Feb 9

Stress, Emotions and Food by Student Arabella Hamilton

Introduction

I have started to notice as I have begun to heal my system the subtle changes in mood and my ability to deal with daily stresses. During this module I performed a 2 week purification diet and a liver cleanse with excellent physical results. I noticed how my resolve, energy and emotions were much more balanced, even a menstrual cycle passed calmly. Since then it has been Christmas, the lockdowns are enforced and my diet gradually got worse compared to the 2 weeks of cleansing. With that a noticeable drop in my mood and energy.

Current circumstances are challenging at the moment with schools closed, lots of uncertainty among folk and this presents extra challenges, it is a testing time.

I am interested in how imbalances in the body affects mood, emotions and ability to deal with what life throws at us. I will be taking a look specifically at the mind body connection, the gut and the liver as these organs have such a big role in digestion and assimilation of nutrients. I will also be looking to ancient healing practices like Ayurveda and Chinese medicine for information on the body and its connection to the elements and how imbalances here also tie in with these organs and emotions and the non-physical energy fields.

The Mind Body Connection

The link between thoughts, emotions, behaviours and physical health has been studied in the scientific world for the last thirty years and there has been overwhelming evidence that the mind and the body are inextricably linked. Not just the mind governing the body but the physical body also affects the mind.

Mindfulness​ ​has become a buzzword over recent years feeding its way into the mainstream narrative. Books, articles and documentaries teach about the ways in which mindfulness can be applied to everyday activities so that we live more in the moment and our bodies and less distracted by the busy world around us that can create stress and worry.

Neurons or brain cells communicate through electrical synapses creating pathways and patterns of behaviour as the outside world influences our reactions and the brain creates behavioural loops. We have sayings like ‘auto pilot’ or ‘second nature’ where we operate or respond emotionally without even thinking, these auto reactions can be for good or bad depending on the situation, for driving a car it’s quite helpful. It is thought negative auto responses can loop us into destructive behaviours like addictions or immediate stress response to certain triggers. Many studies have shown that the physical effects of mindfulness on the body are highly beneficial..

Fear and stress have a negative effect on health because these thoughts and emotions trigger the release of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones are designed to inject the body with energy by raising the heart rate and producing glucose in order to escape what could be a dangerous or life threatening situation. In modern society our perceived threats are generated more by societal fears and anxieties rather than attacks from sabre toothed tigers, unfortunately these threats are much more frequent, sometimes several times a day. However, the physical response to these fears is the same, prolonged release of adrenaline and cortisol into the system has negative effects on digestion, immunity, healing and disease. Our current situation with a virus in society, people locked in their homes and constant bombardment of frightening news reports is an extreme example of this in our current environment. I have experienced myself when out shopping the fear and tension that some people are feeling right now.

With all this in mind long term imbalances in the physical body can start to embed behaviours into the psyche creating negative thought patterns and self limiting beliefs, in turn these thoughts can create stress and certain situations may feed these responses causing the release of yet more hormones.

The liver is one of the largest organs in the body and works very hard to regulate toxicity, create and store energy. It has not only the ability to distribute glucose but also to store it converting it into glycogen and back into glucose when needed. The liver can also make glucose from amino acids, especially in times of stress this process of using protein to make glucose means things like collagen is drawn from other areas in the body where it is needed and begins to deplete. When the ‘fight or flight’ hormone cortisol is released it triggers the body to produce glucose to flood the system with energy, adrenaline increases the heart rate and pumps it around the body. This intense burst of focused work means all other functions like digestion, growth and repair and immunity are shut down temporarily whilst we ‘run away from the tiger’ when the threat has gone everything reverts back to normal.

One of the many functions of the liver is generating heat, it is a by-product of all the metabolic activity. The blood in the liver is warmed and the heat then distributed throughout the body. If the liver is overworked it will generate a lot of heat.

In Ayurvedic medicine heat in the body is attributed to the Pitta dosha. Pitta types especially are recommended to avoid toxic chemicals like alcohol and smoking (addictions that are associated with stress) , they should also avoid overworking, overexertion and overheating as this all causes heat in the body and unbalances the system. A result of this imbalance can literally fire up negative emotions such as anger, resentment, hatred and intolerance.

In Chinese medicine the element Wood is attributed to the liver and emotions of anxiety and anger. An unbalanced wood type becomes angry and impatient. If this emotion is expressed inappropriately or internalised it becomes toxic in the body and develops into resentment, self doubt, frustration and depression.

Anger is designed to be short lived and if not expressed appropriately it stimulates the release of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. As a result poorly expressed anger overtime can lead to an extensive list of health problems including stroke, cancer and heart disease.

Studies have shown that stress and the negative emotions that accompany it have a chemical structure in our bodies. That chemical structure is acidic, an over acidic system presents as fatigue which results in a lack of enthusiasm for life and a downward spiral to depression.

The mind body connection proves that negative emotions can create chaos so it makes sense that positive emotions do the opposite and increase the brain’s ability to make good decisions and boost the immune system.

As I mentioned earlier, stress and uneasiness releases fight or flight hormones which suppress digestion, it is common that those who suffer with stress and anxiety for prolonged periods of time tend to lose weight, because hunger and the desire to eat is suppressed. I would say what is also common is in an attempt to feel better and redress the issue after a bout of stress is to eat ‘comfort food’ which could be healthy but often isn’t, in turn this eating of inappropriate food doesn’t nourish the body or spirit and further adds to the problem by not replenishing the energy and nutrients lost during stress.

One of the things known to help combat cortisol levels is pre and probiotics. The gut is often referred to as the second brain because of the Enteric Nervous System (ENS) which is millions of nerve cells that line the gastrointestinal tract and communicate with the brain. The gut is colonised by billions of bacteria, it has been found that gut bacteria produces many neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. If an overgrowth of bad bacteria occurs it can wreak havoc on the microbiome and our emotional state. Eating sugar or drinking alcohol only feeds the problem as this is what bad bacteria loves to eat producing toxic gases as they go, in turn this is transmitted to the brain affecting energy, mood and emotions. Many studies have shown that a healthy microbiome keeps bad bacteria in check but also boosts our ability to deal calmly with stressful situations.

Food as medicine, the structure and chemical makeup of what we eat can enhance or destroy our vitality, health, mood and immunity. The physical act of eating, digesting and assimilating food is tangible and by learning about foods and herbs and their unique make up of nutrients and how they work in the body we can heal and boost health.

I am also interested in the non-physical role food and eating plays on the energetic field and the senses that send messages to the physical body. The heart itself emits an electromagnetic field that changes according to our emotions, others can pick up on this energy that radiates out from us. I believe this also pours into food preparation, when food is made with love and compassion it radiates vibrationally and becomes tangible in the eating. Annapoorna is the Hindu goddess of food and nourishment, it is said that she infused the food with love and her food was able to heal.

We operate in such a physical world with things we can see and touch that it is easy to forget (or some people may not even consider) that we also have a non-physical body that is an energy field and greatly impacts our world.

Just the sight and smell of food can trigger the digestive juices, walking into a house with a pot of coffee on the go and a cake in the oven or a big steaming bowl of soup on a cold day can trigger emotive feelings of comfort, nostalgia or homeliness, I think this is what the Danish and Norwegians call ‘Hygge’. Likewise on a hot summer’s day the thought of a big juicy watermelon or long cool iced drink can evoke good times, holidays and relaxation. All this transmutes into feelings that make us feel good and that everything is alright with the world.

The 7 Chakras

Indian wisdom teaches about the 7 chakras (wheels) which are the energy centres of the body. Each chakra is a colour and represents certain emotions, systems or functions of the body.

  • Base chakra – Red. ​Feeling grounded, protected and secure.
  • Sacral chakra – Orange. ​Embracing life with passion.
  • Solar Plexus – Yellow. ​Courage, gut feeling, intellect and self esteem
  • Heart Chakra – Green. ​Love, forgiveness and compassion
  • Throat Chakra – Blue. ​Expressing your truth, communication.
  • Third eye – Indigo. ​Intuition, imagination, inspiration and insight
  • Crown Chakra – Purple. ​Connection to divine energy, spirituality, enlightenment.

 

We often hear that we should eat the rainbow so we cover all the nutrient bases but this idea has a more subtle meaning. Seven rainbow colours are prevalent in the natural world of fruits and vegetables. Vibrant colours fall into groups believed to vibrationally align with certain chakras, offering healing and strength through these energy centres of the body.

Each colour pigment has a vibration.

  • Base chakra – Red ​root veg, red fruits & veg, spices.
  • Sacral chakra – Orange ​fruits, vegetables, spices.
  • Solar Plexus – Yellow ​vegetables, fruits, legumes, spices.
  • Heart Chakra – Green. ​Green vegetables, fruits and herbs
  • Throat Chakra – Blue. ​Liquids, water, broths, teas, smoothies, juices, sea vegetables
  • Third eye – Indigo​ and purple fruits, veggies, wine.
  • Crown Chakra – Purple. ​Breathing, fasting.

     

Maybe our emotional state can guide us to the right colour food to balance certain emotions,
maybe a root vegetable soup or a berry smoothie can help combat stress and bring feelings of being grounded and secure. A sunny glass of orange juice might help embrace life with passion. Sometimes we have a strong unexplainable urge to eat a certain food, when I was pregnant I couldn’t eat enough bananas, that was my non-physical body knowing what my physical body needed at that time. Maybe by practising a bit of mindfulness, being more aware of our emotional state and listening to the energetic self we can set the stage for balancing emotions and dealing with stress. One thing is for sure and that is the connection between mind body and spirit and that all need nourishing as one impacts the other.

In Chinese medicine I am the element of Fire which relates to the heart, small intestine, the nervous system and the function of transforming food to energy. The small intestine energy is to quiet the mind, the nervous system protects the heart from emotional vulnerability.

The heart chakra is green and relates to love, compassion, trust and feelings. The small intestine is at the solar plexus chakra it is yellow and relates to courage and gut feelings.

I have noticed I get a huge amount of energy and good feeling from a green smoothie, I often feel calm and centred after a big glass of green goodness. Now I know why!

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