Let’s Talk About Stress

let's talk about stress

Let’s go back to basics and talk about the fight-or-flight stress response. Imagine: you’re a caveperson, and you’re out foraging for blackberries, and then you see a bear! He’s also foraging for berries!

Here is what happens in your body:

  • Heart Rate goes up
  • Blood Pressure goes up
  • Blood goes to your arms for fighting
  • Blood goes to your legs for fleeing
  • Blood goes to your brain for quick thinking

What that means is, blood goes away from your digestive system.

Here is your gut in a fight or flight response:

  • 4x less blood to the gut
  • Dramatic decrease in oxygen to the gut
  • Enzymatic activity down 20,000fold
  • Gut bacteria killed off
  • Body excretes nutrients
    • Water-soluble vitamins (like B and C) excreted through urine and sweat
    • Fat-soluble vitamins (like A, D, and E) malabsorbed at best, shed through bowel movements at worst
    • Calcium and other minerals leeched from the bones
  • Decreased production of thyroid hormones and growth hormones (which are responsible for revving up the metabolic rate of every cell in the body)
  • Increased inflammation in almost every bodily tissue (leads to chronic disease)
  • Increased production of cortisol and insulin
    • Cortisol changes your perception of time, makes you think time is running out, which it is if you’re being chased by a bear
    • When cortisol and insulin are artificially elevated it signals your body to store weight, store fat, and not build muscle

Sounds like an appropriate response to a bear chasing you, right?

And none of this is new material, you can find study after study documenting the stress response, or sympathetic nervous system dominance. A switch flips in your body that triggers this response to ensure your survival.

You may say to me or to yourself, yes, Kathryn, this is excellent information, but I’m not being chased by a bear.

True. You’re not. If you’re reading this internet blog, it means that your life is probably not hanging in the balance in this exact moment.

But you do have other stress: work, school, relationships, deadlines, traffic jams, money, car trouble, roof leaking, pet peed inside the house, child is screaming, flight delays, people are stupid, negative news stories, no wifi connection, overslept, my ear hurts weirdly, what am I going to eat for dinner?, etc.

If you think that you might react differently to those stressors compared to a bear chasing you, I’m here to tell you that your body reacts the exact same way.

Whenever you are in a stress response, your body switches to sympathetic nervous system dominance and reacts the way I outlined above.

So imagine you’re in a stress response, even a low-level response, and you decide to eat food. What do you think your body is going to do with that meal?

Store it or get rid of it. That’s what’s going to happen.

It will not digest effectively, it won’t assimilate the nutrients of the meal, it won’t burn calories, it won’t build new muscle. Your body is focused on your survival; it does not care about your digestion.

You can eat the healthiest meal in the entire world, chockablock full of superfoods, vitamins, and minerals, and if you eat it in a state of stress, it doesn’t matter. You won’t digest it or assimilate the nutrients.

This is where I start with clients when they come to work with me: stress and its impact on your digestion. I’m hoping to appeal to your logic and get you to buy in to the intelligence of a stress-free food experience.

But what I’m really interested in are the deeper, more unconscious sources of stress. That’s the stuff I write about: all these patterns that are stressing you out and changing the way you live your life.

Food is useful because it’s a place you come back to, many times per day. It’s a place to declare a cease-fire on your body and your choices, if for no other reason than to optimize your digestion. It gives you a home base for this practice of self-love and nourishment, and affords you some opportunity to explore what comes up when you’re explicitly pro-yourself and an advocate for your own choices.

And in the meantime, you can start to explore all the other stuff, once your body knows that all the emotions have a safe place to land.


Internet Inspiration – June 26, 2015


:: Image via Daily Dose of del Signore ::


Heart-opening post from Amanda Palmer on the death of her friend.

i had my forehead on his chest, with neil’s hands around the baby, holding me from behind.

goodnight moon.

goodnight room.

goodbye, my friend, my best, best friend.

What reluctance feels like.

This font gives you a small idea of what it feels like to read with dyslexia. Oof.

Loved these summer homework assignments from an Italian teacher.

12 tips to french kiss your travel.

An important post from Hiro about staying in communication with yourself and how that radiates to all your other relationships.

Communication is an energy, a quality of soul. Like all energy, its effects that can be healing and transformative, or disruptive and fragmenting. Communication can expand your world and your sense of possibility, bring you into deeper relationship, wholeness and belonging, or it can divide and isolate.

This is why communication can sometimes seem so loaded.

We communicate information about who we are and what our lives are about, in a multitude of ways, many of them non-verbal. Your presence — which includes the entire sum of your thoughts, feelings and actions-transmits information constantly. So you are always communicating, whether you realize it or not.


Book Club – Slow Time

slow time:: Image via Amazon ::


If you follow me on instagram, you might have seen pictures of a chairlift at the top of a mountain that was conveniently stopped at the end of ski season so I could hop up and read and write all day from a high, scenic perch. The book I chose for a weekend away was “Slow Time,” by Waverly Fitzgerald. This is also my first book report in a long time, so I’m trying to remember what high school Kathryn used to do.

The subtitle of this book is “Recovering the Natural Rhythm of Life,” and it’s a wonderfully therapeutic and paradigm-shifting book if you find yourself overwhelmed, stressed, rushed, or otherwise deprived of time in your day to day life.

The book is divided into twelve sections, well, “twelve weeks and each week focuses on a different unit of time, from the minute, through hours, days, weeks, moons, months, seasons, years, and finally a lifetime.” Fitzgerald gives you plenty to consider when it comes to your relationship to these time units, and also some homework, or “Time Play” with which to experiment.

I originally read about this book through Havi and her project of naming the moons. The first few times I tried to read Slow Time, however, I’d try to follow along with the exercises before having read the whole book, and it was hard to keep my interest. Reading everything first, without pressuring myself to do anything with the information, allowed the concepts I needed to come forward, and gave me more space to let what isn’t for me go.

I’ve included a play by play of the weeks below, which got longer than I anticipated, so you don’t have to read them. To quote the author, “I always applaud when my students tell me they’ve decided to skip the homework. Your time is your life and it’s your choice how to spend it.” Finally, a teacher who gets it!

I’m thinking of doing some of these time play exercises each month, and take a year to delve a little deeper into these concepts. Would anyone be interested in joining me? If we have enough people it might be worth making a facebook group, but it might just be me posting once a month about what I’m working on. Let me know what you think.


Week One – A Brief History of Time

Elaborates on humans’ relationship with time throughout the ages: from a nomadic, hunger-gatherer lifestyle, to pastoral, and the Industrial Revolution. “As the nature of the work changed, so did our relationship with time.” Observing the cultural relationship with time also gives us space to look at our personal relationship with time and beliefs about time, which were more than likely shaped by our childhood experience.

Memorable Passages:

  • “Time is just something humans invented to organize things.” – Martin Seligman
  • “Try substituting the word ‘life’ in places where you would ordinarily use ‘time,’ to bring yourself more fully in to the present moment, for example, ‘I don’t have enough life’ or ‘It’s a waste of life.'”


Week Two – Natural Time and Artificial Time

If you were to list units of time, all the ones you could think of, what would you name? Probably seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, pay periods. We’re so accustomed to them we think they’re real, but there are more natural units: moon cycles, circadian rhythms, seasons. It’s possible that, if you’re feeling stressed about time, your natural rhythms aren’t quite meshing with the artificial units of time imposed on us. Fitzgerald invites us to contemplate how we categorize time, and to remember when we’ve been in the state of flow, or timelessness.

Memorable Passages:

  • “Timelessness is almost always related to engagement — fully experiencing a significant, often intimate connection.”
  • “Sometimes we… instinctively class as spineless laxity every moment not devoted to pure action. Hence an observable distrust of preliminary reflection, a period of recuperation, creative reverie, relaxation, the acquisition of knowledge that is not immediately useful.” – Jean-Louis Servan-Shrieber


Week Three: Dance of the Hours

Fitzgerald expands on natural time vs artificial time by highlighting how much of our day is dictated by clock time. If we were in a village or a small community, it would be easy to sync up with people because you’d know what activities they might be doing throughout the day. But in large cities and communities, we need the neutral unit of the hour to come together. It’s also very interesting to note how different cultures tell time if they’re not using hours. Many religions pray several times a day, the Hopi don’t have verb tenses, and the Sioux don’t have words for “late” or “waiting.” The primary contemplation is about tempo – what’s the pace at which you move through life? How do you tell when to change activities, drink coffee, go to sleep, do homework, or nap?

Memorable Passages:

  • “My days were not days of the week, bearing the stamp of any heathen deity, nor were they minced into hours and fretted by the ticking of a clock, for I lived like the Puri Indians, of whom it is said ‘for yesterday, today and tomorrow, they have only one word, and they express the variety of meaning by pointing backward for yesterday, forward for tomorrow, and overhead for the passing day.” – Thoreau
  • “In clock time, you are letting the clock tell you what to do. If you live by event time, you simply move from one event to another as you feel satisfied.”
  • “Part of the American emphasis on timeliness came from our Puritan heritage and the restless energy required to conquer a continent…. In Western culture, being busy means that you are important.”


Week Four: Night and Day

I think this was the first chapter that really resonated with me, because it’s the one that named what I was already feeling. Fitzgerald begins the chapter by citing a study observing how many hours of daylight flowers need to bloom. The study subsequently categorized flowers into short-day plants and long-day plants.

Later studies, however, discovered that it wasn’t really about the day length at all; plants who needed sixteen hours of sunlight (and eight hours of night) would not bloom with only four hours of darkness. “The flowers knew what we still acknowledge when we start the new day at midnight: day begins at night.”

Nighttime is my most important part of the day. It’s when I’m best able to work, it’s when I’m most focused, it’s when I most want to be awake. I also find that, when I put myself to sleep properly, I am more restored the following morning than if I fall asleep watching TV, even if I get more hours the second way.


Week Five: The Week Begins

“The concept of a week has its roots in two customs: holding regular market days and setting aside a certain day of the week as sacred.” So begins the chapter on yet another artificial time unit, which might be less artificial than we think. Fitzgerald goes into the history of the week, but I particularly like reading about the soul reasons for taking a Sabbath day, a day to not do. She also highlights some alternative practices for organizing one’s week, what days should be “first,” and how to create the relationship with weeks you crave.

Memorable Passages:

  • “When we cease our daily labor, other things — love, friendship, prayer, touch, singing, rest — can be born in the space created by our rest.” – Wayne Muller
  • “Often we act as though it is legitimate to take time for ourselves only when we have satisfied all the demands of others — in other words, never.” – Louis Servan-Shreiber


Week Six: By the Light of the Silvery Moon

All about moon cycles. This is the chapter that introduces the concept of naming the 13 moon cycles of the year, but also focuses on the energy of a single moon cycle: how the energy of the New Moon might feel different than the Full Moon, or Waxing Crescent Moon. It’s possible that you might have a natural energy shifts throughout the month, and if you know that the waxing phase yields more excitement and expansion, you can plan projects that align with that, and focus on cleaning up, categorizing, and finishing projects as the moon wanes.

Noticing my own personal moods and changes through the moon phases and my menstrual cycle was incredibly helpful. I don’t use hormonal birth control, and as a result I tend to get “yanked” to different cycles when I start hanging with new groups of women. When I have my period on a full moon, the impact is always greater: my PMS is more dramatic, my pain is intense, and dealing with people is difficult because I really just want to retreat to a Red Tent to be by myself.

When I notice my own natural cycle, I can take steps for self-care. I know that the two days prior to the start of my period are a hard energetic time for me, and I can plan to not work out, not make big party plans, try to take some time off work, focus on foods that aren’t difficult for me to digest. It’s very powerful to know my body in that way and give myself what I need.


Week Seven: Moons to Months

This chapter feels like an easy week of assignments, because it’s kind of a continuation of the naming of the moons from the previous chapter. Having spent time observing how you respond to phases of the moon, this chapter invites you back into the rhythm of artificial time and asks you to plan out and experiment with how you want your months and seasons to look.

Memorable Passages:

  • “I have been on a calendar but I have never been on time.” – Marilyn Monroe


Week Eight: Living in Season

I liked this chapter, especially with the bridge of Week Seven. As I was reading I noticed immediately that January 1 is probably not a good time for me to overhaul my live, because I’m naturally more inclined to hibernation in the winter. If I’m going to try something new for my business or life, I should harness my natural energy and enthusiasm during the summer months, and leave the winter for rest and introspection.

But the most important thing to remember, as Fitzgerald points out, is that you have a unique experience with each season. It might change with your season of life, it may have to do with what’s going on with your life, relationships, work, or health. There are no wrong ways to be in relationship with seasons, and you can avoid a lot of stress by honoring your preferences.

Memorable Passages:

  • “In my classes, most people prefer spring and autumn to summer and winter. I believe that’s because spring and autumn are transition months, and we like the driving energy of change and movement, rather than the more static energy of winter and summer.”
  • “solstice which means ‘sun stands’…. equinox means ‘equal night.'”
  • “There is actually a term for summer hibernation in animals: estivation. Animals that estivate (including crocodiles, salamanders and certain frogs) spend the summer inactive and insulated from the heat.”
  • “Because our culture is so focused on growth, people have few skills for dealing with ending and loss, the work of autumn. But even more difficult for many people is the work of winter. Once the loss has been accepted, there is a period of inaction when it is not apparent that anything new will emerge.”
  • “Clearly the School of the Seasons has one important lesson and that is that all things come again. The seasons are a cycle, and when one ends, another begins. All that you did not learn this year, you can learn in the years that follow.”


Week Nine: Passing of the Year

This chapter builds on the school of the seasons and highlights the anniversaries, all those things you didn’t learn last year or want to celebrate again, the events we use to mark the passage of time.

Memorable Passages:

  • “Time told by important events has texture, and resonance. The associations are rich. Gauging time by the calendar or clock is sterile. The names of the months and days, or the numbers on a watch mean nothing without a context. All they are is precise.” – Ralph Keyes. see also: memory anchors


Week Ten: Holy Days and Holidays

This chapter discusses the importance of pausing during normal life for celebration days. She also offers many “official” holidays you can adopt, as well as some “invented” holidays that might be worth adopting.

Memorable Passages:

  • “Carnivals have five important attributes — they:
    1. are tied to nature’s time
    2. have an ahistoric quality (not tied to a recorded past)
    3. transform work-time into play, have a quality of reversal
    4. are characterized by an earthy vulgarity
    5. emphasize a community of people and a locality of land.”
  • “The great joy of a holiday is the way it throws everyday life into sharp contrast.”


Week Eleven: Dancing with the Stars

Delves into astrology, one of my favorite topics. It always made a ton of sense to me that, if I was so impacted by the moon, that I would also be impacted by other planets. It’s helpful for me to have a reminder that there’s a larger energy at work when I feel like I’m the common thread in all the problems I’m having with jobs, people, experiences, cars, and life.

So this chapter discusses common astrological phenomena; Mercury Retrograde, Saturn Return, Mars cycle, and Mid-Life cycles. This energy is universal and you’ll be fine.


Week Twelve: A Lifetime to Live

I loved this reminder that there’s a natural energy to where you are in your life. You right now is different than who you were at age 10, different than who you’ll be at age 50 or age 90, and different than who you’d be if you’d made different choices. So how will you design your life?

Memorable Passages:

  • “Life is short but it’s wide.” – Spanish proverb


We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

– T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding,” Four Quartets


Internet Inspiration – June 19, 2015


:: Image via A Thousand Words ::


I loved this video from Layla Martin on some unexpected tips for flirting. If you’ve learned to flirt in order to make other people feel better, stop doing that, and watch this video.

And PS – I love crushes. They’re my favorite.

If you’re on Instagram and interested in men, I have important accounts for you to follow: Hot Dudes Reading, Men & Coffee. I love you and you’re welcome.

An interesting article about language differences between English and Chinese, specifically, the role of phrases like “thank you,” “please,” or “excuse me.” Now I’m wondering what it would look like to shorten the distance in my relationships.

The Chinese way of being polite to each other with words is to shorten the social distance between you. And saying please serves to insert a kind of buffer or space that says, in effect, that we need some formality between us here.

The many faces of shame. A helpful primer.

This was really sweet: a boy left his stuffed tiger (Hobbes!) at the airport, and the tiger had quite an adventure while the boy was away.

It’s not a new song, but it always resonated with me.

Do I love you?
Oh I do
And I’m going to ’til I’m gone
But if you think that I can stay in this
Same old, same old
Well, I don’t
I don’t


Wishes for Releasing, and Inspiration from Hemingway

wishes for releasing

:: Image via Oprah ::


I left my writing notebook in another city over the weekend.* I know where I left it. I thought I wanted to write, because I had a lot of big thoughts in my head, but then I decided what I really wanted was sleep, so the notebook got tossed to the floor (not even lovingly. I should have treasured it in our last interaction, and I just casually tossed it to the ground). Then the next morning I didn’t see it, didn’t look for it, and left without it.

I called the Lost & Found office. Maybe they’ll find it, maybe they can mail it to me, or maybe one of the friends I have in the city would be willing to get it for me.

I am what seems to be overly upset about losing this notebook, but as usual, it’s not really about the notebook, except I had a lot of really great ideas in there that I didn’t do anything with and now I have writer’s block as I sit at my laptop.

Losing stuff is hard, especially stuff you liked. Sometimes the stuff you lose is stuff, and sometimes it’s people.

Sometimes mourning a notebook is a nice playground to explore all the emotions that are tied to losing things. People do this with food too.

Havi has been writing beautifully on this topic, so you should probably go and read her posts, because they’re awesome.

Releasing didn’t feel like freedom, or permission, or allowing something to emerge.

Releasing felt like death, like giving up on hope.

I wasn’t able to understand that surrender can be a sweet softening, that letting something go can be an exquisitely tender act of love, and there were all kinds of good reasons that I couldn’t feel into this distinction yet.

That’s okay. All timing is right timing.

So I bought a new notebook, and I stared at it for a while, wondering what to write.

Then I did what every good writer does when they can’t think of what to write: I procrastinated. I went to social media.

And social media is nonsense sometimes. They’re all, “I was having a bad day. But then I decided to have the Best Day Ever! Here are 10 Steps to Make Today the Best Day Ever!”

Usually I read stuff like that, say, “Fuck you,” aloud, and then unfollow that person.

I’ve already spent too long shoving my feelings aside (or trying to stuff them down with food). Now I need to sit with myself for a while and figure out how I feel, and specifically what I’m trying not to feel.

And Mr. Hemingway speaks to me in those moments, with two of my favorite pieces of advice:

Write hard and clear about what hurts.


All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.

The truest sentences I know are always about how I feel right now. It’s the best place I know to start.

And the nice thing about truth is that it’s rarely permanent; it’s simply present.

Writing my true thoughts is helpful because I have to own what I’m feeling, and because I know I don’t have to stay there.

These parameters also give what I’m writing some legitimacy, which I find helpful. Bitch Boss can’t come in and judge what I’m writing or feeling; I am under strict orders to write what’s true. I’m just the messenger. Can’t kill me.

All of this information is particularly valuable to me at the moment, because the more I investigate my stuff, the more I realize that everything is about relationships to me, and all those relationships are changing. It’s daunting, and I’m doing a lot of work to figure out some underlying stories and assumptions I have about everything.

So my best advice I have for you is to write. Or paint. Or dance. Express.

If you’re paralyzed by perfectionism, burn the pages, burn the art, dance with the lights off.

Let your expression be the experience.


* I wrote this post when I was in the throes of grieving for a notebook I thought I’d lost as well as a breakup. Fortunately, I found the notebook; it had just been misplaced. The breakup stayed broken up. Expression was still the right choice.