Chronic Stress, Anxiety? You Are Your Best Doctor: Dr. Bal Pawa (Transcript)

Full text of Physician Dr. Bal Pawa’s talk titled “Chronic Stress, Anxiety? – You Are Your Best Doctor” at TEDxSFU conference.

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Dr. Bal Pawa – Physician

Let’s pretend that I’m Oprah, and all of you are getting a brand-new car, a BMW. Whoa! You’re excited, you rev up the engine, and you hit the road; you’re enjoying the ride, and suddenly a little white poodle jumps right in front of you. You panic, the dog panics. You’re going right, left right.

And just when you think you’re going to hit the dog or crash into the ditch, you slam on your brakes, swerve, and shoo! The dog scampers off but you’re left shaking.

What just happened? You just experienced an acute, short-lived stress called ‘fight-or-flight.’ sound familiar?

Now, imagine if your body lived in this state all the time. Chronic excessive stress leads to distress – heartburn, headache, muscle tension, hypertension, gut problems, sleep problems, high anxiety, low sex drive. Sound familiar?

As I can tell you, the American Medical Association also reports that an astonishing 75% of all the symptoms that doctors treat can be traced right back to excessive stress.

As a researcher and as a physician, I see these symptoms. And eventually, these symptoms lead to serious life-threatening diseases – diabetes, depression, heart attacks, and even cancer.

There is an undeniable mind-body connection when it comes to stress and disease. But today, I’m going to show you how to use your mind to stress proof your body by becoming your own best doctor.

But first, a little Anatomy 101, like a car, your brain has a little engine and it’s called the autonomic nervous system; and this autonomic nervous system revs up when there’s stress. And that’s great when we had to run away from external dangers like saber-toothed tigers, that fight-flight reaction was important.

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But nowadays, those prehistoric tigers are replaced by tigers that roam in our mind: Fears; fear of failure, fear of rejection, loneliness, a toxic boss, busy to-do list. You can’t run away from those fears in their mind; they’re with you all the time.

So what happens, your body goes into fight-or-flight all the time; becomes your new norm, your default option. Your engine is revving up all the time and your gas pedal is stuck.

So what happens? You’re bombarded with stress hormones, cortisol, adrenaline, and they wreak havoc with your body. The more stress, the more you get sick – cause and effect.

But wait, the autonomic nervous system has a brake. It’s called the Vagus nerve. But unlike that other Vagus, what happens in this Vagus doesn’t stay there. This Vagus runs from your brain all the way, and it wanders, this nerve collection wanders to all the different organs in your body, and it does the opposite of fight-or-flight; it’s called rest and digest. It slows everything down.

So, it’s taking you out of that survival brain into your calm, cool, rational brain. Much better for your health, but the problem is we don’t apply the brakes consistently. And I know this too well, both as a doctor and as a patient.

At age 32, I wasn’t perfect but my life sure was. I’m married to an adoring man, an optometrist, whose eyes is only for me. We’ve moved into our brand-new home; we have two beautiful children, and one more on the way. And I’m doing something I love – delivering babies and keeping families healthy. Life is good.

One rainy Vancouver evening, I’ve just finished delivering a baby, I’m heading home. The baby is a nine pound beautiful future wrestler, big boy. You should have seen the mother: tears of joy streaming down her face, and it’s the best part of my job; I get to share that joy.

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