For all males of my generation, this title should conjure up memories of Patrick Swayze and Keanu in Body Glove wetsuits, being crushed by gnarly waves. For everyone else, don’t worry about it. This week’s edition is dedicated to legendary gastronomic prodigy James “Cornbread” Naquin, Jr., who has noticed that the high stress lifestyle of the restaurant industry is physically and mentally taxing. Ya think?
During my stint in the restaurant industry as a chef, I never thought stress was a problem. I defined stress at the time as “worry.” Worry was something I didn’t suffer from, so I didn’t give it much thought, but stress has another definition, and as it turns out I was suffering from stress-a-plenty.
Stress is worry, but stress is also being busy. Stress is anything that puts undue strain on your mind and/or body. Stimulants induce a stress response, as does exercising very hard, as does going too many hours without food, as does not getting enough sleep. Just being particularly alert is a stress – this is the kind of stress I was experiencing in the restaurant industry. The euphoria of working in a fast-paced restaurant is pretty amazing. Up to six nights a week I would go 10 hours straight without a rogue thought. This is extreme focus. It is the level of focus required to be an air traffic controller, yet involves physical coordination to match the thought, and this all happens in temperature extremes of over 100 degrees. So yes James, I feel you brother. Chefin’ ain’t easy, no matter how well you work under pressure. Eventually your adrenals burn out.
Stress is being hyped up as the cause for all our suffering. It’s an easy target I suppose – it puts all the health responsibility on the individual and none on say, Monsanto or Pepsi. But stress is a real threat, and this is why…
There is a physiological response to all types of stress – an outpouring of larger quantities of adrenal hormones than can be sustained. Adrenal hormones make you feel awesome. If you don’t believe me, go pound a couple of energy drinks and tell me you’re not in a good mood and don’t feel like you could jump over a building. If that doesn’t work, go skydiving and tell me that you don’t feel alert and invigorated. This great feeling of energy, enhanced mood, and alertness is what is so tough about adrenaline. There are so many things that we do that are taxing to our bodies yet feel really great. Yet the more adrenaline we pump out, the more exhausted we get, and the lower we sink when our bodies have a chance to recuperate. Thus the cycle continues.
To see how this works, let’s get some scenarios going.
Not eating enough food causes an emergency response in the body. When the body doesn’t have ample supplies of its basic needs, like blood glucose for example, adrenaline comes in to save the day. Adrenaline is as powerful and addictive as almost any drug. When not eating, an anorexic person has energy, and feels almost high from the constant elevated secretion of adrenaline. When an anorexic eats, they go for the sugar, because sugar is a stimulant which keeps the adrenaline pumping out. Feed an anorexic a Matt Stone meal, say 2 huge strips of bacon, eggs with cheese, toast with a ¼-inch layer of butter, and a pint of whole extra-fat milk – and guess what? The body says, “quick, shut off the adrenal glands and let’s repair the damage.” This does not feel good people, but don’t worry, another great adrenaline trigger is vomiting. How good do you suddenly feel after vomiting? 100% pure adrenaline! Eating disorders are very physically hard to overcome. Don’t underestimate what sufferers of this problem are going through.
Any time you skip a meal, the result is stress. Any time you go too long without food your blood sugar drops too low and adrenaline kicks in to rescue you. That’s what makes hypoglycemic sufferers shake. Hunger, induced by low blood sugar levels, is a stress and even that should be avoided. Too much fasting can cause adrenal burnout. Eat stupid.
Caffeine and chocolate, which contains caffeine and theobromine (another stimulant) are like so totally fashionable right now, oh my god! They cause a release of adrenaline. They make you feel energized, alert, and clear. They exhaust the adrenal glands and lead to a host of physical and mental disorders. They mimic stress, and the tired foggy feeling you get when your body later tries to rest gives you a strong urge to mimic stress again. Addiction baby. 100% pure adrenaline!
Exercising at a high intensity level causes the release of stress hormones. Your body thinks you are struggling for survival and kicks in to help out, at a cost. This is another form of stress that feels great, makes you happy, alert, and invigorated, but strains the body and can exhaust the adrenals. Although exercise is tolerated well by properly-nourished, strongly-constituted bodies, it is the last thing that someone who lives a stressful life, skips meals, and is amped up on caffeine and sugar needs tons of. And of course, because you feel so good on exercise, it appears to be a stress-reliever. It is a mental stress reliever no doubt, but an overall stress-inducer, otherwise it wouldn’t make you feel so good. What makes you feel good? 100% pure adrenaline!
When you eat rapidly digested refined sugar, especially liquid sugar, tons of insulin pours into the bloodstream, because high sugar levels in the blood are extremely toxic to the system and insulin triggers sugar storage in cells, removing it from the blood. This often accompanies higher adrenal hormone secretions. High insulin levels will later trigger low blood sugar when all the sugar has been removed, which is why a high-sugar diet makes you intensely hungry. 100% pure adrenaline rushes in to save the day just like when you’ve skipped a meal, or gone too many hours without food.
Other Adrenaline Triggers
Lack of sleep; when you don’t get enough sleep you often feel shaky, like your heart is fluttering. 100% pure adrenaline! When a chronic undersleeper sleeps in they don’t feel the surge of stress hormones and are sleepy and groggy, not energized and alert like they do in the presence of adrenaline. Feeling tired and sluggish is a sign that you are not stressing your body. It’s not always a sign of something wrong that needs some immediate Java.
Worry; yes of course worry is a stress. It gives you that same fluttering pulse and nervous energy because it stimulates the same hormonal release. 100% pure adrenaline!
Being busy; a jam-packed schedule and racing around from task to task is enough to elevate adrenaline levels and be burning adrenaline faster than it can be replaced, leading towards exhaustion.
Other stressors include robbing banks, surfing, working as an undercover cop, skydiving, getting beaten up, being in high-speed car chases, proximity to hot “babes,” and being in and around explosions like Keanu in the movie Point Break. The movie trailer is like an Ode to Adrenaline.
Stress comes in a myriad of forms. The point of this was not to encourage everyone to sit on a rock and meditate for the rest of their lives, stopping only to sleep and eat nourishing, well-balanced meals. Stress is a part of life, it’s unavoidable, and having some stimulating stress is essential for overall well-being. The right amount of stress is healthy. Ideal. And who could go through life without a good challenge and breaking a nice sweat from time to time? The most important and practical way to keep stress within tolerable limits is to eat often, eat well, get plenty of sleep, and avoid stimulants as much as possible.
This was also written to show those who have chosen to live a stressful life, be it through work or even competitive sports that require intense training, ways that they can compensate in other areas to keep from crashing and burning. Pick and choose stressors that you want to keep while eradicating stressors that are unnecessary. This way you can achieve balance instead of burnout, and avoid the consequences of long-term stress, such as heart disease, hypertension, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and other degenerative illnesses (all real accumulations of long-term stress).