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Join Srinika at this special workshop where she will be sharing recommendations for how to prevent stress and overwhelm from taking a toll on our bodies. With special guest Dr. Teresa Lau, DC, of Vibrant Body Health. Dr. Teresa has been a practitioner of Network Analysis for 9 years, and is a specialist in nervous system rejuvenation.

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Increasing Resilience to Stress

Srinika Narayan:                Hi. I’m Srinika at Srinika Healing, and thank you for joining us tonight. Tonight’s episode is Developing Resistance to Stress. And I’m here joined by Dr. Teresa Lau, the owner of Vibrant Body Wellness in Berkeley. Dr. Teresa is a chiropractor and practices network spinal analysis, which is a form of chiropractic that deals with spinal wellness. She’s been in practice for 12 years and is really an expert in how stress affects our nervous system, so thank you for joining us.

Dr. Teresa Lau:                   Sure. It’s a pleasure. Thank you.

Srinika Narayan:                And tell me about … We decide to do this topic together on stress because it’s one of our favorite topics. Tell me a little bit about why it’s one of your favorite topics.

Dr. Teresa Lau:                   Yeah. Stress is one of my favorite topics because everybody has it. It’s everywhere, and people are always complaining about it. And then the thing that I love about being able to talk about stress is that most of us have a somatic experience of that stress, like you always hear people say, “Oh, I carry my stress here. I carry my stress in my low back,” or “I have an upset stomach when I get too stressed out.” So I enjoy talking about stress because it brings it back to the body, and that gives us a chance to do something about it. Yeah.

Srinika Narayan:                Right, right. Okay. We’ve talked a little bit about what’s a stress response versus what’s a challenge response.

Dr. Teresa Lau:                   Yeah, the other day when we were chatting, I was bringing up this cool thing that they’ve been studying for the last 10 years or so, the difference between a stress response or a challenge response. So stress, everyone says, “Oh, I’m so stressed out,” and we think of stress as a negative thing, something that kind of wears us down, or weighs on us, but stress is actually anything that causes us to move or change. So a challenge response is the way that we receive or respond to something that’s getting us to change.

So the usual example for a challenge response is an athlete. So any time you work out … Anyone that works out knows that when you’re pushing and your muscles start to tire or you start to sweat and your heart rate goes up, all of those are stressors, but they’re for a positive thing. We’re getting healthier. Our heart’s getting stronger. Our muscles are getting bigger. And athletes, especially competitive athletes, are training their challenge response, meaning if it’s a race or if there’s a competition, not only are they taxing their physical body, but it’s a stressful situation. It’s a competitive environment, but rather than see that as something that’s wearing on them, they instead see it as something that there’s a benefit at the end of it. So they kind of rise to the challenge. It’s called a challenge response.

Srinika Narayan:                Yeah. So it’s different physiologically in the body?

Dr. Teresa Lau:                   Yeah, it’s different physiologically. So the stress response, we have adrenaline and cortisol. Those are chemicals. We all have the internet now, so people are really familiar with those kinds of terms, but they’re hormones in the body that basically get elevated when we’re under stress. They’ve measured. When athletes, for example, are having a challenge response, they do have some adrenaline, cortisol in their systems, but they’re at different ratios than when someone’s stressed out. And then there’s also epinephrine and norepinephrine, which give us all this mental focus and clarity, like how they say, “You just focus on the finish line, and you block everything else.” That’s epinephrine and norepinephrine in our brain. And so the challenge response biochemically, it’s different than the stress response.

Srinika Narayan:                Okay. So we shouldn’t automatically just assume, “Cortisol. Oh, it’s bad”?

Dr. Teresa Lau:                   Right.

Srinika Narayan:                We need it at times.

Dr. Teresa Lau:                   We need it, yeah. We need it, yeah. Stress is and can be a negative thing, and most of the time when we look around or in our lives, it is a negative thing because of three things, three reasons. One, the stress is exceeding our capacity to respond, right? So if it’s too much, like too long or too intense of a situation, that creates all those sort of negative biochemical ratios in our bodies. And then another reason is that it’s chronic, so it’s not just that I have one stressful thing happening, but it’s actually that stressful thing is my boss, and I go to that thing every day, so over and over gain with not enough or not long enough or numerous enough periods of rest or recovery from those times.

And then the last is that the stress is threatening. So for example, in a race, the athlete could see the threat of the competition as like, “Oh. Maybe I’m first in the country, and this might sort of topple me,” but instead they look it as, “This is my opportunity to show that I can do even better.” Or if you’re second place, “This is my opportunity to get first place.” So part of a negative stress response is that whatever the stressor is seen as something that’s going to result in a loss, rather than-

Srinika Narayan:                Than pushing you further.

Dr. Teresa Lau:                   … Pushing forward. Yeah.

Srinika Narayan:                Okay. Yeah. Very interesting. From my perspective on nutritional analysis, the effect of all these hormones on the liver is what really causes the problem. So the liver is a big organ, and it filters out a lot of different kinds of toxicity in our body, and excess hormones are one of those things that it filters out. So if we get too much adrenaline, too much cortisol, it clogs up the liver, and then what we see is anything that liver affects, any hormones … It can affect the digestion. It can affect sleep. It can affect moods. When it gets clogged up, it can go into all those areas and start affecting our lives negatively that way. So basically, it can also be snowball effect with moods because sometimes poor moods are going to create stress hormones. That clogs up the liver, and then a clogged up liver, in turn, can create even more poor moods basically. So then what we find is just the snowball effect where, “Okay, how do we kind of stop that system from happening?”

And the second big organ that stress really affects is the adrenal glands. So the adrenal glands create these stress hormones, but right, what if it’s chronic? What if it’s just a lot of stress, just goes on having to create these hormones? At some point, it starts to burn out. It’s just been too much wear and tear, and then what can happen is it actually stops creating as much of these hormones, which can also be a problem, or it just gets in the habit of going on creating these hormones, and they can’t stop. It’s just gotten into a pattern. So then, there are problems with that, as well. So liver and adrenals are the big things that I see in nutritional analysis when people come in, and they have a lot of stress, and we’re looking for, “Well, what are the organs that are affected?” And usually it’s those two.

How about network spinal, Teresa? What kind of things do you see?

Dr. Teresa Lau:                   Yeah, so with network spinal … With chiropractic in general, we’re looking at the spine, and so we’re focused on nervous system. And the nervous system is actually mitigates or what kicks off the stress response, or it kicks off the adrenals being activated, and all those hormones being created in the body. I have spine right here that I’m going to show you.

So this is the spine. This is the back of the spine, and basically, I think folks have heard about the sympathetic versus the parasympathetic. Sympathetic nervous is half of the nervous system that runs that fight or flight survival part of our physiology. So if there’s a bus bearing down on you or if you’re afraid you’re going to lose your job, the sympathetic nervous system is what kicks in regardless of the stress. And that part of the nervous system actually lives in the sort of upper back to the mid back. So this called the thoracic spine is where the sympathetic nervous system lives, right along the spine and the spinal cord in this middle section of the spine.

The parasympathetic nervous system is the other half of the nervous system that basically runs everything else in the body. So fight or flight is to help you fight off whatever the threat is or run away from it, and then the parasympathetic nervous system runs your immune system, your digestive system, helps with tissue repair, stimulates the higher cortex, like your higher brain function. And the parasympathetic nervous system lives up here in the upper neck and up in the brain, so the parasympathetic nerves come directly from the brain down into the brain stem and this upper neck and comes up, and then also lives down here in the lower back and down into the tailbone. So it’s kind of like a division of labor. Parasympathetic is up at the top and bottom, and sympathetic in the middle.

Srinika Narayan:                Oh, I had no idea. Yeah. Sympathetic was in middle, and then parasympathetic was top and bottom. I thought everything ran through-

Dr. Teresa Lau:                   Yeah. The body is such an amazing thing. If you imagine, there’s also the rib cage here in the middle, thoracic spine, and all of our vital organs, so the thoracic spine, that fight or flight, all of this is just about protecting the vital organs, right? And the parasympathetic at the top and bottom.

Srinika Narayan:                Yeah, yeah. Interesting.

Dr. Teresa Lau:                   The sympathetic nervous system comes out of the thoracic spine and goes into all the organs, and then the parasympathetic nervous system at the top and bottom also go into all the same organs. So basically, one half of the nervous system is for ramping up the fight or flight in those organs, and the other half is for ramping up all of the digestion, regeneration, and things like that in the same organ.

Srinika Narayan:                Well, what are practical things then we can do to mitigate the stress response?

Dr. Teresa Lau:                   Yeah, the stress response is something that is, again, one of my favorite things to talk about because there’s so many things you could do, right? There are mindfulness techniques. There’s all these things to deal with the psycho-emotional part of how we respond to stress, and then physiologically, even just putting your hands on your body, one hand on top of the other and taking some focus breath, also switches the nervous system.

And there’s a theory also about the last 10 years called the Polyvagal theory, that actually engages the parasympathetic nervous system along the front of your body and creates not so much a push, pull kind of situation … Like either you’re pushing for survival or you’re pulling it out of survival and into the rest and digestion … But it’s actually about becoming more able to respond to and be resilient to stress. So putting your hands on the front of your body, different mindfulness techniques, those are all things that will basically up your ability to interact with and cope with stress. And that in turn changes the biochemical makeup.

Srinika Narayan:                Interesting.

Dr. Teresa Lau:                   Yeah.

Srinika Narayan:                Okay. Simply just touching and-

Dr. Teresa Lau:                   Breathing.

Srinika Narayan:                … Breathing kind of tells the body, “Hey. Everything’s okay,” and then go back to parasympathetic.

Dr. Teresa Lau:                   And the main thing with the Polyvagal theory is that your nervous system and your heart rate start to become more dynamically responsive to what’s happening now. So it’s no like, “Oh, I have a fright,” and then my whole system just stays in that state. It’s actually continuing to fluctuate. So you have a fright, and then it’s over, and you actually can register that it’s done, and then your body can actually start to learn how to do that better and better, so it becomes a practice … Something that your nervous system actually gets better and better at.

Srinika Narayan:                Yeah, interesting. Wonderful. Great.

Dr. Teresa Lau:                   What about with-

Srinika Narayan:                Nutritional analysis.

Dr. Teresa Lau:                   … Nutritional analysis?

Srinika Narayan:                Yeah. Well, I generally advise people if they’re under emotional stress, then try to have fewer additional physical stressors in their life. So if you can’t quite help one side of things, help the other side of things that will mitigate things, and a lot of that’s just making it easier for the liver to manage the hormones that are coming in. So a lot of these tips are really go easy on your liver. What does that mean?

So there’s so many stressors on the liver. A lot of them are chemical or radiation based type of stressors, so one big thing is, for instance, don’t have your cell phone on at night. It’s so simple. Keep it on airplane mode, but this really reduces the amount of electromagnetic field stress that’s going into your liver, which is active at night, which is trying to do a lot for you at night. It doesn’t want to be impeded by that, even if no one’s actively calling you. So it seems like, “That doesn’t seem too hard.” Yeah, it makes a big, big difference.

Other things … Don’t put a computer on your lap. That too just really increases stress in the body, but especially the liver. In terms of chemical stressors, be mindful of food basically. So all these processed foods have artificial sweetener in it, natural flavors in it, which are flavor enhancers, totally just chemical. Going out to eat a lot, there’s often GMOs in our food … GMO cooking oils, when you go out to eat, and so that puts a lot of stress on the body, as well. And then just being mindful of where you’re breathing, and drinking more filtered water, and all of these small, small things make a difference in terms of taking stress off the liver, so it can manage these hormones and get them out of your system faster.

The other big thing is really working on the adrenal glands, and so the adrenal glands like regularity. They like sameness. They like to know when you’re going to eat, so not skipping meals, for instance, is a big thing that really helps the adrenal glands. Having some protein at each meal and not letting your blood sugar just spike up by just having carbs at a meal, and of course, avoiding too much sugar in your diet is very helpful too. In terms of herbs, any kind of liver clearing herbs are helpful, which would be dandelion root or milk thistle. There’s several things out there that are very good for the liver. Vegetables, in general, are very helpful for the liver.

And in terms of the adrenal glands, adaptogenic herbs are super helpful, and these are herbs like ginseng, [inaudible 00:15:32], rhodiola. You can find them at most health food stores under the adaptogen section, and what these do is just to help regulate the adrenals, keep them from getting too excited, but keep them from getting too tired. So it just kind of keeps them at a same quality, which is super helpful, so they don’t output an excess of cortisol and adrenaline when you don’t need it. So yeah, those things are generally what I suggest when I see people coming in a stressed state that’s affecting their body. We try to just avoid other stressors is the biggest thing.

Dr. Teresa Lau:                   I guess I think of pharmaceuticals, and Advil, and those kinds of things when I think of stress on the liver.

Srinika Narayan:                Oh, yeah. Certainly. Yeah, yeah. All these pain relief type of medication and pharmaceuticals in general, the residue has to be filtered out, and the liver is doing that, so yeah, that’s one thing to keep in mind, as well. So try not to unnecessarily take medication … Over the counter medication anyways. And tell me how does work affect people in their stress response. I’ve been seeing Teresa myself for the past few months, and it just feels great afterwards. Just relaxed and everyone around who’s just got a treatment also they look like, “Ah.” They come from spa treatment basically. So your work is working on that stress response, it seems.

Dr. Teresa Lau:                   Yeah, yeah. The work I do is working pretty much directly with the stress response. It’s giving your nervous system a chance to take a break from that crisis, stressed out, hypervigilant sort of mode and giving the rest of your body and nervous system a chance to tune in, get a stronger sense of your rhythm, and your own energy, and create strategies for how to do that better and better, and more and more on your own, in your life. So the session with me on the table are really a learning or practice process, where your body and your spine get a chance to shift gears out of the fight or flight into some deep breathing and some presence. And then your nervous system actually learns how to do that better and better, more and more efficiently.

Srinika Narayan:                Right. You call them entrainments, not adjustments.

Dr. Teresa Lau:                   We call them entrainments, not adjustments. Yes, because adjustment would kind of infer that I’m trying to take your spine from one place to some place else I think it should be, and an entrainment is actually your system becoming regulated with itself, so self regulating, self adapting, resilient.

Srinika Narayan:                Okay. Great. Yeah, very interesting. I do muscle testing, and I basically am looking for what are the organs that are imbalanced, and then we can test for foods that might be helpful to bring in, foods that would be helpful to take out, and different herbs to use, so it kind of takes the guess work out of which herbs to use. And now I even have emotions vials actually that can look for what kind of emotions are stuck in different organs that are creating stress, and then at least just stating, “Okay. These are the emotions that are there.” Even just getting that out in the open can sometimes just help relieve those emotions. So yeah. That’s how nutritional analysis can work.

Dr. Teresa Lau:                   Cool.

Srinika Narayan:                Yeah. Any final thoughts?

Dr. Teresa Lau:                   Do I have any final thoughts?

Srinika Narayan:                How do people find you if they’re interested in your work?

Dr. Teresa Lau:                   Oh, sure. VibrantBodyWellness.com, and there’s a schedule on there. You can see what hours we’re in the office, and I see new people in two visits. The first is a full exam and consultation. We go over your health history and whatever challenges you’re having with your health, and then I do a spinal exam, and then the second follow up visit is to talk about those findings and what we might do to work together.

Srinika Narayan:                Great, wonderful. Well, thank you for being on the show, Dr. Teresa.

Dr. Teresa Lau:                   Oh, yeah. Pleasure.

Srinika Narayan:                Yeah.

Dr. Teresa Lau:                   Thanks for having me.

Srinika Narayan:                Yes. And if you want to know more about my practice, just go to SrinikaHealing.com, and I will see you on the next show.