One of the greatest challenges that has been affecting so many people all over the world is stress. With so much going on every day, in and out of our lives, it has become difficult to avoid falling into the stress trap. But just because we all face it, one way or another, doesn’t mean we can’t overcome it. In this episode, Jen Du Plessis interviews Dr. Elizabeth Hughes, a Stanford-trained physician with more than 25 years of clinical experience treating thousands of patients with stress-related illnesses and having her own life nearly ruined by stress and chronic anxiety. Dr. Hughes shares with us her unconventional medical approach to treating stress-related conditions, moving into non-Western systems around health and healing. She takes us deep into her own unique process to turn off the body’s harmful stress response—from eating to movement and everything in between. Listen in on this insightful discussion that could help you reverse stress-related illness symptoms and overcome the root that keeps you from living a long and healthy life.
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How To Treat Stress-Related Conditions With Elizabeth Hughes
I am delighted to have a great speaker with us who’s going to help us with stress. That is the biggest thing that we’re dealing. Let me take this opportunity to introduce our guest. Dr. Elizabeth Hughes is a Stanford-trained physician with more than 25 years of clinical experience. After treating thousands of patients with a stress-related illness and having her own life nearly ruined by stress and chronic anxiety, she realized that the conventional medical approach is completely inadequate to treat stress-related conditions so she vowed to do something much better. Her quest led her to a study on non-Western systems, health and healing. She’s a registered yoga teacher, a health coach and a practitioner of several energy medicine modalities. She’s developed the Stress Antidote System, which you’re going to learn about. It’s a unique process to turn off the body’s harmful stress response. She’s helped clients all over the world overcome the root because of their stress and reverse symptoms of stress-related illness. I am delighted to have you here with us.
This is exciting. Thanks, Jen.
What a great pedigree of what you’re doing and putting together. What I want to talk about, I’m going to bring this up because most of the people that are reading are going through some type of transition or they’re in a business that is high stress. I myself have had an experience. My husband had three heart attacks in a two-month period years ago and it was all induced by stress. Our family physician missed it to the extent that after he had a heart attack and he went to the heart specialist that was assigned at the hospital. She called that heart specialist into her office and for three days, they manually went through all of her patients because she was so afraid that it would happen to other people. Brian looked healthy. He’s type 2 diabetic and she was treating him for that.
She knew there was a possibility, but not when another person who was in her office is over 300 pounds and has no symptoms whatsoever. Not diabetic and all that. Brian didn’t look like that and didn’t feel like that. She said, “If I can miss it with someone who looks good over someone who, in the stereotype, doesn’t look good, it’s scary.” I know that it was stress-induced. He was always complaining about it. I know there’s a lot of symptoms to that as well. Those that are reading, we live in a society that is very stressed out, partly because of social media because we’re all glorifying the busyness. We all have to one-up each other. If they look busier, they’re more successful.
We’re always showing the best parts of us. We’re all chasing that and we’re living our lives through the almighty dollar. That’s what my coaching is all about. Lifestyle Business Mastery is to calm that down and get rid of all that angst that happens when we’re overwhelmed, we’re overstressed, we’re overworked and we’re working these horribly long hours. We’re sacrificing everything to be like the Joneses, quite frankly. It’s this false sense of security. Now, that I’ve got everybody stressed just reading, which is what I wanted to do because I have it in my chest. It’s starting to feel a little heavy because I’m talking about things that I can’t stand. Let’s talk about how our health is affected by stress. Help us understand how is it affected? Some people think, “I’m not stressed.”
That’s what most people think of, “I’m stressed out, but it’s not important. I can handle it.” To get to the basics, any time that you feel stress, your body is releasing this very specific soup of hormones and neurotransmitters that, at a very fundamental survival level, your body thinks that it can’t handle it. It might not survive. That soup of chemicals, neurotransmitters, hormones signals the body to go into survival mode. Every single solitary cell in the body responds. Your immune system, your heart, your intestines, your kidneys, your lungs and your brain in a big way, everything goes on panic alert.
You may have heard the idea of you can’t do calculus while you’re being chased by a tiger. Your body can’t do those complicated functions, but our bodies have a complicated job to do. They are constantly repairing themselves or replacing our proteins. They’re building new blood cells. They’re making new antibodies. The heart is pumping. That takes energy and it takes focus, which the body does effortlessly. You don’t have to think about it, but the body is working 24/7 to keep you healthy. The moment that stress response goes on, everything comes to a stop. It’s like the fire alarm goes and the body goes into some degree of shut down, diversion, or minimal sustainable biologic activity.
That’s exactly what I was thinking. When you said that, it’s like, “Calling all cells, we have a problem over here.”
Everybody goes into the bomb shelter, huddles down, and doesn’t do anything else. That works if there’s a bomb or a hurricane that comes through. Our bodies are so incredibly resilient that we’re able to do this for year after year and think it’s normal, but it’s not healthy. It’s like death by 10,000 paper cuts. Each little one is going to peel off and get rid of your skin and you’ll get to that 9,999 and you’re okay and then you got a heart attack.Our bodies are so incredibly resilient that we're able to fight stress year after year and think it's normal, but it's not healthy. Click To Tweet
That’s exactly what I talk about with a lot of people in my coaching. Mine is stolen from Darren Hardy, who’s a big mentor of mine. We don’t get bitten by elephants. We get bitten by mosquitoes. It’s the seemingly insignificant little things that can affect change for us in a positive or negative way. One of the things for me to be completely vulnerable is as I’m getting older, I’ve never had to lose a lot of weight. I’ve always been fairly thin, but it’s harder for me to keep weight off. It seems like things are shifting. The biggest problem I have is my whole tummy area. I’m stressed about it. I’m thinking about all the time, “Can I eat that? Should I eat that? I probably shouldn’t eat that. A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.”
I am consumed with what I’m consuming. I’m literally over consumed and it stresses me because I look in the mirror, “I don’t like this clothing and then I won’t look nice when I go here. I don’t want my husband to touch me because he might feel my love handles now. As long as I lay on the bed, I look thinner than if I’m standing.” I’ve never had a butt because I’ve always had no butt. I look like I’m standing backward because my tummy is bigger than my butt. I am stressed over it and I’m going, “I don’t know what to do.” I wake up in the middle of the night and I’m hungry because I didn’t eat after 7:00 because that’s what you’re supposed to do. Now, I’m guilty because I’m eating in the middle of the night. I’m having a little snack to tide me over. Help me.
The first thing to realize is I believe that diets don’t work because the moment you decide you’re going to restrict yourself, that survival-based mechanism that’s inside you that can’t see beyond this present moment thinks that starvation is what it’s going to do. All of a sudden, you start craving things that you wouldn’t crave if you weren’t trying to restrict yourself. That switch that I talked about where every part of your body changes when you feel like your survival is threatened or your metabolism changes completely. This is where people talk about a calorie isn’t a calorie. A calorie eaten in a sense of comfort and joy is metabolized properly.
The excess is eliminated and a calorie eaten when the body thinks that might be the last morsel of food I get is going to be held on too tight. It’s interesting because the abdomen area is where the stress hormones put your weight. That’s where it stores it right next to the organs where it can’t be hurt. When I work with people, first off, we talk about how the body works in stress. Sometimes that clarity of like, “I’m stressing myself out and that’s not helpful.” Getting into the specifics is helpful, but I also teach people how to communicate with their body so that they can figure out what their body wants to eat. While I say I don’t believe in diets, I do believe shifting what you eat helps, but you have to let that shift come a little bit more naturally and intuitively. This happened to me a number of years ago. I used to read everything. I did a fast for a weekend, mainly as a challenge. A friend said, “I’m fasting. You want to do it?” I’m like, “Okay, we’ll do it.” When I came out of that fast, I didn’t want to eat meat anymore.
I don’t drink coffee.
The same thing. I did another fast and coffee went. I used to drink eight cups a day. It’s a matter of finding the right diet for you and having it come to you in a more organic way. Food becomes fun and you don’t feel hungry because there’s no sense of, “I’m denying myself something.” You’re eating exactly what you want.
I know we could dive more into that on the eating piece of it, but I was saying in general, the stress that goes around it. Let’s take us out of the eating part and everything that’s coming to us from our businesses. We’re a solopreneurs, we’re salespeople and we’re being stressed and pulled from every angle and we don’t have enough time. We’re sacrificing our family. We’re sabotaging everything. We are sabotaging our health. I can tell you when I was in the mortgage business, I would rather not eat lunch than to scarf lunch. The alternative was to stop and go get lunch, but I was too stressed. Everybody needed me. Everybody’s coming at me from all angles. What are some of the things that’s that doing to us?
It’s every way because your survival mechanism is thinking, “I can’t survive this next moment.” The deadline seems as difficult or as dangerous as the mountain lion or the car accident that you’re about to avoid. It’s always because your subconscious can’t figure out what’s dangerous, so it assumes everything’s maximally dangerous.
It maximizes everything, doesn’t it?
Those that are reading, putting yourselves in your office when you’re stressed like that, just writing a note, not because I’m stressed, but I’m about ready to write a note. That note is like, “I can’t do that note. I can’t hold this paper clip.”
To get personal, my son lost a crucial piece of homework once. He was running around in circles saying, “I can’t find it.” I was like, “Sweetie, let’s work on this because this is not going to go well later.”
A lot of times it’s right there. How many times have people said, “I can’t find my glasses,” when they’re on their heads?
The first bit of advice that I would give for people is if you want to address it, stress is never neutral. It’s not something that your body can weather forever. You may not feel like it’s directly hurting you, but it’s not helping you. Saying, “This is something that I am making a commitment to change.” When I was dealing with my own stress, my own adrenal fatigue, I had chronic pain. I had panic attacks. It was miserable. I realized that all of this stress around me was in my control. We have the same problem. Doctors don’t get to eat. I’m constantly on call. When do I sit and eat lunch? I don’t go out. I started to realize it was all something that I could control, then I was so incredibly efficient and able to get so much stuff done when I learned how to turn off that panic response.
That is what everybody does. Everyone handles it a little differently. Some people shut down when they’re stressed. They grab their head and they can’t figure out what to do.
That’s the freeze. That’s what the rabbits do so that they look like nothing.
Others, like my husband who’s Italian, he flies off the handle. It’s a fly off the handle thing. Everybody that’s reading is efficiently stressed intentionally. That was what I wanted to do. I wanted to get everyone in that framework so that you can give us four antidotes, the four steps to getting out of stress.
The first thing I teach people, and it’s quick to do, is what it feels like not to feel stressed anymore because so many people have forgotten what it feels like. That’s the first thing. You’re like, “It’s that simple. You can get there.”A calorie eaten in the sense of comfort and joy is metabolized properly and eliminated. Click To Tweet
That is a challenge too because when about hyper stress, it’s one thing to be like what you’re saying, perceived neutral stress. In hyper stress, it’s almost impossible to get to a thinking point in your psyche or in your brain. There are three points to your brain. You can’t even get up there. How can we break that hyper stress down or is this something that we don’t even try to do in hyper stress?
We don’t even try to do it in hyper stress. In fact, when I work with people, I tell them to start by practicing when they’re absolutely relaxed. It’s like learning to ride a bike. You need a flat driveway, not a hill, with your training wheels on, then you can go out and do the mountain biking. You have to do it slowly. This is where people run into problems. They’re like, “I had this technique. Now that I’m in hyper stress, I should do it,” and they then think it doesn’t work because they haven’t trained.
When we’re not in hyper stress, we’re in neutral stress. We’re taking time, carving out the time of our day to say, “We’re going to attack stress from this day forward.” What is it that we do in this first step of recognizing what it feels like to not be in stress? Are there some questions we can be asking each other?
What I do is I lead people through an exercise remembering situations oftentimes from when they were children, of what it felt like to totally and completely trust someone else. You can usually go back and think about a specific incident. For me, I used to be terribly afraid of thunderstorms. I was at the beach in North Carolina and a thunderstorm came in. My uncle sat with me and explained as the storm passed over. It was that moment where I was freaking out, but I totally trusted him. If you can learn to put yourself back there in a vivid way. It’s not quite the same as a meditation, but it’s an active recollection. Your body then turns it off. There’s a specific process that I lead through to do that. That’s the first thing. You go back and find a place that you trust and relive it and get that feeling state, not just, “It was the summer and we were at this house.” There are other exercises and it builds on that, but that’s your first step. That’s number one. Remember what that feels like to feel healthy again. That’s your stress response turning off.
The next thing I work on with people is some of the subconscious beliefs that maybe that driver of what we think of as neutral stress. We look at that with hard, cold logic like, “If I don’t get that deadline met, there’s going to be something terrible.” Is that true? We work on that. The people look at these beliefs that flit into their head and say, “No. I’ve already dealt with that. I’ve got other information about that.”
I want to stop here on this because I know specifically in the mortgage lending business that I was in for so long, that was a repeated offense. There are two sides to this. I want to explore this a little bit. I’m working on a presentation about how my belief system is that a life of values adds value everywhere in your life. I believe that we are killing ourselves in our businesses. I did some research on it and found that the number five profession where suicides are highlighted is in financial services. Three out of ten of the reasons people have heart attacks are in financial services, that being long hours, not having control of the outcome, which is what I’m talking about here, and being sedentary, sitting at a desk. You have to sit at a desk when you’re trying to solve a problem to get someone to a loan. You can’t be out gallivanting. You’ve got to be at the computer and work through numbers and things like that. It’s a set up for failure.
I look at one of those three reasons is the lack of control because it’s a repeatable offense. Loan officers and realtors, for example, close anywhere from 3 to 25 deals a month. It’s a constant problem. You’re stressed about it. You do whatever you can to ensure that it won’t escalate to more stress. It meets a vicious circle. You’re stressed because you’re like, “Did I do everything? When it pops up and it’s a problem, you’re like, “I didn’t do everything,” and you lose sleep over it time and time again. You’re stressed all day long. I don’t know how you get out of that subconscious driver’s beliefs about stress and that I’ve already dealt with this before. Knowing that I’m going to deal with it again no matter what I do, this is going to happen again. I don’t understand how we can deal with that knowing that there is the stress coming, no matter what I do. It’s going to be here again. I need to learn how to deal with it better.
Everything you said applies to me too. You can do everything and things can still go wrong. Here’s what I’ve discovered. When you and your body spend more of your time in the non-stressed mode so that you’re not dealing with this low-level normal stress most of the time, when you do have these things that come up, which granted, they may come up once a day. They come up once a day from me. I have way more capacity to deal with them and there are fewer mistakes made. I want to bring up an interesting statistic for you when we’re talking about causes of death that may relate here.
The third most common cause of death in the United States is unintentional accidents. You think that stress has nothing to do with an accident but there have been several studies, and I’ll share three of them with you. The first is there are higher rates of accidents in people who have rated their workplaces as moderate to severely stressful. An occupational psychologist will go in and rate and ask people, “Is this a high-stress environment?” In those places that are high-stress, they have a 40% higher rate of accidents. There’s something about that. Number two, most car accidents, when you look retrospectively of what was going on in the weeks or days before the accident, there’s been some major life change. A loss of a job, a loss of a contract, or some other stressful thing. You wouldn’t think that that would because you to get rear-ended, which isn’t your fault, but there’s a correlation.
I was thinking it was being distracted in the car at the moment, not something in the past.
It’s distracted in your brain. You’re distracted by what’s going on. The third one is military accidental deaths. Being in the military is dangerous and there is, unfortunately, a risk of death, but the military does everything it can to avoid accidental deaths. The rate of accidental death in the military is much higher for people who have either been demoted, not been promoted or are stagnant in their career, which causes stress. This is what I experienced in my own life as well. We are energetic beings, and if you’re putting out, “I can’t control it. The world is out of control around me,” yes, out of control comes to you. If you spend more of your time in that relaxed, I can handle it state. I don’t mean relaxed in the sense of comatose, but relaxed, ready, able to respond rather than stressed. You find that there’s less of it. It takes a while to get there, but it happens.
We’ve all done that. In fact, I was on a podcast and someone was talking about it and saying, “Bring it on, baby. I’m ready for it.” Instead of, “If I can avoid it as much as possible, then it’s going to come to me anyway.” Get in the state of mind of, “Bring it on. I’m ready.”
I’ve done it before. It’s worked out okay. I can do this again. I’m good at this disaster, which isn’t a disaster. We talked briefly about learning to communicate with your body, listening to what it is so that you’re not doing all of that guesswork. For the people I work with, many people have seen dozens of doctors and tried all sorts of diets and nothing works. They get to the point where the idea of making a medical decision about their health is stressful in and of itself. Learning to talk with your body and work in that way, that partnership with your body is key. The fourth thing I work with people on is making sure that they have healthful actions built into their lives. It doesn’t take long and it’s enjoyable. It’s fun to feel healthy. It’s not that you’re not feeling stressed anymore. It’s fun to be alive when you get this right.
Help me understand that. It’s health-full actions. What are some of the actions that we would take, or if someone’s reading and they’re saying, “That is way down the road.” I’ve got to get to these other things before I can even start doing health-full actions.
You can start now.
In my case, what would I do?
All of those stressful things that you make it through, celebrate yourself,” I lived.” That feeling of celebration releases all of these happy chemicals. People are reluctant to celebrate what they do. We all downplay. We all think we’re not doing well, but you need that celebration.
Having those daily gratitudes can put you in a different mindset. For me, it’s dancing. If something went well, I’m like, “I need some music to celebrate this.”If you focus on the suffering, the suffering gets bigger. Click To Tweet
Another thing is movement. If you can do movement with celebration or movement with another person, because relationships are trying to connect with someone is important. Maybe you’re dancing with someone. You and your husband dance a little bit for your celebration. Having some creative outlet is important. That does not mean visual art. A lot of people think of visual art. I’m terrible. For me, coming up with talk ideas or doing research so I can put it together for my clients. That’s my creativity. My creativity is words, finding what that is. Making sure that you’ve got time to be bored. Turn everything off so your brain doesn’t have to respond for a little while.
For me, that’s dancing because I’m a competitive dancer. It turns everything off. If you’ve never danced and you’re going to your first dance class, it’s going to give you stress.
There’s something else that you might do because maybe you are a fantastic paper artist and folding origami is your thing, where it would drive me insane.
They have to look at the instructions back and forth. They did it wrong, but if you’re sitting there and you do it. Sudoku is brainless for me but doing a crossword puzzle, never.
I used to spend much of my time calling myself. My nickname for myself was Lazy Beth. If I was ever blowing off, I was lazy. I was giving my brain this important downtime to think and percolate in the background. I might’ve been doing a Sudoku or knitting is one of my things, or wandering through the park aimlessly. I used to blame myself for it. You need it. There’s a whole bunch of things like that aren’t hard or difficult to do that you can build in that automatically bring a sense of joy and excitement to being alive, which is the opposite of feeling stressed.
You’re all going to laugh at me when you all hear this because I love to clean the house. It used to be that we had group clean because mommy was stressed and we have a choice. We can all do it together for three hours, or I can yell all weekend while I’m cleaning. It’s dum-dum stuff. I turn on the music and I walk around and it is a good stress reliever. What we’re doing here, I sit most of the day doing videos, coaching, planning, and all those things and it is my gap. I will get up and do this. Every day of the week, I do one little thing. If I’ve got ten minutes, I’m going to clean. Not because I’m stressed to clean, but because it’s my let me go move.
If people don’t realize that they already have these things that are helpful in their lives, it’s making sure you structure it in.
I talk about that quite a bit in my coaching. It’s finding those things. I love those four antidotes to try to stop doing this. I’m going to repeat them quickly, which is remembering what it feels like to not be stressed in those beautiful moments that you had. For me, I could go back to my daughter’s wedding and use that as an anchor for myself for a long time. The feeling of not being stressed and then the subconscious belief that I can’t get through this when I’ve been through it before. Communicating with my body and honing in on making sure that I’m recognizing that my visual is I am not going to send all the cells to one area. The next time I’m like, “Everybody, go back. False alarm.” Taking action like doing things and celebrating all the things that we’re getting through on a regular basis. It’s celebrating happiness. If there’s one thing that you could leave with everyone that is something that they could take, put an action or do for themselves now, what is the one thing that you’d like to leave everybody with?
It’s the idea that stress isn’t normal. The next time you see someone talking about how stressed out they are and you want to get into that competitive suffering mode like, “You’re stressed out? I’m worse.” Stop yourself and realize that’s not healthy. You think it’s neutral, you think it’s a way to communicate and connect with others, but it’s not doing anything good for you.
Please stop saying, “I can handle stress,” because people say that all the time. “I know how to handle stress. I’ve got it.” It’s not normal. What are you reading that’s inspiring you?
I am reading a book by Chip Conley called Emotional Equations. It’s one of those books that I took out of the library and I loved it so much that twenty pages in, I ordered it from Amazon because I know I’m going to want to go back to it.
What is this book doing for you?
I think in a mathematical logical way and it takes all the emotions and breaks it down so you can look at the parts. He gives a perfect idea at the beginning of despair equals suffering minus meaning. If you focus on the suffering, the suffering gets bigger. If you don’t focus on the meaning, the meaning gets smaller, so your despair is higher. It tells you where to put your focus. Maybe there’s a meaning for that. That’s where he begins the book. That’s an idea because when you break these emotions down if you want to maximize or minimize whatever is on one side of the equal sign where you can fiddle with things on the other side of the equal sign.
When someone wants to get in touch with you and get de-stressed and they don’t want to be stressed about trying to find you.
That is where you want to reach out and send her an instant message or something, letting her know that you’ve heard her on this show and that you want to get some more questions answered. Are you speaking at conferences and things like that? If someone’s reading and they want to de-stress their entire organization, they could call you.
I do speak to organizations both with medical organizations, which often bring me in, but also with volunteer organizations, support or corporations. Yes, absolutely.
If you want to bring Dr. Hughes in to decompress everybody, get in touch with her at ElizabethHughesMD.com. I want to say thank you so much for coming here. I’m starting to be de-stressed. I’m going to probably have to hang up and breathe a little bit more. Take a couple of deep breaths for a few minutes. I purposely stressed myself out sharing this with everyone so that everyone can realize how this is affecting our health. If they want to have a long and healthy life, they’re going to have to change things. Thank you so much for the opportunity to chat with you.
It’s been totally wonderful. Thank you.
You’re welcome. We’ll catch you next time.
- Dr. Elizabeth Hughes
- Darren Hardy
- Emotional Equations
- Elizabeth Hughes, MD – Facebook
About Elizabeth Hughes
Dr. Elizabeth Hughes is a Stanford-trained physician with more than 25 years of clinical experience. After treating thousands of patients with stress-related illness — and having her own life nearly ruined by stress and chronic anxiety — she realized that the conventional medical approach is completely inadequate to treat stress-related conditions. She vowed to find a better solution.
Her quest led her to study non-western systems of health and healing, placebo research, and the emerging sciences of epigenetics and psychoneuroimmunology. In the process she became a registered yoga teacher, a health coach, and practitioner of several energy medicine modalities.
Dr. Hughes has developed The Stress Antidote™ System, a unique process to turn off the body’s harmful stress response. She has helped clients all over the world overcome the root cause of their stress and reverse symptoms of stress-related illness.