If you have heard Tracy Theemes speak, you have likely heard her say more than once, “you need to be the boss of your money, not the other way around.” From her many years of experience as a financial advisor, Tracy is acutely aware of how stressful it can be when we cannot find our centre and are being controlled by something else.
As women, Tracy believes that we need to embrace our power, especially when it comes to managing our finances. However, in order to do that well we must approach it from a holistic perspective and understand that it is difficult to make sound decisions about our money when we are experiencing stress. Not only will the short-term and long-term effects of stress have an effect on our financial decisions but also on how well we are able to enjoy a stable financial future if we are not healthy.
Managing stress at the best of times is a complex issue for women, and even more complicated when you throw in hormones and the role they play with this process. This is why Tracy has reached out to Dr. Anita Tannis and asked her to speak on Stress, Hormones, and Happiness as part of the Wise Money Talks series. As an Integrative and Functional Medicine Physician, Dr. Tannis strongly believes that “everything is connected to everything else.”
“Everything is connected to everything else.”
Stress, according to Dr. Tannis, “is the body-mind reaction to change and/or the perception of change.” “Perception is the key,” says Dr. Tannis, “the body cannot differentiate between a real tiger and a perceived tiger.” That is, a person will go through the same physiological reaction whether the stressor is real or perceived or whether they are internal (e.g., our beliefs, feelings, expectations, thoughts, nutritional sensitivities, memories/past history, and intergenerational trauma) or external (e.g., physical environment, relationships, accumulated damage to the body (e.g., from poor nutrition, inflammation, weight issues, etc.).
Dr. Tannis reminds us that stress is not always negative. It can play an important role in survival as well as in challenging us and motivating us to do better and to be better. However, too much stress—good or bad—acute and chronic—can become problematic on many different levels.
“Our stress response starts in the brain,” says Dr. Tannis. “The brain’s job is to keep you alive. It’s all about survival.” Whether the stress is internal or external, it will trigger a variety of stress hormones that produce a series of physiological responses in our bodies, often referred to as the “fight-or-flight” response. This sequence of hormonal changes and physiological responses tells us to either fight the threat off or flee to safety. Recently, a third response state has been added called “freeze.” According to Dr. Tannis, “this is where people shut down and are in a state of paralysis.”
In nature, all of these responses are natural and usually temporary, as mammals will quickly move on from stressful situations. As humans, however, we have learned to replay the stressful event over and over again, remaining in fight, flight, or freeze mode, which is not natural or healthy. These all play a part in the sympathetic nervous system response. In this state, we cannot heal, digest food, or function properly, and remaining here for an extended period of time will become chronic and cause health issues.
“The desired state,” says Dr. Tannis, “is to be in the rest and digest mode and we are meant to be here 90% of the time.” Known as the parasympathetic nervous system, this is the state where we can rest and heal while our cells repair.
We can only be in one of these states at any given point in time. For example, even if we think we are relaxed but our body is dealing with a chronic issue such as inflammation, our brain still registers us as being under stress, and the hormones react accordingly.
“The more we understand what is running us, hormonally, psychologically, and physically, the more control we have over those things and the less we are at the whim of those things.” Dr. Tannis then goes on to say, “How we choose to manipulate our environment will make a difference in how we perform in our lives and how we well we cope. Genes may load the gun, but the environment pulls the trigger!”
“Genes may load the gun, but the environment pulls the trigger!”
Understanding and managing acute and chronic stress can be a complex process for women, especially as we get older. Dr. Tannis suggests that there are simple tools and strategies that we can all (men and women) implement on a daily basis to help us cope with stress and manage our hormones while also improving our overall health and increasing our happiness.
Take time every day to do some mindful breathing. Breathing in stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and when you breathe out, you are stimulating the parasympathetic system (i.e., rest and digest). One technique involves breathing in for six counts and then exhaling for six counts slowly, and repeating this a few times. The goal is to calm the nervous system.
Feel the Feelings
It is important to bring awareness, consciousness to what we do to cope and especially around the things that prevent us from feeling. Negative coping strategies (e.g., overeating, drinking too much, watching too much TV, or even exercising too much) will block our inner wisdom and our ability to recognize our true needs. The key is to stop and ask yourself “what am I feeling, and what do I really need?”
Dr. Tannis agrees strongly with Michael Pollen’s approach to food in his book In Defense of Food: “Eat real food, mostly plants, and not too much.” She suggests that we try to maintain a balanced diet that involves eating more green vegetables and high fiber foods, minimizing our daily consumption of trans fats/sugars/gluten/caffeine/dairy/alcohol, eating good protein (animal protein included) and good fats, moderating our fruit intake, avoiding overeating, and eliminating anything artificial or overly processed. It is also important to be aware of those foods that we are sensitive to, as they will cause inflammation in the body. Intermittent fasting has also shown to be effective for many people, but if that is not possible she suggests not eating three hours before you go to bed.
Even with a proper diet, Dr. Tannis believes that there are a few supplements that we should all be consuming on a regular basis. Individually they all have positive effects, but together they have an important combined effect that will positively impact hormone balance, gut health, sex hormone balance, nervous system, healing, immune system, and brain function (and reduce the risk of getting COVID 19). These include*:
- Vitamin D3 (2000iu to 5000iu daily)
- Vitamin C (1000mg to 2000mg daily)
- Magnesium – Citrate, Glycinate, or Threonate (250mg to 1000mg nightly)
- B-Complex (Good quality, will have varied B doses)
- Omega-3 Oil Supplement (1000mg to 3000mg daily)
- Zinc (25mg daily with food. Double or triple dose with a viral illness)
*Please note: The recommended dosages are not to be construed as personal medical advice. These doses are appropriate for most adults who are of average healthy and not dealing with complex medical situations.
Regular exercise, even something as simple as walking 30 minutes a day, can have long-term beneficial effects. As Dr. Tannis likes to say, “Move your body, but not too much or too little.”
The benefits of sleeping well are far-reaching and Dr. Tannis believes that we need more sleep than we think. If you have problems, consider taking Melatonin as needed (.5 to 10mg) in the evenings just before going to bed.
There are a few resources that Dr. Tannis recommends for those who want to dive deeper into this topic, they include:
- Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Christiane Northrup, M.D.
- The Wisdom of Menopause: Creating Physical and Emotional Health During the Change by Christiane Northrup, M.D.
- The Hormone Fix: Burn Fat Naturally, Boost Energy, Sleep Better, and Stop Hot Flashes, the Keto-Green Way by Anna Cabeca
- Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom by Rick Hanson
To listen to Dr. Tannis’ complete Wise Money Talks session, CLICK HERE.