Effective approach to stress mastery–when you’re ready to shake off feeling bad
Recently I was interviewed by Sheila Dicks, style coach, about an effective approach to stress mastery. I share more about my story of what drew me into becoming an adrenal fatigue expert, my mission to bring freedom, fearlessness, and empowerment, and some great tips on how to approach stress mastery.
Is it burnout? Find out here
Sheila Dicks: Hi, everyone. Welcome. This is Sheila Dicks of Women in Style. I’m so pleased to introduce you today to my friend, Heather Clark. Dr. Clark is an author, a speaker, a functional medicine specialist and CEO of Vibrant. She helps people get their lives back from chronic stress. Heather is going to talk to us today about an effective approach to stress mastery, for when you are really ready to shake off feeling bad. Hi, Heather. Are you there?
Dr. Heather Clark: Hi, Sheila.
Sheila Dicks: Great. First, I want to ask you, what’s a functional medicine specialist?
Dr. Heather Clark: First, let me start by explaining what functional medicine is. Really, the best way to do it, if you picture a tree, traditional medicine, which is the standard, traditional approach. That really represents the branches and the leaves. That’s the outcome of issues. That’s where you get your different ‘ologists’, your cardiologists, endocrinologists. They’re dealing with symptoms.
Functional medicine is more of the trunk and the roots of that tree, where we’re dealing with root causes; What are the stresses in your environment? What are the genetics or you’re more likely to get? That’s really preventing the symptoms and the end-stage products from happening. Again, the focus is more on the trunk and the roots. It’s an approach that’s been around for about 30 years. Even though it’s non-traditional, it is a science-based approached, so it’s a form of evidence-based medicine. What I do is I have a sub-specialty. I focus on burnout and other consequences of chronic stress.
Sheila Dicks: Okay. Your doctorate is in pharmacy, which is very traditional. How did you come to specialize in functional medicine? What interested you in it?
Dr. Heather Clark: I feel like it came to me because what happened was that played a huge role in my life, really just like everybody else’s life. For me, I had a great deal of chronic stress and I had a history and patterns of working it up and pushing through and buckling down and just working harder in the phase of chronic stress. It’s like I felt I didn’t want it to beat me. I finally stopped doing all of that when I had Stage 3 Burnout. I had become quite ill and couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I was so tired I could barely get off the couch. I would sleep in my car over the lunch hour. Clearly, something was wrong and I went to several physicians and couldn’t get answers.
Finally, I found a functional medicine specialist who listened to my story. She was able to say, “Oh, that’s adrenal fatigue.” She explained the whole thing to me. During my recovery, I learned a lot more about functional medicine and the functional medicine approach. I just remembered thinking, “Where has this been all my life?” It really addresses the root cause of this. It’s really worried about the why, which is what I’ve always been concerned with is, “Okay, well, that’s happening and this is what we do to fix it, but why is it happening? Are there other issues that are going to happen as a result of that.” Just really fell in love with the whole functional medicine idea.
That journey actually, it was quite a challenge at the beginning, because I remember I kept looking for answers, like what is wrong? The little bit of information I could find really conflicted with each other. I’m going to tell you, I felt trapped. I felt trapped by my life’s circumstance, I felt trapped by my body and I was very afraid. In fact, I’m not exaggerating to say that I was terrified. “What if I keep getting worse? What if this never gets better?” I felt powerless. That’s a terrible feeling. I’m very independent by nature so to feel powerless, it’s as if I lost a huge chunk of my identity. I was really at the mercy of things beyond my control.
The good news is, as I recovered, I began to discover I could help other people, which is very exciting to me. Because my mission is to help people who are really ready to shake off feeling bad so that they master stress and recovery from the effects of chronic stress. I love doing it because I’m able to help people do it very quickly but also very safely and permanently. What I really want for people is to get what I’ve gotten, and that’s to turn that all around and really experience the freedom of fearlessness and the empowerment that stress mastery brings.
Sheila Dicks: You said that you were at Stage 3 Burnout?
Dr. Heather Clark: Mm-hmm (Affirmative).
Sheila Dicks: There are three stages then?
Dr. Heather Clark: Yes, there are three stages. Stage 1 is nobody comes to see me when they are in Stage 1 because these are the people who feel like, “Oh, I can get by on five hours of sleep. I went to work and I’m on all of these committees and I run my kids all over town and then I went and sang in the church choir and I came home and I made dinner.” They’re doing so many things and it’s really, they’re running on overload. They’re running on adrenaline, literally.
Stage 2 is when there’s a few more problems that really begin to creep in. Late Stage 2 is when people start to feel really bad, and it looks different for everybody, but you know with your core something is wrong but the test don’t really show anything wrong. Stage 3 is a progression of that, and actually, I was at late Stage 3. It was bad news. I had missed all the signs.
I could have prevented it getting that far, but it’s one of those things as I look back, it was both the worst thing that ever happened to me and now, it’s actually one of the best things that’s ever happened to me because now I can help other people get out of that situation or avoid it entirely.
Sheila Dicks: It sounds like, in the beginning, you don’t know you have it. You just go, go, go, go and at the very end, you start to get physical symptoms. Is that right?
Dr. Heather Clark: Yeah, about partway through. Somewhere in Stage 2, you start to get physical symptoms that are a lot more apparent to you. A lot of times, people talk those symptoms up to, “Oh well, you know, I’m getting older. Oh, well, I’m not sleeping that well so of course, I would be tired,” when really, it’s burnout that’s making it so that you’re not sleeping well.
A lot of times, it’s just a real, non-specific something isn’t quite right here but it shows up lots of different ways; foggy thinking, inability to focus, things like that.
Sheila Dicks: That’s what I was going to ask you, what other symptoms are there besides being tired. There’s foggy thinking and – what else did you say?
Dr. Heather Clark: Low energy and it can be anything from, “Well, I seem like I’m a little tired all the time,” to “Well, afternoons are really tough,” to where I was at, which I can barely even exist. There’s a huge laundry list of symptoms. I won’t list them all but some of the highlights are you feel really down but you know it’s not depression, you don’t really get the lift from exercising that you used to, you’re not sleeping well, you realize you’re very irritable, maybe your PMS is a lot worse, menopause is a lot harder. There’s lots of different potential symptoms of this.
Sheila Dicks: What’s the best approach do you think in mastering stress?
Dr. Heather Clark: Obviously, there’s no one size fits all, because if there were, then we would all just learn that and do that and that would be it. For most people, it’s a combination of a few different things. Probably the most important part is mindset. It’s how you’re thinking about mastering stress can really affect your ability to master stress because you’re not conquering stress. You’re not going to beat stress. You’re not going to win the war on stress, because it is into war. It’s not a confrontation. What you’re doing is you’re simply changing your dance with stress.
Sheila Dicks: That’s a nice way to put it.
Dr. Heather Clark: Yeah, and it’s one of those things that once you can get a couple of steps down, that it really changes your whole experience of stress and transforms your relationship with stress. You treat more as a journey. It’s not a destination. Not like, “Oh hello, and now, I’m at stress mastery. Awesome.” That’s not how it works. It’s, “When I keep getting more tools and stress becomes a smaller and smaller issue in my life.” That’s really the process.
Mindset is critical and then another thing that works very well is being mindful with everything. Just briefly, that staying present into now, noticing things, being very curious about the world around you and noticing while allowing things to happen, without judgment, without trying to control the outcome, which is a little easier said than done sometimes but with practice. Remember, it’s a process.
Really, the last thing is bringing some respect to this in that be very kind with yourself, especially if you’ve got a lot of stress to deal with. Mastering stress is more difficult or if you already feel bad. Mastering stress is more difficult to simply be kind to yourself and respect who you are. Don’t try and change your habits to something that you would not normally do because that won’t work. You’re already awesome so let’s find a way to work with that. That way, you’re really respecting your potential.
Sheila Dicks: That sounds like a very good approach. What’s the easiest way to get started in mastering your stress?
Dr. Heather Clark: There’s lots of different types of stress. The easiest way to get started, I call it eat, sleep and be mindful. For the eat part, you want to bring it good nutrition, which is quite simple. You cut out the bad and add good. That is going to be a little bit different for everybody but we all have a pretty good idea of what’s good for us and what’s not. Simply even reducing the bad and increasing the good makes a huge difference.
For sleep, it can be challenging especially if you’ve got some level of burnout. Maybe you’re not able to sleep or you sleep for 9 or 10 hours and you wake up and you’re not refreshed. If you can at least create a situation where you’re able to get at least eight hours of sleep., that you’re going to bed at midnight and the alarm is going off at 6. That doesn’t really work out in this whole situation. You want to be in bed by at least 10. It sounds very simple, it sounds very straightforward and yet, the more stress we’re under, it’s like the later, we want to stay up. It’s very counterintuitive. Then again, being mindful because a small investment in being mindful pays huge dividends.
Sheila Dicks: What do you mean by being mindful?
Dr. Heather Clark: Being mindful, you can make it hard if you want. When people think of mindfulness, often, they’ll think of a particular type of meditation where you put on special clothes, you sit on a special cushion in a special room and you block off time for this. That’s great. If that’s your thing, that’s awesome. However, if you’re needing to master stress, chances are that’s not your thing. Chances are, that’s way too hard and not realistic. You can be mindful at any time. There’s lots of different ways.
One of the simplest ways, I call them Moment Meditation. You can do it standing or sitting. It’s a little easier when you do it sitting and just start where you’re at and feel how your body feels. How do your arms feel on the chair? What does the floor be like under your feet? What do you hear? Are you warm? Are you cold? What do you see? How are you breathing?
What this is doing is this is causing you to simply notice your present in the moment and you’re just noticing. For instance, as I’m doing that, I notice I’m breathing shallowly instead of, “I’m breathing shallowly and now I need to take a deep breath because I really need to relax and this is …” That part doesn’t work so simply noticing.
I called the moment meditations because it takes about 20 seconds to do them. You can do it longer if you want to but 20 seconds here, 20 seconds there, pretty quick. If you’re doing it a few times throughout the day, you end the day feeling a lot better. A little bit here and there cannot only help that day but into the next day and so on. There’s a huge number of things you can do. That’s one of the easiest ones, but playing can be a form of mindfulness. It’s fund to get creative, “How can I be mindful? How can I be present into now? How can I notice and how can I allow without judgment or controlling the outcome?”
Sheila Dicks: When you say, “Playing could be mindfulness,” I thought of my husband who plays hockey. I guess, and it is too because he got to take his mind off of everything because when you’re playing a game, you can’t think of anything else. It’s kind of you’re in the moment.
Dr. Heather Clark: Absolutely, you’re completely in the moment. If you’re doing it right, you’re paying attention to what’s going on around you. Since it’s a game, he might not be doing quite as much allowing but the more he can stay in the moment and notice, the more he can simply participate instead of planning his moves, 8 to 10 moves down the road because the game is going to change completely by then.
Sheila Dicks: I don’t think you think that far ahead.
Dr. Heather Clark: It’s just being mindful. You don’t want to be that far ahead when you’re being mindful.
Sheila Dicks: Yeah. What’s the most important thing we need to know about stress mastery?
Dr. Heather Clark: Again, stress mastery is a process. It’s not a destination that you arrive at, put your suitcase down and declare, “I have mastered stress. I am done.” It’s how it works. It’s a journey and you want to respect that it’s a journey. Start with where you are. Don’t say things like, “Oh, as soon as I get X, Y, and Z done, I will begin to master stress.” No, just to start this moment, and it could be quite easy. Just introduce anything, especially being mindful because it’s so handy.
Really, also remember that part of this process is what’s very easy for someone else and works very well for them may be very difficult for you. That’s okay. Everybody’s journey is different. If you’re already feeling bad, do keep in mind, stress mastery, that journey is harder. It’s even more important, but it is harder.
Sheila Dicks: Yeah, I can see that. It’s way harder to come from a bad place than if you’re feeling okay. What if somebody feeling bad can make stress mastery easier?
Dr. Heather Clark: Absolutely. Now, if you’re already feeling bad, you may require more support, simply because it’s going to be a little bit longer before you really feel better and things get easier. Just recognize that you’ll need more support. The first step to take will be smaller and especially if you’re very stressed, the small steps might feel like they’re not actually doing anything but you’re building momentum. Chances are, do keep in mind that if you’re already feeling bad, you are probably suffering from some level of burnout. If that’s the case, you would benefit from a comprehensive program to reverse burnout.
Sheila Dicks: You mentioned support. What do you mean by support?
Dr. Heather Clark: Depending on where you are in the journey. Sometimes, all you need is a little extra time and space for yourself. If you’re very early on your burnout, then you may simply need a vacation. What’s more common is that you need more support and not just emotional support from friends and family. If you’re already feeling bad, you need things that help you feel better. It is very, very difficult to make changes in your life if you’re already feeling crappy.
To tell someone who’s feeling bad, “Oh, I need you to change your diet and do this and do that,” it feels insurmountable, that feels impossible. The type of support … That’s why I recommend a comprehensive program because that can come in from lots of different directions or you’re doing lots of little things that are very easy to do that add up to something huge. It’s not just nutrition, it’s not just stress reduction but it’s the addition of special types of mindfulness. Sometimes, compliments help support people so they feel better while they’re addressing the root cause of the problem.
That’s just an example of a few things, but if you do it- It’s not just comprehensive, it’s more of a holistic approach in that you’re looking at lots of different areas of your life and getting small changes to add up to a huge improvement.
Sheila Dicks: You’ve mentioned comprehensive program. Do you offer those kinds of programs yourself?
Dr. Heather Clark: I do. I do offer a comprehensive program from people who are suffering from burnout and are ready to let go of the suffering and feel a lot better.
Sheila Dicks: That way, you’d be a support person, too?
Dr. Heather Clark: Yeah, and I have a couple of different programs. There is a group program, because some people really like the group energy. That can really help people get started. Then, I also have an individual program for people who really want to just cut to the chase, tell me just what I need to know and let’s get this moving. It’s perfect for people like that. I actually do this program internationally so you can see me via Skype. You don’t have to live in the area.
Sheila Dicks: That’s an asset. For your group coaching, could that be done via Skype or is it …?
Dr. Heather Clark: For the group coaching, I actually have a couple of different programs. It depends on the program. Occasionally, we’ll do it via Skype or via conference call. It’s just a little easier that people have the technology already to be on the phone with a lot of other people. I’ll often do that in combination with the web cast so that people can kind of- I’m a visual learner so that makes me a visual teacher. I often do slides and images to help people see what I’m talking about.
Sheila Dicks: I have another question. Oh yes, I’m not sure if this might be- it’s related. Sometimes people are allergic to gluten and stuff like that and they get sick. Would that be part of your program? Do you deal with those kinds of things?
Dr. Heather Clark: Absolutely. In fact, it often is. There’s three different types of stress in general and as part of the holistic program, we address all of those types of stress. There’s the mental and emotional stress, like we normally think of stress. There’s the stress from pain and inflammation, which is often from a hidden infection, it’s often from maybe health conditions that aren’t well controlled. Also, stress creates inflammation so stress creates stress.
To your question, there’s also dietary and lifestyle stress. Even if someone isn’t all the way allergic to gluten, most people have some degree of gluten intolerance. It’s a huge stress. It’s a stress that really is underestimated. Sometimes, all you have to do is stop eating gluten, you feel better and you’re good. Other times, especially if you have a more advanced case or if it’s been going on for years, not even gluten helps dramatically and really speeds up the rest of the healing process.
Sheila Dicks: I will imagine, sometimes people have that problem and they don’t know what it is that [crosstalk 00:25:49]
Dr. Heather Clark: I sure didn’t.
Sheila Dicks: You have it, too?
Dr. Heather Clark: Oh my goodness, yes and I was so resistant. That wonderful functional medicine Dr. Ray found had recommend that I not eat gluten. I said, “Mm-hmm, yeah. All right, well, we’ll see.” It was a few months before I even brought myself to try it, and I was amazed. I was not surprised that my irritable bowel symptoms went away. That was not a shock. What did surprised me is that anxiety went away and it was such a shock because I did not know I had anxiety. I had felt like that pretty much since I was a baby, at least since I could remember.
It was a huge surprise to me, like, “Holy shazam, there’s all kinds of things that felt a lot better.” I’ve seen it not only in myself but in my clients, like their depression will lift or weird rashes and eczema just goes away. There’s so much to talk about with this. I don’t want to take up all your time but when you stop eating something that bothers you- again, gluten is one of the most common things. It makes everything else in your life easier to manage.
Sheila Dicks: Say you are allergic to it but is it affecting your stomach first?
Dr. Heather Clark: Not always. Allergic and intolerant are slightly different. If you are allergic, you probably know all about it. You know for sure that you’re allergic because it’s an immediate response. By immediate, that usually means minutes or hours. Wherein intolerance, that what makes this really hard to tell what you’d be intolerant to because it doesn’t happen within minutes or hours. It happens at like days.
For a lot of people, if you eat something you’re sensitive to, like gluten on Monday, you don’t get any side effects from it until Thursday or Friday. It’s really tough to put all that together. I mean, you’re trying to figure out what you might be intolerant to.
Sheila Dicks: Yeah, that makes a lot more difficult.
Dr. Heather Clark: You got to give it more than a couple of days. Sometimes, you can see a difference in a few days, it can be up to a month or so before you realized I’m feeling pretty fantastic that must have been it. The first part is a little frustrating, which is part of why a holistic program to support you through this could really speed up your progress.
Sheila Dicks: Yeah, and that’s why I was going to say, you can look at the person in their symptoms and say, “Maybe this is what it is.” On their own, they probably wouldn’t figure it out.
Dr. Heather Clark: In part, not just because it’s tough to figure out but stress changes how your brain works. It makes it very difficult to see relationships to that. It’s not just the changes in your brain from stress, but also there’s- it’s really an addictive component especially to gluten because when you’re intolerant to it, what your body does in reaction to the gluten, it comes out your indigenous morphine. You could [inaudible 00:29:47] when you eat gluten, which is part of the reason why so many comfort foods include gluten. It’s a whole, huge thing. It can become very tricky to completely get off of it.
Sheila Dicks: Sounds complicated.
Dr. Heather Clark: It can be.
Sheila Dicks: Yeah. How do you if you have burnout? I may probably need to touch on some of them but how do you know if you have burnout?
Dr. Heather Clark: Most people have a sense to say they’ve been under a lot of stress. Sometimes, you have an idea there’s something not quite right. In those cases, it likely is burnout. Another way of saying burnout is saying adrenal fatigue. It is really, really common. About 80% of the population at some point in their lives will have burnout. It’s really common. Again, super early stages, take a vacation, change jobs, change whatever the stress is, and you’re good. As it progresses, it’s trickier. Again, some of those symptoms, low energy, losing interest in activities you use to enjoy, low libido, feeling down but you know it’s not depression, not really sleeping, things like that.
Because some of those symptoms are so vague and it’s actually hard to piece apart, I’ve developed a screening tool. It’s a questionnaire, it’s painless and you just take it and then you get your score which gives you the likelihood that burnout is an issue in your life. You can find that isitburnout.com.
Sheila Dicks: That’s nice to have, kind of cuts to the chase to find out if you have it.
Dr. Heather Clark: Absolutely because there is saliva testing, but the screening tool is great to do first. That way, you get a good idea of, “That could be the issue for me,” or, “Yeah, that’s probably not it,” and that freeze you up to move on, to continue your journey to recovery.
Sheila Dicks: This has been very, very informative and I’ve learned a lot. I really want to thank you for being on this call with me today. For everyone who’s listening, because you’re listening to this call, you’ve shown interest in knowing about stress mastery and I hope you’re not too stressed. For those who are ready to shake off feeling bad, Dr. Clark is offering you a complimentary 30 minutes strategy session where you come in for your first steps to stress mastery.
I think that’s great, it’s a great first step. At the bottom of this page, there’s a link to Dr. Clark’s schedule. All you need to do is click on the link and just book your 30 minute strategy session. Heather, thank you very much for being with me today.
Dr. Heather Clark: Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to talk with you.
Sheila Dicks: You’re welcome, you too. I’m sure we’ll get a chance to do this again sometime. For everyone, good evening and we’ll talk to you again. Bye-bye.