Updated: Jan 4
Today is the final email in a series of three about the connection between Alzheimer’s and chronic stress. The first explained how the stress response works and the second detailed several ways chronic stress impacts the brain. If you missed one you can find them HERE. Today, I’ll give examples from my life of how ongoing stress affected me relative to my mom’s Alzheimer’s disease. I’ll also provide several ways to turn off the “fight or flight” system even if:
You feel like you can’t do anything about your situation.
You’re putting your own health on the “back-burner” while you care for a loved one.
You think you’ve got it all handled just as I did – I call that super-woman syndrome.
Remember, no one can live in a state of chronic stress without consequences. The hormones of stress are powerful and over time they create metabolic imbalances that lead to health problems and eventually serious disease.
Most of the chronic stress I’ve experienced over the last few years has been related to my mom’s Alzheimer’s. It began when I noticed her symptoms and started worrying about her. She didn’t want to talk about it, but I was able to convince her to try the Brain HQ program. I sat at the computer with her and realized she was unable to do the program independently. I became even more worried as I thought about our family history. My automatic stress response was turned on by my thoughts and was continually activated over time. It was 2012 and it would be 4 years before I found and read Dr. Bredesen’s research and case studies.
After attending his practitioner training, I was convinced he had the only solution available but was unable to engage my mom in the protocol. One of the most important parts of a successful implementation is spousal support. She didn’t have that in a way that was conducive to the medical paradigm shift and the number of lifestyle changes necessary. Additionally, she and her husband moved an hour away from my home and I no longer had any influence at all. That situation added to my stress – because of my thoughts.
In 2017, I received a call from the police. They found my mom sitting in her car on the side of the road, out of gas – she was on her way to visit her husband who was in the hospital. I didn’t know he was in the hospital. When I arrived to pick her up, she said “I’m so glad you came to see me”. I spent the night with her, cleaned up her house (which used to be spotless), spoke to the neighbors, put her car keys in my purse, and went to see her husband – who still didn’t get it, but agreed not to let her drive.
When I got home, I experienced pain in my upper abdomen and knew it was related to the stress of the situation. It was actually related to the stress of the previous 5 years. I also found it difficult to sleep because as soon as my head hit the pillow thoughts of my mom (past, present, and whatever I made up for the future) ran through my mind.
I had two serious signs that chronic stress was affecting me physically – gut issues and trouble sleeping – both increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
In 2018 my mom’s husband suddenly passed away and she came to live with me. Her Alzheimer’s had advanced to the point that she was unable to stay alone for even a few minutes, she was incontinent, constantly repeated herself, and I had to watch her every step because her gait was unstable, and my home has stairs. At night I worried she would get out of bed and fall. I was also responsible for cleaning out and selling her home, and all of the other tasks that accompanied the situation. And of course, my regular life with work and family didn't just stop. Eventually, I made the difficult decision to place her in full-time dementia care. A few weeks later, I went to a very small island.
I wish I could say my 29-day sabbatical cured my stress-related issues, but no matter where you go – there you are. I felt calmer, but over the next few months, I gained weight in spite of my healthy diet and daily exercise. This was my third symptom of chronic stress. I had a lot going on in my life, but the stress wasn’t outside of me – it was inside. It's always inside of us.
Sometimes we can change our outer circumstances and that’s helpful, but sometimes we can’t. That’s when we have to manage our stress internally by learning how to turn off the stress response. Fortunately, there are several things we can do to turn off the fight or flight system:
Notice, and mentally let go of, thoughts that cause worry, fear, and sadness.
Stop over-exercising (if you’re a gym rat you know what I mean)
If you don’t exercise, start - even a daily walk is helpful.
Meditation - this was the hardest thing for me to do consistently, and also the thing that’s made the most difference
Mentally let go of perfection and hyper-responsibility
HeartMath - in the free course you’ll how to move from stress to ease. Made a difference for me.
A few things I added to the above:
Liposomal melatonin before bed to help with sleep
Do all “before bed” chores an hour before bedtime and then relax
Get some help - delegate or hire house cleaning, ask a friend to stay with your loved one while you get a massage, run errands, etc.
Food delivery service – Butcher Box, Green Chef, etc.
Diet and exercise are important for a healthy life, but if you’re living in a state of chronic stress, they aren’t enough. If you’ve put yourself on the back-burner – get yourself off. If you think you can’t take care of yourself right now – you can. If you happen to have super-woman (or man) syndrome – you can take off the cape. Be good to your beautiful self.
Angela Chapman is a Bredesen ReCODE Practitioner and Functional Health Educator. If you're searching for proven ways to protect your brain health and avoid Alzheimer's disease, her Sunday email is a great resource for you. Learn more about it HERE.