It’s easy to get “overwhelmed by life”. Just generally. Even if everything is going well health wise, in relationships, with the kids, job and all. There’s always a lot to juggle, plan and think about. I sometimes wonder why my adult life seems so much more eventful and complex than my parents’. Don’t get me wrong- I know my parents, and even more so my grandparents, worked incredibly hard to make ends meet at the end of each month.
But I’m talking more about emotional pressure– if there’s any such word. This is not just my subjective impression, by the way. My mum recently confirmed that she feels that- possibly with the advent of more technology?- there’s generally so much more going on in life than there used to. I actually remember her taking a nap- or just some time out- after lunch when we had “quiet time”, too. Nowadays, we spend quiet time scrolling down our facebook feed or, in my case, hunting the latest research into the ketogenic diet...
In short, she said “You guys think you have to have it all!” The good old fear of missing out. But she then admitted, a few minutes later, that she really has to pace herself, too. Although she’s now retired. And make sure she often says “no” so that she avoids having too much going on. Which really got me thinking… how could I retrieve the power of simplicity? Make sure I didn’t overdo it on a regular basis and feel there was just too much on my plate?
How a haemorrhage got me going
The thought of simplifying things in life got even stronger when, last December, I had my regular, 6-monthly check up. Unfortunately, my consultant discovered a hamorrhage right beside my optic nerve. He asked me whether I’d had any blood pressure issues recently. If anything, my blood pressure is usually on the low to very low end. But I knew for a fact that the many stressors in 2016 might have (temporarily) spiked my blood pressure. And because my right eye is so much more fragile than my left, healthy eye, it doesn’t take much to throw things off balance. Before the check up, I already knew something was going on. I’d noticed a lot of burst little vessels on top of my eye lid and also inside my eye- the ones that are visible, I mean.
After feeling very down to hear these bad news and having a good cry, I got back into my usual positive attitude towards my illness. It was much better to suffer from “only” a haemorrhage as a wake up call rather than having a full blown relapse, wasn’t it? I realised that my life had indeed been way too hectic in 2016 and took a course that felt like it was out of control many times. Time to change this!
Finding a bandaid vs addressing the root cause
Initially, I frantically researched “haemorrhage and eye damage” to see what supplements, treatments, drugs and what else were out there to help me. Then I stopped. I caught myself in another “fight or flight” mode, which I knew got me into trouble in the first place. I realised how ridiculous this was. Here I was, trying to research a “plaster” or bandaid to what was wrong with my eye when I knew EXACTLY what the root cause was. Stress.
And this is what brought me back to what I discussed in the first paragraph- the power of simplicity. That it was time to find it again. Interestingly, when I was brain storming to write this blog post, I also came across a recent podcast between Alessandro Ferretti and Roland Pankewich from Metabolic Mastery Radio. They discuss this exact topic- among many other ones- in great detail. Alex talks about how many people can’t see the wood from the trees any more and lose perspective when it comes to their health. They google, find out about supplements, certain biohacking methods, functional tests and more. Before they even address the most basic (and often very obvious!) steps to better health, they go “down a rabbit hole. This means that they deal with issues that probably aren’t a priority and won’t give them the greatest results. In short, they completely lose perspective.
Anxiety and overwhelm
I know, I’ve been there. It’s confusing. As much as I LOVE the internet and how it provides us with unprecedented levels of information, research and “free” advice, it can also be an incredible source of anxiety and overwhelm. It’s a very common feature, especially also in young cancer patients (but also in many older ones, don’t get me wrong!). We’re keen to do everything we can to get better, find a cure and leave cancer behind us. We research trials into new drugs, repurposed drugs, supplements, hyperbaric oxygen, hyperthermia, nutrient infusions, functional testing- you name it. We get super excited about all the possibilities and hope these modalities could provide. But then- bang- it hits us. It’s way too much to take on and we’d probably also have to take another mortgage out to fund all this!
What’s the “life load”?
Last week I had another check-up, 3 months after my haemorrhage was discovered. And it had completely gone- within 3 months! This is pretty impressive, considering that it was in the eye. Many also asked what it was that I’d been doing. My answer is very simple: I took a step back. And addressed the obvious: My so-called “life load”.
What do I mean by this? In short, it involves the sum of the external and internal factors that influence an individual’s health. This can be related to various things- here are just a few:
- diet and nutrients: although this is one of my focus points, there’s always work and fine tuning to be done,
- exercise and movement– too little or too much- either can be a problem
- relationships: are they nourishing or depleting?
- stress and sleep: THE biggie for me.
Note that it’s the SUM of all things- one factor alone doesn’t usually have a big impact but added on top of others, it can cause problems. It’s a bit similar to a sinking boat: it can potentially be rescued by throwing some unwanted goods overboard or it might sink when more weight is added. Or when none is removed. In short: it’s all about balance.
And balance is what got thrown out for me during long periods of time in 2016. I knew that I could pop the most amazing magic pills and maybe get some short-term relief, but that I needed to address my imbalances before I got into even more trouble.
My plan of action
As Alex Ferretti states in the interview mentioned above: “Track it before you hack it”. And this is exactly what I did. With Alex’s help, I started to fine tune my lifestyle choices and made some powerful observations. I started wearing a tracking device (don’t worry, I’ll write about it in more detail very soon!), which allowed me to fine tune not only my sleep and exercise, but anything else that seemed to have an impact on my recovery and ultimately wellbeing. Like for instance also meal timing! What was a real revelation (I had known this all along but couldn’t quantify it that well) was that some lifestyle aspects like sleep, light exposure and type of exercise would have an equal or even bigger impact on my glucose levels! It’s not just about food…
The data that I collected helped me to become very clear on my life load and when I need to take a step back. As I’m a very focused individual (you could also call it stubborn…) and tend to lose touch with my inner body clock when I’m very stressed, I decided to welcome this technology into my life. Which is kind of ironic, given the above statement that this is what quite often gets us into trouble!
In my case, tracking and taking action based on the data from the device does the trick. It keeps me on my toes and helps me avoid overwhelm. I find it incredibly hard to say no to new clients, attending conferences, writing articles (or new books!) or whatever offers came my way because I love what I do. But it’s possible to overdo it on anything- even on things you love!
Take away points
The main message of this article is that yes, when we’re initially diagnosed with an acute form of illness, like for instance cancer, we probably need to “throw the kitchen sink” at it: Have the treatment that is the most evidence-based for a particular type of cancer, get the best support to complement it and possibly also make major changes to diet and lifestyle. PLEASE don’t attempt this on your own but get a good team of medical professionals behind you. Overwhelm is guaranteed!
But often less is more. Taking a step back, analysing your current situation and pinpointing what the major stressors are at a given point can be among the important aspects in sorting out a chronic health issue. Some people might argue that it’s always good to do extensive testing (so-called baseline testing) before making any changes. I agree but this obviously also largely depends on your financial situation. Obviously, testing is a must when safety is at stake. Doing basic blood tests with your general practitioner before embarking on a ketogenic protocol, for instance, is crucial. And I prefer to base a supplement regime on functional tests rather than “just” symptoms and subjective signs. But I doubt that doing an adrenal stress panel in December (when I knew my stress levels were through the roof and chances are everything would have been tupsy turvy anyway) would have gotten me a lot further. I hope you understand what I mean!
And if you feel it helps you to use certain tools or trackers to keep you motivated and on top of things, then do use them in a very targeted way. I log onto my Oura ring app once a day- in the morning- to plan my day. The data collected over night and the previous day will give me valuable insights into how hard I can push it during the day. This could for instance mean curling up on the sofa at night rather than working another shift or going for a walk instead of a run or a high intensity workout.
Address the obvious first. Because it could make all the difference.