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Stress and the Organic Health Food Store

"A case of nerves"

Ken Silvestri
Source: Ken Silvestri

“Next time you’re found with your chin on the ground, there’s a lot to be learned, so look around.”

---Frank Sinatra (from the song “High Hopes”)

There’s a large health food supermarket in my town determined to make its parking spaces much narrower. I am always amazed when I drive by and see fine-looking organic food seekers giving each other nasty gestures as they struggle to maneuver their cars into spaces.

We need not allow stress and negativity to push our nervous system into saving our life 24 hours a day, whether shopping, at home or at work. Stress is like the weather. We know it exists, but we can’t always figure out how to deal with it.

Nerves & Fight or Flight

As a kid, the homegrown diagnosing I heard if someone was stressed and feeling negative, was it’s due to “a case of nerves.” There is some truth to it being a case of nerves. We have two major parts to our autonomic nervous system. The parasympathetic “calm” part is activated, for example, when you meditate or listen to Baroque music. The problem lies with the other part of our nervous system, the “revved-up” sympathetic part, whose primary process is “fight or flight.”

The nervous system also monitors environmental signals through the HPA axis. The Hypothalamus secretes corticotrophin to the pituitary gland, which launches the body’s organs into action. The adrenal glands coordinate the “fight or flight” process.

When we’re in this mode, blood disproportionately goes to our arms and legs, so we can run like hell and get out of the way. Simultaneously, blood leaves our brain making us in a sense dumber.

The issue here is that the fight or flight reaction emanates from fear and consequently creates negativity. When in this state, we can’t differentiate between the loss of a loved one or not finding a parking space, no matter what our intent may have been.

Accentuate the Positive

How many times have you heard, when you were being negative, to “accentuate the positive?” Well, there is much to learn from that adage. Research clearly points out that negativity leads to being overly stressed and to bad health.

When you’re negative, your nervous system defaults to the revved-up state and your blood not only leaves your brain, but also compromises the areas that require the most nurturing.

Here’s an example. The entire lining of your gut needs to be replaced every seventy-two hours. When there’s excessive stress from negativity, your hormones curtail the immune system, further placing you in a more vulnerable state. This will also compromise the multifaceted and probably most important part of your nervous system, the Vagus Nerve. Positive thoughts have been called “a biological mandate for health.1

Stay Mindful

We should learn how to be cognizant of our emotions and our stress levels. Stay mindful by being in the present. Understand that you cannot change the past. Use a “wider lens,” by seeing different things simultaneously to maintain perspective. Communicate as if you were participating in a win-win volley; practice Coherent Breathing (six-second inhalations and exhalations to activate the “calm” part of your nervous system, developed by Stephen Elliott); embrace a healthy lifestyle that celebrates possibilities.

Save the “fight or flight” for mountain lions while you sing “Oops there goes another rubber tree plant.”


1. Dashner Keltner, Born to be Good (New York: Norton, 2009): “Positive thoughts are a biological mandate for health.”