It has never been more important than ever to take control of how we intentionally care for ourselves.  In 2020 the U.S.A., and the whole world, faced an unprecedented shocking viral pandemic, (a.k.a. COVID19 or Coronavirus), that forced us to make all-encompassing changes, innovate and make new life choices. It opened our eyes to the importance of actively engaging in understanding our immune system and taught us how to be more proactive about nutrition to guard and defend our bodies, combat illnesses, reduce our vulnerabilities, and fortunately avoid death. 

The public at large started taking a deeper look at how certain vitamins, such as Vitamin D3, if deficient, would prove to be ominous in survival from Coronavirus infection; how Vitamin C would create a vital protective metabolic environment in the counterattack, the healing of viral illnesses, and how glutathione, the mother of all anti-oxidants, has a foundational role in the optimal engagement of our protective immune systems.

One thing for sure, in managing the physiological and mental effects of this illness and its associated conundrum of challenges, (such as isolation, the loss of friends or relatives, loss of finances to name a few), and even death, our bodies began operating in the FIGHT – FLIGHT – FREEZE stress response which is necessary to survive against a threat.  If chronically maintained, however, it will cause an ongoing production of the stress hormones which create bodily dysfunctions.  

We are still enduring this pandemic, even if to a lesser extent and our bodies are still sensing there is ongoing danger resulting in our brains sounding a physiological alarm. Many are still in a hypervigilance preservative mode in one way or another.

The matter in question?  We must decidedly start, or continue to support, our body in its intelligent quest to protect us and win the stress battle.

Augment your resilience, tame the FIGHT – FLIGHT – FREEZE response, and put your adrenal glands at ease. By soothing your adrenal system you will consequently be enhancing your immune system and destroy those foreign bodies you were meant to kill.  Here are 10 simple, but powerful, reminders to hack stress:

  1.  Nourish yourself judiciously. I can’t emphasize this more! Cut refined sugars, saturated fats, salt, and substitute for colorful wholesome foods full of phytonutrients, fibers, and good energy! Spend more time in the produce section than in the middle aisles of the supermarket.
  2. Take 15-20 minutes of sun daily. Vitamin D is vital for brain and immune health. Avoid peak sunlight to avoid skin cancer. 
  3. Hydrate! We are 60% water.  The brain is about 30% in water content!
  4. Exercise (stretch and walk- even if it is indoor- yoga, do pilates, whatever fits your body and soul)- these will increase your dopamine and happy neurotransmitters, help with hormonal balance, increase your oxygenation, release toxins from your body, etc.)  Shh… Secret – I love Zumba, but I am not as graceful, nor will I attempt many of their movements because I want to feel better rather than injure myself.  Nevertheless, listening to tropical Latin music and slowly moving to its rhythm, makes me feel alive.  This allows me to release tension!  Take a peek at this short Zumba video for beginners!  Why not?  (There are some studies praising Zumba practices in patients with Fibromyalgia**).  Do not attempt unless cleared by your doctor.  
  5. Belly-breath— ask your smartwatch to remind you to breathe! But if you can’t, my favorite free Breathing App is Kardia. Check videos on how to do it correctly. I like the 4-4-4 technique.
  6. Moderate your alcohol intake– alcohol activates the GABA receptors causing early feelings of relaxation, but it will backfire later. Oh! And the liver…
  7. Stop smoking. This is a no-brainer. Nicotine competes with oxygen, one of the most important elements in survival, especially when overcoming infections and diseases.
  8. Use light therapy(especially if you are up North during the winter months).
  9. REST! We underestimate the power of rest. If you are oversleeping, there could be something out of the normal, so check if you find yourself unable to feel rested after long periods of rest.
  10. On helpful supplements:

a.  Adaptogens- Herbs that help us resist stress- You can get the herb directly and drink it as tea, mix it with milk, or you can buy it in capsules.  Some of these are:

    • Ashwagandha 
    • Asian ginseng
    • Rhodiola
    • Valerian/ Passion Flower (my faves)- I have boxes at home, it is the only tea I take by the way. With a touch of lemon and honey… yummy! If not, Myocalm Plus Caps can help too.

b.  GABA (Gamma Amino Butyric Acid)- an aminoacid made and used in the brain. The ‘natural Xanax’.

It goes to the GABA receptors and inhibits those neurons firing anxiety, muscle tension, overwhelming feelings, and overactive brains.

I suggest starting slow and increasing slowly: 100-125 mg daily. Be aware, even this small amount can potentially make people feel uneasy. Be careful and always consult with the appropriate clinician.

There are still contradicting studies about how GABA may not pass the blood-brain barrier, important for any brain medication or nutraceutical to do its job.  It has worked wonders for many but it may not do the same for you.

​c.  5-HTP 

As a  serotonin precursor, it has the potential to improve your mood by both diminishing depressive, as well as angry feelings. It takes a bit to start working, therefore starting sooner than later is the best.

Be warned: 5=-HTP is not recommended to be taken along with SSRI medications (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as Celexa, Zoloft, Lexapro; as both would be potentiating each other.  This increases the risk of bumping your serotonin level too high and causes serious adverse effects. You must consult your physician.

d.  L-theanine

An amino acid that promotes relaxation without making you drowsy.

Start with 50-100 mg/daily if cleared by your clinician. Always make sure to try it when you are sure you won’t be driving.

e.  Magnesium 

I prefer Magnesium Malate or Magnesium (Bis)Glycinate.  A good starting dose 200 mcg orally at night. You can potentially increase it up to three times a day. 

Many patients with fibromyalgia are Magnesium deficient, which will halt relaxing and sleeping well, among others.

Cardiac and renal patients must consult the use of Magnesium.

Did you know that Epsom Salt contains magnesium? You can relax in your bathtub by adding some of it. Many preparations are mixed with Lavender, known to relax as well.

In summary, my friend: choose best, engage in healthy practices and win the battle over stress.

Dr. Aviles

P.S. I touch base on all of these points in more detail in the Academy’s Health and Wellness Modules.

This article is for educational purposes only and should not substitute your physician’s advice.