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What Functional Medicine Doctors Are Getting Wrong About Stress




Ok, I know it's not all functional medicine doctors, nor is it all doctors in general. But, when I saw a prominent functional medicine doctor get stress completely wrong, I was extra shocked, because of how up to date I thought they were with mind-body health.


But yesterday, I saw a tweet by one of the leading Functional Medicine physicians, Dr. Mark Hyman, that I could not ignore.



As soon as I saw this on my social media feed, I yelled out loud, "NO!" I buried my face in a pillow, yelling into it incoherently. The yelling turned into growling, which my husband still could not decipher, but he knew something struck a nerve hard.


I frequently, as in multiple times a day, see memes on social media that are flat out wrong about stress physiology. (If you're in the mood for a rant about that, listen to Delivering Miracles® episode 137.) Most of the time, I roll my eyes and scroll past.


But this one I knew I had to say something about. So I drafted my reply and commented on his post directly:



I agree wholeheartedly that stress is not due to something happening TO us but something happening within us. However, I do believe it is misleading to call stress a thought. The perception of danger occurs in the part of the brain that has no linguistic capability and functions entirely on instinct. By the time we can hear our thoughts about the perceived danger, our body has already gone into survival mode (A.K.A. the stress response is already activated). I think it's an important distinction because it can be assumed mistakenly that if stress is a thought, then thinking positively will make the stress go away, which is not physiologically accurate. And it can be disempowering for people who are living with stress-induced illness and health complications. I love discussing stress physiology (my specialty is as it pertains to pregnancy outcomes), so happy to chat further if you'd like!

I haven't heard from him, and I honestly don't expect to. I don't even think he saw my comment.


But, I had to say something because I'm so tired of seeing these myths and inaccuracies being spread about stress and it's physiology.


Stress is a physiological chain reaction that happens when our brain identifies danger. He is right about that. It's something that happens within us, yes. That chemical chain reaction creates body sensations that cluster into what we call stress.


However, thoughts come after these physical sensations. Physiologically, they're too slow and take a tremendous amount of resources to generate, so they're not part of the initial "threat response team".


If they were, we'd all be eaten by bears. The human body is MUCH smarter than that and ensures that thoughts are not a part of the assessment of danger and the immediate response.


This distinction is important during pregnancy so you don't blame yourself for your pregnancy complications.


The reality is, stress affects pregnancy health, but not because you caused it. It's because the required balance to the neuro-endo-immuno trifecta (our nevous system, endocrine system, and immune system) become disrupted, setting up the stage for many pregnancy complications.


This all happens outside of choice...or thoughts.


This is why, when you want to "stress less" or "manage your anxiety" during pregnancy, it has nothing to do with your thoughts and everything to do with resetting your danger thermometer to SAFE.


That is what you learn how to do, on a nervous system level, in the Pregnancy Brain Course. Join for immediate access to learn how to actually take the stress and fear out of pregnancy with techniques that follow physiology, not pop-psychology, like, "Be more positive."

Take care of your pregnancy health and experience long-lasting anxiety relief when you join. Click here to join now.

Mind-body health & wellness training, coaching and consultations do not provide medical advice and are not meant to replace advice given by the client's medical or mental health service provider. Sessions are not psychotherapy. Legal disclaimer.

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