Joe leaned back in his recliner chair, reminiscing on his retirement party. His co-workers told him how much they appreciated his hard work over the years, and wished they could also leave the daily grind and retire. Joe told them of his plans to travel and just enjoy life. Joe felt alive that day, looking forward to his well-deserved reward during his golden years.
Retirement didn’t turn out so glorious. He still kept in contact with some of his friends at work, and he learned that the systems he had put in place at the company over many years had been replaced by newer, better versions, and his name was hardly mentioned at work anymore. He had tried traveling and fulfilling his bucket list, but somehow those activities weren’t as exciting as he had imagined they would be. Now he spent much of his time in front of the TV, gaining weight and losing energy. On top of all that, he was starting to develop some health problems that made it harder to get up and go after his bucket list.
Work stress had been replaced by lack of purpose for Joe. He was actually longing for the good old days when he was working hard. He remembered the elation he felt when a major project was completed. His mind seemed sharp back then, and now he wondered if he could even handle work like that anymore.
The flip side of stress
Chronic stress is trouble. It leads to all sorts of disease. Yet, having no challenges in life, nothing that gets you pushing your limits and stretching your abilities, can do similar damage. Joe hardly expected lack of job stress would make him feel worse. He would have taken back the stress — at least then he had something to show for his efforts. Now he is just wasting away.
You know the “use it or lose it” principle. Regarding physical strength, if you don’t work out in some manner, you will become weaker. Your body only strengthens what is challenged. Stress is the signal to your body to shore up a weak system. That could be your muscles, your brain, your cardiovascular system, or any part of you that is being challenged. The right kind of stress leads to such improvement, but the wrong kind tears you down. How can you tell the difference?
Just what is stress?
Consider these terms: worry, fear, hopelessness, regret, anxiety, and obsession — do you consider them to be “stress”? Your body does. How about these: deadlines, excitement, taking on a college course, getting married, raising a family, a new job — do you also consider those to be “stress”? Apparently your body does, because at first the reaction is the same: higher pulse, racing thoughts, and then fatigue. Yet over time, your body reacts very differently; in the first case, it degenerates, and in the second, gets stronger and healthier.
Are you confused yet? What does the research tell us about stress — maybe it can help us discern the difference. Published in Psychiatry Research, researchers from the University of Georgia tested a group of over 1,200 young adults to compare their levels of mental stress against their cognitive abilities. Generally for those perceiving low to moderate stress, their memory and processing speed increased. The stress tended to protect them from developing mental health symptoms, increasing their resilience to future stress.
But high, chronic stress is destructive, not protective, particularly in the same areas of the brain that low to moderate stress can strengthen. As published in Annual Review of Neuroscience, researchers show that both acute and chronic stress suppress neurogenesis across the brain and cause reduction of the hippocampus, the center of learning and memory. The stress causes production of excitatory amino acids which, in the short term causes increased cognition (think “excitatory” comes from “excitement” — when you are excited your mind races), but long term burns out neurons, leading to neuronal death.
You are as young as your brain
An ambitious study called the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 gathered brain aging data the slow way: the researchers gave an intelligence test to all public students in the Edinburgh (Lothian) region of Scotland in 1947, including a medical review, physical fitness test, cognitive testing of reasoning, memory, and processing speed, and personality. Study results of the 1091 surviving participants beyond age 70 was published in BMC Geriatrics by researchers at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. The researchers gave the same mental ability test to the participants at around age 73, with the addition of blood samples for DNA testing. The study showed that those whose brains were functioning poorly on the follow-up mental tests were showing signs of aging beyond their biological age: they had lower lung capacity, slower walking speeds, and weaker grip strength for example. Those whose brains had held up well were acting more youthful even though they were the same physical age as the other study participants.
The brain controls the body. What your brain constantly signals your body either builds it up or tears it down. Stress over time will shape your brain, which shapes your body. Thus, stress management is vital to good health and healthy aging.
Are You a Good Stress or a Bad Stress?
The term “eustress” (the “eu” prefix means “good”) was coined to refer to excitement, anticipation of something good, and stress that inspires or motivates. This is the opposite of worry or fear. Not only is eustress helpful, it is vital to health. Without purpose to get you up and moving in the morning, you will likely become a couch potato — unmotivated, accomplishing little, and probably not happy with yourself. Without stress that leads to accomplishment and satisfaction in a job well done, you lose the spark of life. It is hard to get so much of this good stress that it overloads your brain, whereas bad stress that becomes chronic can do exactly that. Eustress is self-limiting: it won’t do damage even though the physiological effects appear the same as bad stress in the short term. And even bad stress may lead you to take good action: if you worry about making a deadline you work harder to accomplish it, turning the stress into eustress, because the stress ends.
Stress is a signal that something needs to change. This is true of mental or physical stress. Stress on any cell tells it that change is needed, and it epigenetically tries to do just that in response. Good stress tells the body to strengthen; in that way, exercise, while it breaks down some muscle, tells your body to build more muscle because the stress reveals a weakness that the body will try to compensate. But exercise to the point of injury may put a halt to further exercise and is harmful. So physical stress is much like mental stress — it can strengthen you or hit a breaking point, tearing you down.
Joe thought he could retire and enjoy life. He tried to remove stress from his life, only to be worse off for the effort. He forgot that stress can be a good thing in moderation. In retiring, he “threw the baby out with the bath water.”
Is your stress good or bad? Are your thoughts filled with worry and fear, or anticipation and excitement? Thoughts will determine the type of stress you encounter. Even when bad things happen around you, it is your perception that really matters. Peace, love, joy — these will give you a younger brain, greater disease resistance, and likely a longer life on this planet.
Dr. Nemec’s Review
Look, stress is like a weight: a weight on the muscle, a weight on the cell, a weight on the neuron in the brain, a weight on the liver cell, a weight on the heart cell. The right amount of weight will strengthen each cell which improves its function, but too much weight on the cell will damage it, even destroy it, so the key is how much is the right amount?
This is where the terms acute and chronic apply. Acute stress means just enough weight to push the cells slightly beyond their limits, which strengthens them. Chronic stress is long-term and equivalent to much more weight than the cells can handle, so it damages them, even kills them prematurely. So how do you know if you’re in acute or chronic stress? Look at it this way: if you run the hundred yard dash you are running as fast as you can but only for 15 seconds. This is acute stress. Now if you run a marathon instead this is chronic stress. You can even see it in body types. Most Olympic sprinters are very muscular whereas most Olympic marathon run runners look extremely thin — and men and women look similar because they’re breaking down a lot of tissue, a lot of cells when they run long distance so often.
So the big difference in stress is this: do you look forward to the results that the stress brings? Nobody likes the pain, but everyone likes the gain after the pain, so the pain is permissible as long as it’s not forever — that’s the key. Do you look forward to the results, and is there a beginning and an end of this stress?
Last and most important stress is not negative stress if it’s done from a pure heart. This means you do some thing from your spirit that is not about your self-gain but about a God-revealed purpose or mission to lift up another. This is always a positive stress, but only if it’s done from a pure heart and not a religious mind.
Here are the ways we can help you in your health journey:
- Outpatient Comprehensive Teaching and Treatment Program-has the most benefit of teaching, treatment, live classes and personalized coaching. This program has the most contact with Dr. Nemec with 3- 6 month programs that can be turned into a regular checking and support program for life. This is our core program that has helped so many restore their health and maintain that restoration for years.
- Inpatient Comprehensive Teaching and Treatment Program-is our four-week intensive inpatient program for those that are not in driving distance, usually over 4 hour drive. This is the program that is an intensive jumpstart with treatment, teaching, live classes and coaching designed for all our international patients along with those in the US that do not live in Illinois. This program is very effective especially when combined with our new membership program support.
- Stay at Home Program-is offered to continental US patients who cannot come to Total Health Institute but still want a more personal, customized plan to restore their health. This program also includes our Learn Membership Program.
- Membership Program is our newest program offered for those that want to work on their health at a high level and want access to the teaching at Total Health Institute along with the Forums: both Dr. Nemec’s posts and other members posting. And also, to have the chance to get personalized questions answered on the conference calls which are all archived in case you miss the call. The Membership Program has 3 levels to choose from: Learn, Overcome and Master. The difference is at the Overcome and Master levels you received one on one calls with Dr. Nemec personalizing your program for your areas of focus.