar spikes and drops, your mood is going to do the same. However, if keep your blood sugar balanced by having meals spaced fairly evenly, and eating every three to four hours, choosing unrefined carbs and balancing those meals with protein and fat which help delay the absorption of the glucose into the bloodstream, then you can more efficiently keep your blood sugar on an even keel for both mood stability and appetite control.
Bleached grains and refined sugar contribute to blood sugar spikes and drops because for all practical purposes much of the digestion has already occurred during their manufacturing. When you eat this garbage, all that is left for your body to do is the final breakdown where the glucose is too rapidly absorbed and your blood sugar spikes quickly. When this occurs in your body, you will find yourself once off on that roller coaster pattern with the blood sugar, your mood will soon follow into the dark abyss.
As we have written quite extensively about here at David’s Way to Health and Fitness, healthy nutrition also helps to balance inflammation, which is also linked to depression. Our wondrous brains are such active organs, there is glucose and a lot of oxygen flowing within. Our brains are a hard working tissue and just like any other tissue in the body, the brain can be potentially inflamed. Inflammation in the body in itself is actually a good thing as it is what helps our body to defend itself from injury and illness, but we also need to keep this inflammation in a healthy balance . This becomes almost impossible when you factor in western diets lean heavily towards foods that are pro-inflammatory. To create a balance, you can shift towards more anti-inflammatory foods, such as omega 3-rich fish three times a week, flax seed, sour cherries and berries, apples, pear, pomegranate, use extra-virgin olive oil for salads and cooking and anti-inflammatory spices such as ginger, rosemary, turmeric, oregano, curry, cinnamon, and eat probiotics, which are found in yogurt, kefir and sauerkraut, as well as supplements.
Again, this requires you to be proactive about your health and mental wellbeing!
You are the one who puts the foods you consume into your body, no one else is feeding you.
Healthy nutrition is that which is rich in wholesome, natural and varied foods combined with regular exercise and good rest that leads to a fitter body and mind. It’s all about enjoying life more fully with a clear and energized mind.
A Parting Thought
Often, well intentioned family and friends will try and coax a loved one in having a slice of birthday cake, or other sweet treat on special occasions.
If this would be you, please stop it.
It is not that your loved one or friend is being anti-social, it could be that momentary enjoyment that comes from that sugary concoction might be all it takes to ruin the rest of their day.
No matter how stressed we think that we might have been in times past, I do believe that we are more stressed now. As a child, I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. That was stressful. Although the events that led up to one eventful day when even the children were aware that the world might come to sudden end, this time of plague, pestilence and discontent is worse. It just won’t stop. Add the duration of this nightmare to the every day stress of simply living and it can overload every nerve. We teach to create your life. In times like these, regardless of the world that you have created for yourself, you can still be affected by the events in the world. Events in our personal lives that can overload us in every way from emotional to financial add to the burden of the pandemic and it’s just too much for some people to handle. Depression, anxiety and even suicide rates are increasing and we all know someone who has crashed or even died. Self-care is more important than ever. Stress management is critical to our survival.
Fight or Flight
Both sudden, unexpected stress and ongoing stress activate the fight or flight response. We are flooded with adrenaline and cortisol that spike our blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar. When this becomes our normal, we are in trouble. The effects of constant bombardment of these intense hormones is destructive to every system of our bodies. If we have a stress reaction and we are able to dissipate the hormones and move on, we’re usually unharmed but in recent days, this is not the case. Every day, the news sounds worse. Notice that I said “sounds”. That is key. Perception is everything. Our perception is key to our response to stress.
Wisdom of the Ages
You have all heard the old adage, “Is the glass half empty or half full?” This is a good description of your perception of stress. I love David’s perception of the glass. He says , “Some people forget that they can always refill the damn glass.” That is being proactive. Regardless of your perception of the glass, if you realize that you are in control, and take action to create the reality that you need, then the original state of the glass is irrelevant. While we cannot change the events of the World, we can control our world. There are tragic events in all of our lives that make us feel like we have no control, but even in the worst situations, we do. The key is to do all that you can to navigate those times. Knowing you have done everything that you can do to change a tragic event gives you some peace in the midst of the storm. It removes the feeling of helplessness. You are not a victim of circumstances riding the waves of the storm with tattered sails. You are the Captain of your destiny. You have chosen your path to the destination. It will be the best path, dictated by you and not the damn storm. Eat well, work out, wash your hands and be brave. Never cower. You’re stronger than that. There are over 20 different chemical reactions that occur every time you breath. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. We don’t die easily. Take control of your life.
By the Grace of God, these majestic buildings survived direct hits from three F4 tornadoes with minimal damage. They were built by man. How much more are you, being built by God, able to withstand the storms of life? You can make it. Be as strong and healthy as possible.
1-Take control of your nutrition. Cut out added sugars and excess refined carbohydrates. We do not advocate the keto diet. We do advocate eating moderate amounts of complex carbs from whole foods. Beans, apples, potatoes (both white and sweet) and oats are a few of the foods that are staples in our personal nutrition plans.
2-Stay well hydrated. Thirst is incredibly stressful. Water is our first essential element for life. Read David’s article, How Much Water Do I Need for some good information concerning hydration.
3-Make sure to get adequate amounts of protein. Read Davids article, Protein Supplements for guidelines concerning protein.
4-Exercise with your doctor’s permission. Seriously, see your doctor and ask about exercise. Do whatever he suggests. Just do something. Exercise reduces stress exponentially.
6-“Make Your World Small.” (David Yochim) Get rid of the clutter of people and stuff that drags you down. Throw out all negativity. If some of that negative input comes from people that you must interact with, set the rules. Do not allow yourself to be manipulated by negativism.
7-Interact with your pet. That’s just a no-brainer. Nothing except exercise will destress you any more than this.
8-Handle your finances. Even if you are financially stressed, take control. Work your job well. Cut out superfluous expenses that do not improve your life. Why would you spend money that you don’t have on products that are going shorten your life and make you feel bad until you die? Use some common sense. See a banker for counseling. They are happy to assist you and may offer ingenious solutions to assist you through a rough patch. You don’t have to be wealthy to get their help. Just ask. They will treat your money like theirs and help you manage it to your best advantage.
9-Stand up for yourself! Regardless of your lifestyle, as long as you are not hurting anyone, defend yourself! Always be ready to give an answer but unless it affects your livelihood, don’t feel like you have to answer to anyone. Again, be the Captain of your ship and take control. Never apologize for who you are.
10-Get help if you need it. There is no shame in psychiatric counseling.
11-All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy… Have some fun. Life’s short.
12-Think highly of yourself. Frequently stress comes from low self-esteem. Low self-esteem will make us do stupid things that can take over our lives. The opinions of strangers and dysfunctional acquaintances do not matter. You alone know your true worth. Work hard at being the best that you can be and yo won’t need the praise of the World. The freedom of the confidence that is not dependent on the number of likes you get on social media is powerful. Always remember, most of those people tapping those buttons spend most of their lives sitting, staring at their phones.
It should be common knowledge and come as no surprise that stress causes significant damage to our health and wellbeing. No matter how much we might try to avoid stress in our lives, it can weasel it’s way back in like a camel getting his nose under the side of a tent. This small, seemingly innocuous act will lead to much larger, more serious, and less desirable consequences down the line. If a camel is allowed to get its nose inside of a tent, it will be impossible to prevent the rest of it from entering. Stress can be that camel if you allow it.
For many of us, we may never be able to completely eliminate our stress, but we can take action to make the effort to mitigate how much we allow it to affect us. Learning how to mitigate the effect of stress is even more critical to those of us who are “Carb Addicted”. Stress hormones raise our insulin levels which makes most people turn to food when they are experiencing stressful situations. Carb addicts appear to be particularly sensitive to this response which is why learning stress reduction techniques are so critical to their health and well being.
Of course, the ideal life would eliminate having stress altogether, but how realistic is that? Life would be just dandy if it was all puppy dogs and rainbows. The problem is, puppies mess on the floor and rainbows fade away. Being as we cannot eliminate all the sources of stress in our lives, it is important to deal with it without compromising other areas of our lives.
Recognize stress when you see and feel it!
Learn to recognize when and how your body is responding to stress. It is easy for many of us to have stress build up to dangerous levels before we even recognize what is happening. As one who suffers from PTSD, I almost always felt like a hot, over pressurized pressure cooker waiting to explode. I can feel as if I am about to burst apart at the seams. When this happens, we can find ourselves retreating from the situation, or escalating it further which can make us feel guilty, or angry later on, or maybe a bit of both emotions. This places us under even more stress which can lead those of us who are carb addicted to eating away our emotions.
If you can learn to recognize your body’s early response to stress, you will enable yourself to have much more control over it. When you learn to exercise control over your stress, you will avoid the insulin releasing power that results in stress eating an entire pizza and a gallon of ice cream in one sitting. You will find that it becomes easier to not reach for calorically dense, nutritionally poor foods full of simple sugars. To be honest though, you might be surprised at how much cutting added sugars completely out of your life can lower your stress. Carb addiction is little different than nicotine addiction in that your body craves that which is causing those stressful cravings in the first place.
Learn to trust in yourself!
Some keys I learned in my own therapy for my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is to become sensitive to my body’s stress response. Rather than accommodating, or pushing through negative thoughts and feelings as they begin to build, we are better off when we learn to stop the process before it has fully bloomed. and focus on just what it is that is making us so uncomfortable. Is that tightness you are feeling in the back of your neck coming from being tired, or is it stress from seemingly impossible demands being placed on your life? Do you feel sick to your stomach over unfinished business with family or friends?
Is there really a good reason to crave eating carb heavy foods?
Are you hungry, or just trying to make yourself feel better?
Nursing emotions with food only serves to make you more miserable over time, and we all know this whether we want to admit it or not.
Learn to take the time to listen and learn about your body. Think about your stressful events backwards; if you lose your cool, stomp out of a room, or even quietly retreat, attempt to recapture what you were thinking or feeling before the emotional build up. Think about those thoughts or feelings, write them down if necessary, but do not place a judgment on yourself. Remain neutral in your feelings, and consider how you might react differently next time this situation arises. Remember that sometimes our stress or anger is entirely justified, however, what truly matters is what we do with this anger.
Who does it help by letting it control us?
Taking the time to learn how to move past stress and anger is critical to our own well being. This is not impossible, but it will take effort on your part. You have to choose to take charge of your emotions instead of letting them dictate your day for you..
When you find yourself under stress, you have three choices to make; you can avoid escalation, limit the duration, or you can decide exactly how you are going to let it impact you.
Avoiding escalation can alleviate back and forth emotions that keep you stressed. Know that by avoiding escalation, it does not mean that you have to hold your feelings in, but you can choose to not engage in a useless mental battle, especially with another individual. Pick and choose your battles, decide if this hill is worth dying for or not. If you ever find yourself trying to wrestle a pig, you only find yourself getting dirty while the pig enjoys it.
By limiting the duration of a stressful experience, you are taking charge of the moment. There is victory in taking charge whether you are going to get your way or not. When you understand that real victory in any stressful moment involves taking care of your body and health, you can then find yourself being able to calmly and effectively free yourself from the situation at hand.
Learn to set firm boundaries with others when they might want to argue with you. You might find the other individual is completely caught up in their own emotions, but this does not mean you have to get caught up in your own too. Stick to your guns and separate yourself until tempers have cooled on both sides. You make the choice whether you are going to remain engaged or not. You will find the more you do this for yourself, the easier it becomes.
Removing the impact of stress.
Removing the impact of stress might require removing yourself physically or mentally from a situation. Sometimes this is difficult if not impossible altogether, but there are methods to remove the impact of stress on our body and mind. For some people a hot bath or shower might be enough, but for many of us, we can find relief through vigorous exercise which is just as important for our minds as it is for our hearts. Regular exercise will bring remarkable changes to your body, your metabolism, your heart, and your spirits. It has a unique capacity to exhilarate and relax, to provide stimulation and calm, to counter depression and dissipate stress. It’s a common experience among endurance athletes and has been verified in clinical trials that have successfully used exercise to treat anxiety disorders and clinical depression. If athletes and patients can derive psychological benefits from exercise, so can you.
The vast mental benefits of regular, vigorous exercise have a neurochemical basis. Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. Endorphins are responsible for the “runner’s high” and for the feelings of relaxation and optimism that accompany many hard workouts — or, at least, the hot shower after your exercise is over.
Behavioral factors also contribute to the emotional benefits of exercise. As your waistline shrinks and your strength and stamina increase, your self-image will improve. You’ll earn a sense of mastery and control, of pride and self-confidence. Your renewed vigor and energy will help you succeed in many tasks, and the discipline of regular exercise will also help you achieve other important lifestyle goals.
If you fail to plan for your own de-stressing choices, your body will eventually push you into less productive alternatives.
Treat yourself as your own honored guest.
Take the time and energy to treat yourself well and you will find that your body will display the positive results!
The stress of caregiving induces intense feelings of being overwhelmed, loneliness, isolation and a feeling of being deserted by others. The stress may manifest by sleeping too much or too little, gaining or losing weight, chronic exhaustion, losing interest in things that you normally enjoy and getting easily irritated or angered or feeling worried or sad. You may have headaches or body aches often.
While some may argue that these symptoms are within your control, that they are perception based, there are diagnosable, measurable health problems that accompany caregiving. Depression and anxiety are common among caregivers and they can contribute to the development of heart disease and stroke. Caregivers frequently have weaker immune systems which may manifest by longer recovery times from colds or the flu. The longer the flu hangs onto you, the more likely you are to develop complications. An estimated 80,000 people died from flu and it’s complications in 2017. A weakened immune sysytem can be deadly. Obesity is common among caregivers and obesity increases your risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes as well as many other health problems. Without a doubt, caregivers are at a greater risk for developing short-term memory problems and problems with focus. This can lead to a multitude of woes including accidents.
Take care to take care of yourself when you find yourself being a caregiver. Take full advantage of any classes or home health care offered by hospitals or government agencies and lighten your load. There are sometimes adult daycare facilities that can give you a much needed break.
Make a list of ways that others can help you and if someone offers help, be quick to give them an assignment. There are support groups for almost all illnesses, that offer caregiver assistance. Find those groups and get involved to reap any benefits that they may have to offer.
Get organized. Chaos is stress-inducing. Make lists and set up a daily routine. Make sure to include time for yourself to take care of you in your scheduling. Do the things that you once enjoyed. Plan your meals and get enough sleep. Work out with your doctor’s permission. A good workout does wonders for stress. When you visit your doctor make sure to tell him that you are a caregiver and about any problems that you are having. You might consider taking advantage of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act which, if you are eligible, ensures that you can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave of absence to care for relatives.
I strongly encourage you to give up added sugars and other simple carbohydrates. A little sugar makes you crave more sugar and all those empty calories will pack on the pounds and take your appetite away for healthy, whole foods which are your best source of good nutrition.
As always, we encourage you to make your world small. Cut out negative people and events that rob your time and make you feel bad. Surround yourself with positivity and focus on the things that make your life better. I frequently say that “Lifting (weights) is my life.” That’s true. Choose what you love. Do it and do it to the best of your ability. Learn it. Live it. It will give you a much needed mental break. If someone or something makes you feel bad, don’t go around them. Why would you? Life’s too short for drama. If the person that you’re caregiving works against your best efforts to help them, let it be. There’s an old saying that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink, and that’s true. After you have done all you can, if you see the patient working against himself, don’t stress over it. It’s his choice. You have done your part. Don’t be a martyr by stressing yourself into a heart attack trying to force someone to be healthy that is bound and determined to do otherwise.
I am a caregiver to an adult with autism and have been a caregiver to my elderly grandmother who is gone now. Although Maw Maw was a wonderfully selfless person for most of her life, when she became dependent on others, that changed. She made every effort to commandeer my time, including having me cancel my own doctor’s appointments. I had a few then because it was before I came to David’s Way and was able to lose fat and come off of all medications. Don’t let your loved ones do this to you. Stand up for yourself and tend to your needs first. You can’t help them if you’re dead. During that time, my weight soared and my blood pressure spiraled out of control. After coming to David’s Way, I realized exactly where I had gone wrong. I did not caregive myself first. I was an avid swimmer at the beginning of that time with her and I had abandoned the pool. My misery knew no end until I made up my mind to regain what was fast becoming my lost health. Now, I work three jobs, take no medications, pursue extreme health and fitness with a fury and make no apologies for taking care of myself. People all around me are dropping dead and developing serious health problems while I carry on with life as usual. I use the most powerful tool in the world to be fit and healthy, the choices that I make every day.
I challenge you to do the same and pursue health with a passion.
As many of you might already know, I am a retired military veteran with service spread between two separate branches. I began my military career September 1981 in the US Navy which I was separated from in 1997 during force reductions. Skip ahead to 2008, and I re-enlisted into the Kansas Army Reserve National Guard which I retired from October 2010 after suffering a bad spinal injury on my civilian job.
As a result of too many highly stressful years and events during my military career, I was left with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which I will only refer to going forward as PTS while intentionally leaving off the “disorder”. I do not feel I have a disorder with my PTS as what has happened in my brain is actually a natural reaction when one has been overwhelmed with stressful situations.
What is Post Traumatic Stress?
From National Center for PTSD
PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.
It’s normal to have upsetting memories, feel on edge, or have trouble sleeping after a traumatic event. At first, it may be hard to do normal daily activities, like go to work, go to school, or spend time with people you care about. But most people start to feel better after a few weeks or months.
If it’s been longer than a few months and you’re still having symptoms, you may have PTSD. For some people, PTSD symptoms may start later on, or they may come and go over time.
When you have PTSD, the world feels unsafe. You may have upsetting memories, feel on edge, or have trouble sleeping. You may also try to avoid things that remind you of your trauma — even things you used to enjoy.
Anyone can develop PTSD at any age. A number of factors can increase the chance that someone will have PTSD, many of which are not under that person’s control. For example, having a very intense or long-lasting traumatic event or getting injured during the event can make it more likely that a person will develop PTSD. PTSD is also more common after certain types of trauma, like combat and sexual assault.
From Mayo Clinic:
Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms may start within one month of a traumatic event, but sometimes symptoms may not appear until years after the event. These symptoms cause significant problems in social or work situations and in relationships. They can also interfere with your ability to go about your normal daily tasks.
PTSD symptoms are generally grouped into four types: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. Symptoms can vary over time or vary from person to person.
Symptoms of intrusive memories may include:
Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event
Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)
Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event
Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the traumatic event
Symptoms of avoidance may include:
Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
Avoiding places, activities or people that remind you of the traumatic event
Negative changes in thinking and mood
Symptoms of negative changes in thinking and mood may include:
Negative thoughts about yourself, other people or the world
Hopelessness about the future
Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event
Difficulty maintaining close relationships
Feeling detached from family and friends
Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
Difficulty experiencing positive emotions
Feeling emotionally numb
Changes in physical and emotional reactions
Symptoms of changes in physical and emotional reactions (also called arousal symptoms) may include:
Being easily startled or frightened
Always being on guard for danger
Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast
Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior
Overwhelming guilt or shame
Intensity of symptoms
PTSD symptoms can vary in intensity over time. You may have more PTSD symptoms when you’re stressed in general, or when you come across reminders of what you went through. For example, you may hear a car backfire and relive combat experiences. Or you may see a report on the news about a sexual assault and feel overcome by memories of your own assault.
When to see a doctor
If you have disturbing thoughts and feelings about a traumatic event for more than a month, if they’re severe, or if you feel you’re having trouble getting your life back under control, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Getting treatment as soon as possible can help prevent PTSD symptoms from getting worse.
If you have suicidal thoughts
If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts, get help right away through one or more of these resources:
Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
Contact a minister, a spiritual leader or someone in your faith community.
Call a suicide hotline number — in the United States, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor. Use that same number and press 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.
Make an appointment with your doctor or a mental health professional.
When to get emergency help
If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
If you know someone who’s in danger of attempting suicide or has made a suicide attempt, make sure someone stays with that person to keep him or her safe. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. Or, if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.
In America, we have a national tragedy which has been unfolding for several years now. This tragedy is an average of 22 veterans per day are ending their own lives through suicide as a direct result of Post Traumatic Stress. I’m not going to get into all the details of all that has transpired for mine to occur, but still want to relate a portion of my experience.
In 1996, during my fourth tour of duty in the Navy, I was experiencing symptoms of PTS, although I had never heard this term used before. I knew I needed some help and reached out despite the fact it was taboo in the military to do so. Learning to embrace the suck, and drive on was the mentality, and heaven forbid you display any types of weakness. I did begin receiving therapy, and lost my military career about a half a year later. After all, what kind of strong military leader ever needs to see a shrink. Right?
As with many veterans, I suffered in silence. I suffered in silence because I was first and foremost, embarrassed for my weakness, secondly because I still had a family to support. Life goes on despite our personal issues. It’s not like it’s a merry go round we can just step off of when we tire of the ride. And lastly, there was little actual available help from the Veterans Administration for Post Traumatic Stress until just a few years ago.
When you have family responsibilities, sometimes you feel you have to put aside your own problems in order to best take care of your loved ones. Getting help gets even tougher when you are viewed as a pillar of strength, the one who others go to for help. You try to put the PTS behind you, but then you always feel as if you are about to burst apart at the seams. Like a simmering pot of water about to boil over.
And despite the low simmering boil, you just do your best to mask it, to keep it contained and hidden from your family and friends. Pressure cookers at least have a vented lid to control the pressure, I’m no pressure cooker.
Who was the weak one?
My PTS has resulted in over 20 years of chronic insomnia and scary dreams. It has resulted in a mind that never shuts down, a mind that is always in deep thought. My mind often wakes me up in the middle of the night in deep thoughts over serious topics. This low simmering boil makes it difficult to deal with individuals who do not have a similar life experience. This low simmering boil makes it easier to say “fuck it” in the work place. After my life experience, who needs lame bullshit out of a boss. Who wants to work around a bunch of weak ass pussies when you are used to working and living with the toughest of the tough. I have had more jobs over the last 22 years than I am proud to admit. I am the one who had a problem, not my bosses or co-workers. I am the one who was not reacting in the best manner to what I perceived as weak foolishness. I had to accept that it is up to me in how I manage to deal with the world around me.
Back around 2000, give or take a year or so, I went to the VA for help. I had no clue as to where to begin so I filed a claim for benefits. As when I was on active duty, stepping out and asking for help was a huge deal for me. I went to the American Legion office at the Leavenworth VA and was treated really nice by the Legion folks managing this office. They were glad to help me file a claim since I had a previous diagnosed condition of major depressive disorder diagnosed before my separation from the Navy.
A few months went by and I finally received an envelope in the mail from the Veterans Administration. They had denied my claim. They said my case was resolved and was closed. It was also implied that my major depressive disorder was actually nothing more than me being angry at my last command leadership. What a crock of bullshit, but I saw no hope in trying to fight the entrenched bureaucracy. I got on with life, but the insomnia and bad dreams never eased. The low boil irritations never settled. I never learned to quit seeing everything in black and white while never allowing any gray areas into my world. I never learned how to turn the military off in my mind. After all, while we are serving, we are trained to be the best in our jobs, but, we are never trained in how to come back home to normalcy. Our normalcy in the military is not so normal in the civilian world, and this makes adjustments tough. The toughness is made even greater when we no longer have our military brothers and sisters to lean on for support. Often, when veterans leave military service, we might lose our identity. My identity was that of an Aviation Ordnanceman. Once out in the civilian world, some cannot even spell Aviation Ordnanceman, much less give a damn what the hell one is. No one cares about the tremendous amounts of responsibility that begins riding on the shoulders of a young service member, that keeps building over the years until their retirement. Once you are out, you are just another number, another cog in the gears of life. Your military experience and exploits sound like nothing more than tall tails to those who have never experienced the same, so you learn to just be silent about a good amount of your past experiences. What was an important part of the shaping of your life means little to nothing to a lot of folks we veterans encounter once our careers are over.
Help is available at the VA now!
There are two main types of treatment, psychotherapy (sometimes called counseling or talk therapy) and medication. Sometimes people combine psychotherapy and medication.
Psychotherapy for PTSD
Psychotherapy, or counseling, involves meeting with a therapist.
Trauma-focused psychotherapy, which focuses on the memory of the traumatic event or its meaning, is the most effective treatment for PTSD. There are different types of trauma-focused psychotherapy, such as:
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) where you learn skills to understand how trauma changed your thoughts and feelings. Changing how you think about the trauma can change how you feel.
Prolonged Exposure (PE) where you talk about your trauma repeatedly until memories are no longer upsetting. This will help you get more control over your thoughts and feelings about the trauma. You also go to places or do things that are safe, but that you have been staying away from because they remind you of the trauma.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which involves focusing on sounds or hand movements while you talk about the trauma. This helps your brain work through the traumatic memories.
Actions you can take for yourself in addition to seeking help.
I only returned to using the VA last spring after suffering a kidney stone. Up to that point, I viewed the VA as a huge bureaucracy that was failing veterans daily. Therefore, over the course of several years, I learned to create some of my own coping mechanisms for Post Traumatic Stress which I believe are helpful, but not a replacement for professional care by a doctor. Please, do not attempt to go it alone when dealing with this issue. Twenty two veterans per day lose this fight when they take their own lives to escape it.
Learn to make your world small as best as possible. Do not allow yourself to get caught up in issues beyond your control, or that have no direct impact on your life.
Even if you do not believe in God, learn to live by the principles of the Serenity Prayer. Lord, grant me the serenity to accept that which I cannot change. The courage to change that which I can. And the wisdom to know the difference.
Practice good nutritional habits. The foods we consume can and will have a direct impact on our health and how we feel each and every day. It is easier to have a better outlook on life when you actually feel healthy instead of suffering from preventable ailments as a result of poor nutritional habits.
Exercise on a regular basis. When your body is at its strongest and healthiest, you will feel better about life. Your self esteem is increased as well as your levels of confidence in taking on new challenges. regular exercise has a number of benefits. It can contribute to many positive physical health outcomes, such as improved cardiovascular health, weight loss, and greater flexibility and mobility. In addition to these physical health outcomes, regular exercise can also have a positive impact on your mental health by reducing anxiety and depression.
We can all help prevent suicide, but many people don’t know how to support the Veteran or Service member in their life who is going through a difficult time. A simple act of kindness can help someone feel less alone. If you are a veteran suffering from Post Traumatic Stress and are feeling suicidal, please reach out for help.
Dial 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 to talk to someone.
Send a text message to 838255 to connect with a VA responder.
1-You are unique. There is no one on earth exactly like you. That makes you rare and precious, like gold or diamonds.
2-You have abilities that the world needs. They may not be apparent to you but trust me, someone can benefit from something that just comes naturally to you. Even the most seemingly insignificant gifts, callings and abilities are needed and appreciated by someone. If you are not appreciated, find a place where you are recognized as the unique, gifted individual that you are.
3-You deserve happiness. Nothing was put here to be miserable. It’s illogical. Life is a temporary, short-lived state that should be like a celebration. If your life is not supporting happiness, examine it and get creative with solutions. Sometimes the answers to this dilemma are tough but personally, I found that nothing was as tough as living in a situation that broke my heart every day, so I fixed it.
4-You cannot care for others unless you care for yourself first. You may for a while, but sooner or later, you will break. When you do, those people who depend on you will be in a desperate situation.
5-Every living thing has a best self. Organisms are designed to function at an optimum capacity. Don’t hinder your natural aptitude by neglecting yourself. The difference in performance and function is literally life and death.
6-You can set an example for those around you. I have written on what is perceived as a “Generational Curse”. That is a fallacy. It doesn’t exist. We have the responsibility to our families and others around us to break bad patterns and create new good habits.
7-The “Power of One” is astounding. You probably cannot comprehend how powerful your presence is in the world. Regardless of your place in life, you have a purpose, something that will alter the world you live in. Individuals are responsible for discoveries that rock the world. Do you.
8-Sadness not only destroys your psyche, it affects everyone around you. When we don’t care for ourselves, we get run down and ineffective in all areas of our lives. Sadness overtakes us and we carry this negativism into the world. Do everyone a favor, get happy.
9-Quality self-care creates an energy that enables you to do anything. You will do your job better, clean your house better, take care of your children better when you have this life-force pulsing through you. Get energized!
10-Because you just are! Quite often we have been negatively programmed by parents, teachers, spouses and other family members who want to keep us subservient so that they can control us. They deliberately undermine our self-esteem so that they appear bigger and better. It’s a lie. You are worth it. Stand up and take your place in your own life and let the neighsayers fall to the wayside. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Live it.
Do you have a running reel of negative thoughts and possible catastrophic outcomes playing constantly in your head? So many people do. When we allow negative thoughts to loop continually we are causing a constant release of cortisol, our major stress hormone to be released. The health implications of this are huge. High cortisol levels cause inflammation which lies at the base of almost all major health problems, including heart disease and even some cancers. Skin problems, gastrointestinal issues and depression are often exacerbated by this one habit that is within our control.
People who display optimism tend to have better immune function which affects all disease processes. Learn to control those inner voices of doom to improve your overall health and enjoy your life so much more.
It’s necessary to assess your thoughts. If a large majority of your thoughts tend to be negative then you are probably catastrophizing. Do you focus only on the negative? Do you ignore the possible positive outcomes in a given situation? If so, then it’s necessary to take action to think in more positive ways.
Humor is a powerful tool in learning to lighten up. I refuse to listen to or watch anything that makes me feel bad. Life can be difficult on the best days so why add negative input from negative people who are bent on creating drama? Avoid those people and control your environment to remove negative input from real life people and media. Seek out funny and enlightening media when you are surfing the net or watching T.V. Leave the sad, violent and scary stuff alone. It won’t do anything good.
Get some exercise, with your doctor’s permission. Vigorous exercise can produce endorphins which not only make you feel better in the moment but have a positive impact on the brain that makes you feel more able to cope in the long run. You will develop a better body in the process and that always helps our state of mind.
Negative thoughts can lead to binge eating. Binge eating will almost always keep you from your weight management goals.
Eat a well balanced, healthy diet with adequate amounts of healthy fats such as those found in salmon or walnuts. Avoid sugar because it is a source of empty, excess calories. Sugar will cause you to crave more sugar and eventually forego healthy foods for junk. Your brain has to have proper nutrition to perform optimally. As you eat more and more sugar, the pounds will pile on which will most likely add to your anxiety and depression. Just say “No!”
If your negative thinking is chronic and debilitating you might consider professional counseling. A licensed therapist can guide you into a better way of thinking that can benefit both body and mind.
Surround yourself with positive people and create a life that you love. With time and deliberation and sometimes professional help, you can pull out of the habit of negativity. Your happiness is worth the work.
1-As soon as negative thoughts enter your mind, replace them with something good.
If the thoughts are about your failure on your fitness journey or eating plan, immediately analyze why it happened and do it right this time. Don’t wallow in it. Fix it.
2-Be proactive, not reactive.
That’s really the key to everything, the aforementioned regimen debacle or going to a difficult job or dealing with unpleasant people. Whatever the difficulty, we can let it control us or we can study and decide how to remedy the situation. I was recently approached with a very unpleasant fellow. Instead of allowing him to pull me into his world, I simply answered that I don’t argue with people and ended the conversation. Take control. It’s less tiring and you win.
We are mostly water. Hydration is so important that staying well hydrated is even considered to help stave off dementia because the brain suffers in a dehydrated state. Drink your water.
4-Eat real food.
When we eat processed food our stomach has nothing to work with. Our stomach is an amazing organ that contains hydrochloric acid that can melt metal. It’s designed to break down food. Your stomach will empty faster if you eat processed food. It’s already broken down. When your stomach gets empty, you just might get “hangry”. This makes for a miserable day and usually over-eating. Eat the good stuff.
5-Walk it off, outside.
If it’s at all possible, include outside walking in your day. “Walking is the best restorative exercise” (David Yochim) You stretch your muscles, burn a few calories and walking underneath trees gives you a dose of phytochemicals that are good for your mind.
6-Sit down sometimes.
When I was growing up, I was conditioned to stand all the time. While we don’t want to be sedentary, you do need to sit sometimes. If you have a job that requires a lot of standing, on your breaks elevate your feet. You will get an instant sense of relief that will decrease your stress.
7-Flex those calf muscles.
Whether you’re walking on the job, outside or even as you elevate your feet, work those calf muscles well. They are considered your second heart because they return blood to the heart. It will decrease fatigue throughout your body. When you are sitting without your feet elevated, do calf raises. Just raise your feet up on your toes and flex, repeatedly. Keeping the blood from pooling in your legs will also help avoid the possibility of blood clots in your legs when you travel.
8-Stick to your workout schedule.
Sometimes when life gets hectic, our workout is the first thing to suffer. Don’t let that happen. You are in control of your time. Do it.
9-Make sure to eat enough.
As ludicrous as this sounds, sometimes when we are highly regimented concerning what we eat and we stay well nutritioned, we may get busy and skip a meal, especially if we don’t eat added sugar, because we don’t have cravings and seldom experience intense hunger. Your state of mind will suffer. You will get anxious and less able to control your emotions. Get your calories.
When life throws us a curve ball and we don’t know how to cope, it’s easy to lose focus and drift. If we do that, we don’t eat right. We don’t work out right. We avoid confrontation and procrastinate. Keep going forward. Stay on your program. Your program will be your saving grace in difficult times. It will help you get through otherwise impossible situations. It will generate the neurotransmitters that stress depletes and you will emerge from the hard times a Victor, not a Victim.
At David’s Way we don’t do Victim. Play to win. Create your life.