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How to Deal with OVERSTRESS


Depression, anxiety attacks, hypochondriasis, alcoholism, compulsive gambling, insomnia, stress-o-holism, these are all names given to SYMPTOMS of OVERSTRESS; or to the major Pick-Me-Up that the person is using for self-medication. In the past, each of these has been thought to be a disease in and-of-itself.

We now know that each of these is not a disease in-and-of itself but may be a result of Happy Messenger malfunction, and the person's largely futile efforts to self-medicate with Pick-Me-Up's or Put Me-Down's. The great breakthrough of the 1990's is our understanding of how all this works. We now have tools that can help a person suffering from OVERSTRESS to feel healthy again, sleep well, and be rid ofaches, pains, anxiety, and depression.


The Treatment of OVERSTRESS

The BIGGEST MISTAKE you can make in handling stress is...

Using Pick-Me-Up's to boost your Happy Messengers, while continuing to pile on the stress.

When you do this, you "Ride the Wild Rollercoaster": Sometimes feeling well, mostly feeling ill, never achieving balance!!

What you should do is...

Stop using the Pick-Me-Up's, lower your stress level, and give your body a chance to re-balance itself.

Then you can never achieve balance, feel well, and STAY well.



Check your stress level here!

Add up your Stress Scale points for the past twelve months. If it is RED, you should be keenly alert for the early signs of OVERSTRESS. Even a YELLOW level will OVERSTRESS ten percent of persons. For this reason, it is best to aim for a continuing stress load of GREEN on the Stress Scale.


1. MAKE YOUR LIFE REGULAR... as "clock work"

If you suffer from OVERSTRESS, you have disrupted the function of your Body Clock. Re-setting your Body Clock is vital if you are to feel well, sleep soundly, and awake refreshed. Give yourself a definite wake up and sleep time. This sets a frame of reference for your Body Clock. It will take two or three weeks to synchronize your Body Clock to your schedule. So, stick to your schedule!

But what if I try to go to sleep at 10 p.m. and I can't fall asleep? Or what if I fall asleep but keep waking up during the night?

Sleep difficulty is the hallmark of OVERSTRESS. When your Body Clock stops working, you may have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Or conversely, you may feel sleepy all the time. Either symptom may be produced when the Body Clock stops working. It all depends on which "position" the Clock was in when it stops: wakefulness, or sleepiness.

So, do not expect to have your sleep problems go away until your Body Clock is working again. Go ahead and set yourself a reasonable wake up time and bed time. Do the best you can to stick to these times. As you lower your stress levels, your Body Clock will begin to work. It will then match its cycle of

wakefulness and sleep to the times that you have set for it. Remember, this process will take at least three weeks, so stick firmly to your time schedule.

But what if I put myself to bed at my bed time, and I just lie there without falling asleep?

If, after 45 minutes, you have not fallen asleep, get up and read a book or do something around the house. Sooner or later, you will feel sleepy and fall asleep. Keep putting yourself to bed at your bed time every night. As you reduce your stress levels, your Body Clock will begin working. Your Body Clock will gradually match your chosen sleep schedule. In the meantime, be patient and work to reduce your stress levels as much as possible.


If You Must do "Shift Work":

Your Body Clock will always try and synchronize itself with your daily schedule. If your job requires you to work varying shifts, however, you may have difficulty in getting your Body Clock to match your shift.

When properly synchronized, your Body Clock tells you to be awake for your work, and tells you to go to sleep after your work. If you do evening work, your Body Clock will shift itself so that you will be awake for your evening work, and be able to sleep during the day. But this change requires two or three weeks to occur. If your employer rotates your shift more often than every two or three weeks, your Body Clock will always be mis-matched with your work requirements. You will be trying to work when your body wants to sleep, and trying to sleep when your body wants to work.

This will make it practically impossible to restore the proper functioning of your Body Clock.

If you are OVERSTRESSED, you should avoid "shift work". If you MUST do "shift work", try and work at least three weeks at each shift before rotating to a new one. And always make sure the direction of shift rotation is "morning to evening to night to morning again".

Do you remember that the untrained cycle of your body clock is 25 hours? Because of this, it is always easier to stay up later, than to try and force yourself to go to bed early. So never try to rotate shifts from "night to evening to morning". Your Body Clock will blow a fuse.


If Your Work Involves Air Travel to Different Time Zones:

Those of you who do frequent long distance air traveling will be familiar with the condition known as "Jet Lag". Jet Lag occurs when you board an airplane and rapidly move to an area where the local time is more than three to four hours different than the time on your Body Clock.

You might, for instance, board a jet in Hawaii and fly to New York. When you arrive in NewYork, it might be midnight New York Time, but only 6 p.m. on your Body Clock.

All you body rhythms: temperature, stress fighting hormone, sleep cycles are now out of synchronization with your local time zone. Now you are trying to go to sleep when your body is still awake, and trying to work when your body expects you to be in bed. It will take two or three weeks for your Body Clock to harmonize with your new surroundings. During that time it is not unusual to be fatigued and to feel "not with it". We call this feeling "Jet Lag".

If you are OVERSTRESSED, you should avoid inter-time zone traveling. But if you MUST change time zones, try to wait at least three weeks between trips. And when you do take that trip, and you arrive in a new time zone, it will be easier for you to adjust if you stay up later and go to sleep when the "locals" do, rather than trying to force yourself to sleep when your body wants to be awake.


If You Work Indoors:

Your body Clock requires exposure to daylight during the day in order to remain synchronized with your local time zone. Normal fluorescent lighting does not have the same light spectrum as daylight, hence it will NOT help your Body Clock to properly set itself.

If you are a person who arises when it is dark, works indoors all day, and goes home when it is dark, your BodyClock may become out of phase with the world around you - giving you a case of permanent "Jet Lag". Because of this problem, manufacturers of fluorescent lights have begun producing "daylight spectrum" fluorescent lights. These lights will allow your Body Clock to synchronize itself with your work schedule.

If you work indoors, try to work by a window. If you cannot, then see if you can have "daylight spectrum" fluorescent light bulbs installed. It really helps.

As an alternative for people who never seen the sun, one can sit facing 600 watts of daylight spectrum fluorescent lights, three feet in front of you, for one hour.

Do this at the time that you wish your Body Clock to learn to wake you up. You may eat breakfast, read a book, or watch television, but the light must be facing you. (Caution is required with light therapy in people with manic depressive disorders, skin that is sensitive to light, or medical conditions that make the eyes vulnerable to light damage - consult physician first.)

Note that persons living in northern climates lacking in sunshine may have the same problem of permanent "Jet Lag". It is so common it has been named "Seasonal Affective Disorder" or "SAD" for short. For these people the above suggestion will be equally helpful.



You must give your body adequate time to repair itself, and to regenerate Happy Messengers. If you are having symptoms of OVERSTRESS:


          Aches and pains


          Problems sleeping

          Lack of enjoyment of life


Give your body a chance to heal itself.

Every morning make a list of things that you want to ge done...




Let someone else do the holiday dinner for the family, or make it a pot luck on paper plates. Only go out once this week. Tell your visitors from out of town (who always expect to stay at your house) to call you "just as soon as they get settled in a hotel room".



Remember, CHANGE IS STRESS. So relax, postpone any big moves or changes for awhile.

          Postpone remodeling your home or apartment.

          Postpone moving to a new house or apartment.

Making a change in your living environment, even if it is a change that you are excited about, is a major stress.


If you are a "workaholic", or a "school-a-holic", you need to reduce the energy drain you are placing on your body. Work or school more than 40 hours per week adds 40 stress points to your life.



Keep Your Blood Sugar Steady

People who are OVERSTRESSED almost always begin to use sugar as a Pick-Me-Up. Their blood sugar goes up and down wildly. Thus, the most important dietary consideration is to keep your blood sugar from swinging high, or swinging low. In order to feel well, you must level out your blood sugar, avoiding the"sugar highs", and "sugar lows". Take your sugar in the form of complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain cereals and pasta. These foods, comprised of tightly interlinked sugars, are broken down slowly by the body, releasing their sugar over a long period of time. Eating frequent small meals, instead of a few large ones, also helps keep your blood sugar stable. Avoid simple sugars such as candy, corn and fruit sugars.

Eat More Vegetables

Your brain's production of one of the Happy Messengers, Serotonin, is sensitive to your diet. Eating more vegetables, can increase your brain's Serotonin production. This increase is due to improved absorption of the amino acid L-Tryptophan.

(Vegetables contain the natural, safe, form of L Tryptophan. At the present writing, synthetic L-Tryptophan has been removed from health food stores due to probable impurities that were, in some cases, causing severe and even fatal illness).

Meats contain natural L-Tryptophan also, but when you eat meat, the L-Tryptophan has to compete with so many other amino acids for absorption that the L-Tryptophan loses out. The net result is that you get better absorption of L-Tryptophan when you eat vegetables.

In other words -- eat a salad for lunch.


Beware of Cue Reactions

To cut down on your intake of Pick-Me-Up's, remove them from the house, and any other place that is within easy reach. Do not forget to clear your desk drawer at work, and the glove compartment of the car. Even though you want to reduce your sugar, caffeine, tobacco or alcohol consumption, just the sight of a cookie can lead you to eat it; just the sight of a beer might lead you to drink it -- before you even have a chance to stop yourself.


Allergy is a major source of stress for some of us. If there are certain things that trigger YOUR allergies, you should avoid them.



Begin an exercise that you enjoy, Preferably, do something that brings you into contact with other people. The value of such exercise, three times a week for 20 minutes to two hours, can not be over emphasized.

Enjoyable exercise, in moderation, boosts your HAPPY MESSENGERS in a smooth sustained fashion. It will make you feel better right away!

Exercise has another beneficial effect. Most people, when exercising, do not worry. They are actually resting the nerve cells in the brain that worry, giving those cells time to renew their stores of HAPPY MESSENGERS, so they can function normally the next time they are needed.

There are other ways of "resting your mind". Dancing, listening to music, reading, working on a craft, playing a musical instrument, meditation, self relaxation, and biofeedback also relieve stress. Any activity which concentrates your attention on a subject other than life's problems will help rest your mind. This rests the "Problem Solving" part of your brain, allowing it to regenerate HAPPY MESSENGERS and renew itself.

10. STOP YOUR PUT-ME-DOWN'S (see below for important caution)

Tranquilizers and calmatives will prevent your body from restoring its Happy Messengers. Unlike Pick-Me-Up's, which can usually be taken in modest amounts without harm, Put-Me-Down's should be avoided altogether.

By reducing your stress load, stabilizing your blood sugar, improving your diet, avoiding allergies, and getting some exercise, you will find you will not want tranquilizers and calmatives.

CAUTION: Before stopping any prescription medicine, however, always, check with your doctor. We do not want you to accidentally stop a heart medicine or anti-epilepsy medication. Also, many of the Put-Me-Down's must be tapered down slowly, rather than stopped abruptly. Ask your doctor BEFORE you make any change in medication.

(If someone has given you Put-Me-Down's to help you sleep, particularly the ones in the Valium family, you may have a real problem stopping them. They are best tapered off very slowly, and under medical supervision. Even then, the withdrawal symptoms from these drugs are very unpleasant. The chief withdrawal symptoms is inability to sleep, and vivid disturbing dreams. If you try to stop them on your own, you may experience sleeplessness that is worse than ever!

Then you may erroneously conclude that you need more, not less of the Put-Me-Down! It is very easy to be trapped by Put-Me-Down's.)

If the Ten Simple Steps are Not Enough

If you have done all of the preceding and still have significant symptoms of OVERSTRESS:


          Aches and pains


          Problems sleeping

          Lack of enjoyment of life




OVERSTRESS that you can not clear up yourself may be the earliest warning sign of some hidden illness.

          Thyroid disease

          Calcium imbalance (too much or too little)



          Manic-depression (Bi-polar disorder)

          Liver disease

          Kidney malfunction

          Vitamin deficiency

          Hormone deficiency

These are examples of physical illnesses that you might not be aware of - but which cause enough stress on your body to create OVERSTRESS.

Your doctor should do a thorough history, and a complete physical examination, including tests on blood and urine. The automated blood testing machines can do a complete blood count, as well as measure your thyroid function, liver enzymes, kidney function, calcium and phosphorus, iron and blood sugar for a very reasonable price.

So, if your symptoms are not getting better with the TEN SIMPLE STEPS -- be sure to see your doctor.


If cutting down your Pick-Me-Up's did not get you off the"roller coaster" of Pick-Me-Up high and Pick-Me-Up low, then you need to ELIMINATE Pick-Me-Up's entirely. You need to get off the"roller coaster" in order to start feeling well.

If you have a heavy intake of Pick-Me-Ups, do not despair. Today, physicians have many ways to help you stop your Pick-Me-Up's. A brain chemical rebalancer can support your Happy Messengers while you eliminate the Pick-Me-Ups from your system. Also, your doctor has other medications that can specifically block the craving for most Pick-Me-Up's. These medicines must be prescribed by a physician after evaluating whether they are safe for you. If you are a heavy user of alcohol, sugar, caffeine, cigarettes, cocaine, heroin or ANY of the Pick-Me-Up's, lower your stress level, re-balance your Happy Messengers, and enjoy life again!


If a certain food makes you wheeze, or gives you a stuffy nose, or diarrhea, or red itchy bumps on your skin, you should obviously avoid that food. Any allergic reaction of this type is a stress on your body which will contribute to your OVERSTRESS.

There is another type of food reaction you should avoid. ANY FOOD THAT YOU CRAVE OR BINGE is a brain active food. You are craving or binging it because it is directly affecting your brain. Most of the time these are foods which contain the Pick-Me-Up's, sugar or caffeine. But sometimes the substance in the food is corn, milk, or gluten protein. Many people have sensitivity reactions to corn, milk, or gluten containing products. The protein in these substances directly affect brain messenger function.

If, by this point in the book, you are STILL not feeling well, try a corn-free, milk-free and/or gluten-free diet. (Consult a dietician, or your doctor for a source of recipes).


An experienced counselor can be of great help! It is often possible for a counselor to pinpoint stressors which you may have overlooked. Counselors can help you handle general life problems in ways that produce less stress. You should specifically seek instruction in cognitive therapy, assertiveness training,self-relaxation, biofeedback, and meditation. These techniques are very useful in reducing stress by teaching you how to "rest your mind."

Places where you might find an experienced counselor: Referral from your doctor, your church, local hospital, community mental health program, or local college health service.


If, try as you might, you can not lower your stress levels enough to feel well, and if your doctor has found no hidden illness, then you might benefit from the use of a "brain chemical re-balancer".

Over the last ten years, a type of medicine has been developed which is not a sleeping pill --yet it will help you sleep. It is not a stimulant -- yet it will give you energy. It is not a pain reliever -- yet it will diminish aches and increase your enjoyment of life. This family of non-addictive, prescription medicines works by re-balancing your brain's chemical messages.

Now, at this point you may be thinking, "But, Dr. Burns, you have pointed out the dangers of Pick-Me-Up's and Put-Me-Down's, how can you now recommend that we use a medication?"

The answer is that these new brain chemical re-balancers, unlike the Pick-Me-Up's and Put-Me-Down's that we have mentioned, do not cause rebound (you don't have a quick upswing followed by a big crash), nor does one develop tolerance to them (you don't have to take more and more just to achieve the desired effect).

They can be used to boost your Happy Messengers while you are in the process of lowering your stress load. And, if you are one of the persons who has inherited a very low stress tolerance, you may safely stay on these medications for a very long time.

You can view these medications the way we view insulin for the diabetic. The type I diabetic, try as he might, does not make enough insulin to handle his daily carbohydrate load. So he has to take insulin as a long term replacement medicine.

If you have lowered your stress levels as much as you can, and if you have no hidden physical illness that is adding hidden stress to your life, and if you are still suffering from OVERSTRESS, you just may be an individual whose genetic inheritance does not allow you to make enough Happy Messengers to handle your daily stress load.

You may indeed benefit from taking these brain chemical re-balancers as a long term replacement medicine, just as the diabetic benefits from insulin.

At present, there are quite a few of these medications that doctors can prescribe. They fall into general categories, the "tricyclics" which variably boost serotonin, dopamine and noradrenalin; the "selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRI's" which act mainly to boost serotonin function; and the SNRI's which boost serotonin and noradrenalin both.  

These groups are effective, but they have different side effect profiles.Whether the doctor prescribes one group or the other depends mainly on what symptoms of overstress you are having.

These rebalancers will help you to sleep well, feel refreshed, and enjoy life. All the medicines have some side effects, but usually your doctor can help you select one that has very little in the way of side effects. (Usually the brain chemical re-balancers have much less side effects than the Pick-Me-Up's and Put-Me-Down's you may be presently using!)

Note on Bipolar Disease: This is a different condition from simple OVERSTRESS. One may have deep mood swings from very low to very high. One may have days without sleep, disorganised thinking and very dangerous behavior. If your doctor says you have bipolar disease you will need a MOOD STABILIZER as well as a brain chemical rebalancer. Treatment of bipolar requires an experienced physician and that discussion is beyond the scope of this text.........if you think you may be bipolar, you must see your physician right away.