Episode 135 Show Notes
Stress: An Inevitable Part of Life - Stress is a natural part of life that affects us physically, emotionally, and mentally. It can be helpful in small doses, but if it becomes prolonged or chronic, it can have negative effects on our well-being.
The Physiological Response to Stress - When we experience stress, our body undergoes a physiological response known as the "fight or flight" response. This response helps us deal with perceived threats, but it can also have negative effects on our health and well-being if it lasts for a long time. Understanding this response is important to managing stress effectively.
The Two Keys to Managing Stress - To manage stress effectively, we need to focus on two main areas: 1) managing our external environment, and 2) managing our internal environment. Managing our external environment involves taking steps to reduce or eliminate sources of stress in our lives, such as setting boundaries or seeking social support. Managing our internal environment involves practising mindfulness, self-awareness, and self-compassion to help us manage our thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
Emotions: A Complex Response - Emotions are complex responses that involve both physiological and psychological processes, and can be difficult to manage at times. While they can be overwhelming, it's important to acknowledge and accept our emotions as valid and normal experiences. Developing mindfulness practices can help us become more aware of our emotions and how they affect us. By staying present and non-judgmental, we can make choices that support our well-being.
Validating Feelings and Making Mindful Choices - All feelings are valid, even if they are unpleasant or uncomfortable. However, the actions or choices we make based on these feelings can be helpful or unhelpful. By validating our feelings and practising mindfulness, we can make more mindful choices that support our overall well-being. This can involve taking steps to address the sources of stress in our lives, practising self-care, seeking support from others, or engaging in activities that bring us joy and fulfilment. It's important to remember that managing stress is a process and may involve trial and error as we find what works best for us.
It is important to emphasise that we must acknowledge and accept all emotions, even the uncomfortable or unpleasant ones - We often try to suppress or hide from these emotions, but this can lead to using food as a tool for suppression. The beach ball analogy illustrates this idea.
The beach ball analogy - Our emotions can be compared to a beach ball in a pool. If we hold the beach ball lightly and allow it to float on the surface of the water, it's easy to move around and control. However, if we try to forcefully push it underwater, it will eventually pop up and out of our control, causing uncontrolled emotions like rage. If we can make room for our emotions and allow them to exist without suppressing them, it will be easier to process and eventually let go of them. By holding the beach ball lightly, we allow it to be present without feeling overwhelmed by it, and eventually, it will float away, meaning that the feelings will pass.
It can be uncomfortable at first, but leaning into our negative emotions can lead to greater peace and a higher quality of life - A helpful tool in this process is to "Name It To Tame It", meaning that by naming our emotions, we can take the first step in accepting and processing them. Identifying the specific emotions that are triggering your responses, rather than just using “stress” as a blanket term can be empowering and enlightening. To help with this, we have a free resource available at www.rlmedicine.com/stress, which can help you identify and name your emotions.
Click here to try out the free resource
Episode 135 - Understand your emotions and improve your health
Dr Mary Barson: (0:11) Hello, my lovely listeners. I'm Dr. Mary Barson.
Dr Lucy Burns: (0:15) And I'm Dr. Lucy Burns. Welcome to this episode of -
Both: (0:20) Real Health and Weight Loss.
Dr Mary Barson: (0:23) Hello, lovely listeners, Dr. Mary here. And I am joined by the wonderful, fabulous Dr. Lucy Burns. I love how we've just started pumping up each other's tyres at the start of podcasts, I'm not going to stop. So sorry, listeners. Hi, Lucy, how are you?
Dr Lucy Burns: (0:40) I'm having a little chuckle. I'm very well, Mares. I'm very well and very excited to be here for I guess one of our favourite topics, because last week was very much a physiological discussion talking about mitochondria, very much in the biochemistry, physiology wheelhouse. But, as we are always talking about, the key to you know, long term sustainable weight loss is really about understanding not just your physiology, but also your psychology. And so today, we're having a wonderful chat about some of the psychological tools that we can use to really help us manage and be able to implement some of the things that we know we want to do.
Dr Mary Barson: (1:22) Yes, yes. Stress.
Dr Lucy Burns: (1:27) Yeah, I love talking about stress. Oh, one of the things, and we talk a lot about this within our programs. We talk about the fact that many health weight related programs are very action based. So they're, you know, follow this meal plan, count these points, eat this, you know, shakes, whatever it is. And for a lot of people, they will work while everything is going well.
Dr Mary Barson: (1:50) Yes, yes.
Dr Lucy Burns: (1:51) But we know that life is not like that, unless you want to live on an island by yourself where everything is climate controlled. And there are no, you know, speed humps coming your way, then really, that's not realistic.
Dr Mary Barson: (2:05) No, that's not generally how the world works. Yes, stress is, I think, an inevitable part of life. And there are really I say, the key to managing stress is twofold. You want to reduce the stress that you can reduce, and that's, I think, an important part of our lives. But also you can increase your resilience to the stress that you have to deal with. And you can do that both physically by improving your health, improving your sleep, your food, your exercise, as well as psychologically, and by having active relaxation and spending time in that activation of the relaxation response within your autonomic nervous system. And that both of these things are extremely useful. And a really useful way for us to be able to help ourselves, manage our stress and improve our resilience is to learn how to understand our internal landscape. To be able to learn to understand our emotions, and improve our emotional literacy. Would you say overall, that us Aussies are a particularly emotionally literate bunch? Leading question, Dr. Lucy?
Dr Lucy Burns: (3:33) <laughs> Let me think about that. No. I think part of it is that children these days are getting a lot more teaching in mind management, in emotional regulation and in those sorts of things. But for certainly people of my generation, and probably yours, there was none. And in fact, you know, in the very olden days, children were supposed to be seen and not heard. They were, you know, you are not allowed to express any of your emotions. As a child, you weren't taught anything. So we've come down to sort of, it's almost like primary colours, we've come down to a few basic words that we will use to describe a number of emotional states. And one of those words is ‘stressed’ - people go, “I feel stressed”. If we actually think about that word, even that word in itself, I mean there's emotional stress, which is what people are saying when they feel stressed. But actually, stress is a physiological response in your body. There’s things happening. Your heart rate increases, your liver makes more glucose, your platelets become stickier, your blood pressure goes up, your blood is moved from your gut, into your limbs. They're all physiological stress responses, but we never talk about those we just talk about, “I feel stressed”, which may mean you feel anxious, or you feel overwhelmed, or you feel even “burdened’,like that could be the word, but we don't use those words, we just use stressed.
Dr Mary Barson: (5:07) We do, we do. And you expressed this clearly, that emotions, they're complex physiological, that’s like physical, and psychological responses that we experience in response to external and internal stimuli. But they're really subjective. And they happen in our body. They are a physiological state. You can't separate emotions and physiology. They are the same thing.
Dr Lucy Burns: (5:35) You know, for me again, because you know, I love language, and I love thinking about where words have come from. So the other word we have for emotions is feelings. Where do we feel things? In our body. So at one level, we do know that but on another level, we've just become so disconnected from this idea that you do feel your emotions.
Dr Mary Barson: (6:00) You do and quite literally. Think about a stressful thing. Think about, you know, leaving your, forgetting to pick your child up at school. And you're probably going to start getting physical feelings. So for me, just thinking about that I can feel my heart starting to race. I can feel these butterflies in my stomach. I can feel my throat tighten. I can feel all of these physiological changes that are happening in response to an emotion, to a stimulus. And being able to understand your emotions, I think, is extremely helpful. I would also add that it's important, I believe, to understand that you're allowed to feel whatever you feel. I'd say that there are no bad emotions, they're all okay. Obviously, some are unpleasant, and some are pleasant, but they're not good or bad. They just are. You're allowed to feel whatever you feel. There are no good or bad emotions, all emotions are acceptable. All thoughts are acceptable. All thoughts and feelings are acceptable, but not all actions. You know, not all actions are okay. It's okay to be angry, but is it okay to punch someone in the nose because you're angry? Probably not. You know, it's okay to be stressed. But is it okay to eat a litre of ice cream because you're stressed? Well, if health is important to you, probably not. So emotional literacy is a skill that we can all learn when we learn to understand our emotions. And we learn to express and manage them in ways that are, you know, acceptable, healthy, and ultimately helpful towards our goals and helpful towards, you know, running our lives.
Dr Lucy Burns: (7:46) And the other thing I would love to just sort of point out is that you, you're not your emotions. A lot of people kind of become their emotions, and even our language these days is all, you know, people will use the phrase “my anxiety”, like it is them, they own it, it is them, when in fact, it's just an anxious state. And if you can separate yourself out a little bit from not, it's a bit like that whole thing of being able to see the wood for the trees, being able to take that sort of bird's eye view, rather than being right in the thick of it, “my anxiety”, you can't see your way out of it because it is part of who you are, rather than realising it's actually a fluctuating state which, with skills, you can manage.
Dr Mary Barson: (8:37) That's right. Yes, yes. And that, I think, is one of the first skills. So emotional literacy requires a few skills, they are learnable skills. But the first one is that self awareness, or at least improving your self awareness over time. It’s when you are able to understand that you're not your emotions, you're not your thoughts and your feelings. And if you can just be aware of them, and learn to name them, that yes, we can start to become aware of how our emotions influence our thoughts and our behaviours and our interactions with others. So separating yourself from them, and being able to name them is useful.
Dr Lucy Burns: (9:22) Yeah, absolutely. And then you can be a little more. Again, you just, you know, our favourite thing, “weight loss is a personal development journey”. It really is about understanding what emotions are most likely to cause you to particularly want to eat. So for a lot of people that don't quite get it, they go, “Oh, sometimes I eat when I'm stressed. Sometimes I don't”. I say, okay. That's because stress is just one big word. And there's actually about, you know, 20 emotions that can come under that umbrella of stressed, and if you can actually narrow it down, then again, you can just give yourself that a bit more understanding and a bit more compassion for why you're doing what you're doing. So, you know, it might be that you are embarrassed or humiliated. And you know, lots of people would just call that stressed. You know, because it's uncomfortable. And we've called all uncomfortable feelings that aren't anger, stress. But yeah, when you get a little clearer on them, then you can do that inner work that we talk a lot about. And I love inner work, inner work is good.
Dr Mary Barson: (10:31) It is. That's where growth occurs. A useful tip I find for when I want to examine how I'm feeling is to approach it from the point of view - all my feelings are okay, they're not good or bad. I'm allowed to feel whatever I want. I'm allowed to feel extreme anger, extreme resentment, or whatever, as long as you know, yeah, I'm not punching people in the head or murdering them. That's fine. So yeah, just take the guilt out of it. And take the judgement out of it is what I'm trying to say. So you're open minded. And then a useful tip with language that I find. So if I'm feeling really icky, and, and something my gut is tightening up, and you know, I feel the urge to yell at someone or to run away or to hide from something I need to do or to eat some chocolate or something. Rather than say, “Why am I like this? Why do I feel this way? Why do I keep doing this?” And not using 'why’, I use ‘what’ It's a much more gentle way, a much more curious way and a much more neutral way to approach how you’re feeling. What is making me feel this way? You know, what is going on for me right now? What is happening for me in my body? What is happening for me in my mind? It's less judgmental, and less accusatory. Helpful.
Dr Lucy Burns: (11:44) Absolutely. Absolutely. And you're right, you can ask yourself, What's going on for me in a, you know, cranky voice? Or you can, of course, say, “Ah, God, I don't feel right”. You know, and my favourite thing is, “Luce, what's going on here? What's going on for us?” And I often use the word “us” like, there's two of us, because it feels like a bit more of a team. There's two of us sorting through all of this, “What's going on for us?” And then sometimes I will journal. And I can write it all out. And sometimes it's like, journaling can be two things. It can be cathartic. So it's like it's all out, ah I feel better. Or it's actually, “Oh right!” It's like, oh, my god, now it's clear, it's clear for me, what is the issue. And sometimes, developing that clarity can also help you put it into perspective. And actually realise that because you were down in the thick of it, not being able to sort of take that step out, you couldn't see that it wasn't actually as big as you thought it was.
Dr Mary Barson: (12:47) Being able to separate yourself from your feelings.
Dr Lucy Burns: (12:53) Yeah. And interestingly, and you've said this a couple of times, that, you know, there are no good or bad feelings, and that we're allowed to feel all of them. I would say we, we actually have to, because what we often do is we, you know, we lean into the good ones, the easy ones are pleasant ones. And we suppress, run away, hide from the unpleasant ones. And of course, we all know that food is a very effective tool for suppressing it. But I'm reminded of that beach ball analogy that we've talked about in the past. But in case people have forgotten or not heard it before, it's this idea that if you're say, standing in a pool or at the beach, and you've got a beach ball, and the beach ball represents your emotions, and if they're just sitting on top and you're holding them lightly, it's sort of easy, you can move them around a bit, it's no big deal. But if you're stuffing them down, if you're forcing them under the water, because you don't want to see them, you're trying to smother them, neutralise, repress them, then what happens is that when you get tired, or when you take your, literally take your eye off the beach ball, it pings out, WHOA, and you know, it can come out then in completely uncontrolled, sometimes rage, because you've been trying to shovel them down rather than process them.
Dr Mary Barson: (14:12) It is. You push against them, and they push back. But if you can make room for them, you know, just let the metaphorical beach ball be there, then it's much lighter. And yes, holding this beach ball might suck a little bit. Or it might suck a lot. But the only way the beach ball is really going to be able to be processed, this whole process and allow the beach ball to eventually float away is to hold it lightly. Let it be there. And then eventually it will float away. The emotions don't last.
Dr Lucy Burns: (14:47) No, they all come and go and we know that. Nobody's joyful forever. It's normal to come and have periods of joy and periods of sadness. They're all normal. And we don't try and hang on to the joyful, we just, no. But we don't, we just don't love leaning into these unpleasant ones. And that, you know, it's understandable, but it's just not helpful to shuffle them down.
Dr Mary Barson: (15:10) No, no. And I think when you first start doing this, when you first start leaning into your more negative emotions, and that process of accepting them and letting them be there, it can be pretty uncomfortable. And it can suck a little bit. But ultimately, it is a really useful thing to do. Just like clearing out your fridge or just sitting down and planning your meals or just sort of doing the things in life that are really important for our good health, but aren't necessarily an enormous amount of fun, it still is a really important thing to do. And ultimately, it can lead to much greater peace. Ultimately can lead to a much greater quality of life, and literally improved health.
Dr Lucy Burns: (15:59) Absolutely. So gorgeous listeners, we have got a little resource that might be helpful for you. You know, there are as we talked about eleventy billion emotions, some of which you will be well and truly aware of, but helping you kind of just quantify, in fact, I think the phrase that you love using Mares is, “Name It To Tame It. And it is, if you can name your emotion, then that's the first step. So we have got a free resource for that which you can download. What's the address for that Mares?
Dr Mary Barson: (16:32) That is www.rlmedicine.com/stress and the link will be in the show notes.
Dr Lucy Burns: (16:44) Absolutely. Gorgeous ones. We will probably continue this conversation because it is one of our favourites. And we are wishing you the most wonderful week ahead. Have a good one and we will talk to you soon.
Dr Mary Barson: (16:55) Wonderful. See you later.
Dr Lucy Burns: (17:02) So my lovely listeners that ends this episode of Real Health and Weight Loss. I'm Dr. Lucy Burns.
Dr Mary Barson: (17:10) And I'm Dr. Mary Barson. We’re from Real Life Medicine. To contact us, please visit www.rlmedicine.com.
Dr Lucy Burns: (17:21) And until next time, thanks for listening. The information shared on the Real Health and Weight Loss podcast, including show notes and links provides general information only. It is not a substitute, nor is it intended to provide individualised medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, nor can it be construed as such. Please consult your doctor for any medical concerns.