How Stress Affects Our Health With Dr. Elizabeth Hughes

MLM 243 | How Stress Affects Health

We live in a society that is very stressed out. This is partly due to social media and people glorifying the busy-ness so that we all think we have one-up each other. In this episode, Jen du Plessis is joined by Dr. Elizabeth Hughes to discuss how being surrounded with so much stressors in our lives depletes our purpose of living. Dr. Hughes is a Stanford-trained physician with over 25 years of clinical experience. She has developed The Stress Antidote™ System, a unique process to turn off the body’s harmful stress response, which she explains further today. Everything around us can be a source of stress and can greatly affect our health. Listen to episode to learn how you can calm down and get rid of all that angst and overwhelm.

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I am delighted to have a great speaker with us who’s going to help us with stress. That is the biggest thing that we’re dealing with right now. Let me take this opportunity to introduce our guest. Dr. Elizabeth Hughes is a Stanford trained physician with more than 25 years of clinical experience after treating thousands of patients with stress-related illnesses and having her own life nearly ruined by stress and chronic anxiety. Does this sound familiar? She realized that the conventional medical approach is completely inadequate to treat stress-related conditions, so she vowed to do something much better. Her quest led her to a study on non-Western systems, health and healing. She’s a registered yoga teacher, a health coach and a practitioner of several energy medicine modalities. She’s developed the Stress Antidote System. It’s a unique process to turn off the body’s harmful stress response. She’s helped clients all over the world overcome the root cause of their stress and reverse symptoms of stress-related illness. I am absolutely delighted to have you here with us.

Thank you. This is exciting. Thanks, Jen. It’s good to be here.

I’m excited about this. What a great pedigree of what you’re doing and putting together. I’m going to bring this up because most of the people that are reading are going through some type of transition or they’re in a business that is high stress. I, myself have had an experience. My husband had three heart attacks in a two-month period years ago. We’re coming up on the anniversary and it was all induced by stress. Every bit of it. Our family physician missed it to the extent that after he had the heart attack and went to the heart specialist that was assigned at the hospital, she called that heart specialist into her office and they manually for three days went through all of her cases, all of her patients.

She was so afraid that it would happen to other people because Brian looked healthy. He’s diabetic. He has Type 2 diabetes, and she was treating him for that so she knew there was a possibility but not when another person who is in her office is over 300 pounds and has no symptoms, not diabetic and all that. Brian didn’t look and feel like that. She said, “If I can use it with someone who looks good over someone who in the stereotype doesn’t look good is scary.” I know that it was stress-induced. He was always complaining about it and I know there are a lot of symptoms to that as well.

For those who are reading, we live in a society that is stressed out and partly because of social media because we’re all glorifying the busyness. We all have to one-up each other. If they look busier, they’re more successful. We’re always showing the best parts of us. We’re all chasing that and we’re living our lives through the almighty dollar. That’s what my coaching is all about. It’s the lifestyle business mastery is to calm that down and get rid of all that angst that happens. We’re overwhelmed, overstressed, overworked and working these horribly long hours. We’re sacrificing everything to be the Joneses, quite frankly.

The Joneses aren’t happy either.

It’s this false sense of security. I’ve got everybody stressed just by reading, which is what I wanted to do because I have it in my chest right now. It’s starting to feel a little heavy because I’m talking about things that I can’t stand. Let’s talk about how our health is affected by stress. Help us understand how is it affected? Some people think that they’re not stressed.

That’s what most people think. It’s like, “I’m stressed out, but it’s not important. I can handle it.” To get to the basics, any time that you feel stress, your body is releasing this specific soup of hormones and neurotransmitters that at a fundamental survival level, your body thinks that it can’t handle it, it might not survive. That soup of chemicals, neurotransmitters, and hormones signal the body to go into survival mode and every cell in the body responds. Every single solitary one, your immune system, heart, intestines, kidneys, lungs, and brain in a big way. Everything goes on, basically, panic alert.

Communicate with your body so you will understand what it wants. Click To Tweet

You may have heard the idea of, “You can’t do calculus while you’re being chased by a tiger.” Your body can’t do those complicated functions, but our bodies have a complicated job to do. They’re constantly repairing themselves. They’re replacing our proteins, building new blood cells, making new antibodies and the heart is pumping. That takes energy and it takes focus, which the body does effortlessly. You don’t have to think about it but the body is working 24/7 to keep you healthy. The moment that stress response goes on, everything comes to a stop. It’s like when the fire alarm goes and the body goes into some degree of shutdown, diversion or minimal sustainable biologic activity.

That’s exactly what I was thinking when you said that. It’s like, “Calling all cells. We have a problem over here. We’ll all go over here.”

Everybody goes into the bomb shelter, huddles down and doesn’t do anything else. That works if there’s a bomb or a hurricane that comes through but our bodies are so incredibly resilient that we’re able to do this year after year and think it’s normal, but it’s not healthy. It’s like death by 10,000 paper cuts. Each little one is going to peel off and get rid of your skin and get to that 9,999th and you’re okay and you got a heart attack.

That’s exactly what I talked about with a lot of people in my coaching. Mine is stolen from Darren Hardy, who’s a big mentor of mine. We don’t get bitten by elephants. We get bitten by mosquitoes. It’s so seemingly insignificant little things that can affect change for us in a positive or negative way. One of the things for me to be completely vulnerable is I’m getting older. As I’m getting older it’s harder and harder to keep weight off. I’ve never had to lose a lot of weight. I’ve always been fairly thin, but it’s hard for me to keep weight off and it seems things are shifting in my life. The biggest problem I have now is in my tummy area. I’m stressed about it. I’m thinking about all the time, “Can I eat that? Should I eat that? I probably shouldn’t eat that. A moment on the lips, a lot of time on the hips.”

I am consumed with what I’m consuming. I’m literally over consumed and it stresses me because when I look in the mirror, “I don’t like this clothing. I won’t look nice when I go here. I don’t want my husband to touch me because he might feel my love handles. As long as I lay flat on the bed, I look thinner than if I’m standing.” I’ve never had a butt, because I’ve always said no butts, and now I look like I’m standing backward because my tummy is bigger than my butt. I’m stressed over this. I don’t know what to do. I’m giving up and it makes me more stressed. I wake up in the middle of the night and I’m hungry. I didn’t eat after 7:00 because that’s what you’re supposed to do. Now I’m guilty because I’m eating in the middle of the night and I’m having a little snack to tide me. Help me.

I will help you. The first thing to realize is I totally believe that diets don’t work. The moment you decide you’re going to restrict yourself, that survival-based mechanism that’s inside you that can’t see beyond this present moment thinks that starvation is what it’s going to do. You start craving things that you wouldn’t crave if you weren’t trying to restrict yourself. Here’s the crazy thing. That switch that I talked about where every part of your body changes when you feel your survival is threatened or your metabolism changes completely. This is where people talk about a calorie isn’t a calorie. A calorie eaten in a sense of comfort and joy is metabolized properly and the excesses eliminated. A calorie eaten when the body thinks, “That might be the last morsel of food I get,” is going to be held on too tight.

It’s interesting because of this semi-abdomen area is where the stress hormones put your weight. It does. That’s where it stores. It’s right next to the organs where it can’t be hurt, so to speak. When I work with people, first off, we talk about how the body works in stress and sometimes that clarity of, “I’m stressing myself out and that’s not helpful.” Getting into the specifics is helpful. I also teach people how to communicate with their body so that they can figure out what their body wants to eat. While I say I don’t believe in diets, I do believe shifting what you eat helps but you have to let that shift come a little bit more naturally and intuitively. This happened to me a number of years ago. I used to eat everything. I did a fast for a weekend mainly as a challenge. A friend said, “I’m fasting. Do you want to do it?” I’m like, “Okay, we’ll do it.” When I came out of that fast, I didn’t want to eat meat anymore.

Isn’t that funny? I don’t drink coffee coming out of a fast.

How Stress Affects Health: Any time that you feel stressed, your body is releasing very specific hormones and neurotransmitters at a very fundamental survival level.

I did the same thing. I did another fast and coffee went. I used to drink eight cups a day. It’s a matter of finding the right diet for you and having it come to you in a more organic way. Food becomes fun and you don’t feel hungry, because there’s no sense of, “I’m denying myself something.” You’re eating exactly what you want.

That’s interesting and I know we could dive more into that on the eating piece of it, but I’m saying in general, the stress that goes around it. Let’s take us out of the eating part and it’s everything that’s coming to us from our businesses. We’re solopreneurs, salespeople and we’re being stressed and pulled from every angle. We don’t have enough time. We’re sacrificing our family and we’re sabotaging everything. We definitely are sabotaging our health. I can tell you when I was in the mortgage business, I would rather not eat lunch than to scarf lunch. I went with the alternative, which was to stop and get lunch, but I was too stressed. Everybody needed me and everybody’s coming at me from all angles. What are some of the things that that’s doing to us, not only the eating?

It’s the same in every way because your survival mechanism is basically thinking, “I can’t survive this next moment.” The deadline seems as difficult, as dangerous as the mountain lion or the car accident that you’re about to avoid. It’s always because of your subconscious. It can’t figure out what’s dangerous, so it assumes everything is maximally dangerous.

It maximizes everything, doesn’t it?


Those who are reading are putting yourselves in your office. When you’re stressed like that, writing a note, I’ve got a note here, and not because I’m stressed, but I’m about ready to write a note. That note is like, “I can’t do that note. I can’t hold this paperclip and I can’t do anything.”

To get personal, my son lost a crucial piece of homework and he was basically running around in circles saying, “I can’t find it.” It’s like, “Let’s work on this. This is not going to go well later.”

A lot of times, it’s right there. How many times have people said, “I can’t find my glasses?” “They’re on your head.”

The first bit of advice that I would give for people is if you want to address it, stress is never neutral. It’s not something that your body can weather forever. You may not feel it’s directly hurting you, but it’s not helping you. This is something that I am making a commitment to change. When I was dealing with my own stress, my own adrenal fatigue, I had chronic pain, I had panic attacks and it was miserable. I realized that all of this stress around me was in my control. We have the same problem. Doctors don’t get to eat. Doctors are constantly on call. When do I sit and eat lunch? I don’t go out. I started to realize it was all something that I could control and that’s when I was so efficient. I’m so incredibly efficient and able to get so much stuff done when I learned how to turn off that panic response.

That is what everybody does. Everyone handles it a little differently. Some people shut down when they’re stressed. They grab their head and they can’t figure out what to do, so they shut down.

That’s the freeze. That’s what the rabbits do so that they look like nothing.

Nothing happens. Others like my husband, he’s Italian, he flies off the handle. It’s a fly off the handle thing. Everybody who’s reading is efficiently stressed intentionally. That was what I wanted to do. I want to get everyone in that framework so that you can give us four antidotes, the four steps to getting out of stress.

The first thing I teach people, and it’s quick to do, is what it feels not to feel stressed anymore. Many people have forgotten what it feels like, so that’s the first thing. You’re like, “It’s that simple. You can get there.”

What does it feel like not to feel like this? That is a challenge too because when I think about hyper stress, it’s one thing to be what you’re saying is perceived neutral stress. In hyper stress, it’s almost impossible to get to a thinking point in your psyche and in your brain. There are three points to your brain and you can’t even get up there. How can we break that hyper stress down or is this something that we don’t even try to do in hyper stress?

Stress is never neutral. It's not something that your body can weather forever. Click To Tweet

We don’t even try to do it in hyper stress. In fact, when I work with people, I tell them to start by practicing when they’re absolutely relaxed. It’s like learning to ride a bike. You need a flat driveway, not a hill, with your training wheels on, and you can go out and do the mountain biking, but you have to do it slowly. This is where people run into problems. They’re like, “I have this technique and now that I’m in hyper stress, I should do it,” and they think it doesn’t work because they haven’t trained.

We’re not in hyper stress. We’re in neutral stress. We’re taking time, carving out the time of our day to say, “We’re going to attack stress from this day forward.” What is it that we do in this first step of recognizing what it feels to not be stressed? Are there some questions we can be asking each other?

What I do is I lead people through an exercise remembering situations, oftentimes from when they were children of what it felt to totally and completely trust someone else. You can usually go back and think about a specific incident. I used to be terribly afraid of thunderstorms. I was at the beach in North Carolina and a thunderstorm came. My uncle sat with me and explained as the storm passed over. It was that moment where I was freaking out, but I totally trusted him. If you can learn to put yourself back there in a vivid way, it’s not quite the same as a meditation, but it’s an act of recollection. Your body turns it off. There’s a specific process that I lead people through to do that. That’s the first thing. Go back and find a place that you touched and trust and relive it. Get that feeling state. Not just, “It was the summer and we were at this house.” Relive the experience.

It’s the feeling of having that release, “That was not so bad.”

There are other exercises that build on that, but that’s your first step. That’s number one. Remember what that feels like to feel healthy again and that’s your stress response turning off. The next thing I work on with people is some of the subconscious beliefs that maybe that driver of what we think of as neutral stress. We look at that with hard cold logic, “If I don’t get that deadline met, there’s going to be something terrible.” Is that true? We work on that. People can look at these beliefs that slid into their head and say, “I’ve already dealt with that. I’ve got other information about that.”

It’s interesting. In the business that I was in for so long, mortgage lending, that was a repeated offense. There are two sides to this. I want to explore this a little bit. You do everything in your power and you and I were talking offline about this. I’m working on a new keynote speech, not a signature speech, but presentation about how my belief system is a life of values add value everywhere in your life. I believe that we are killing ourselves in our businesses. I did some research on it and found that the number five profession where suicides are highlighted is in financial services and 3 out of 10 of the reasons people have heart attacks are in financial services. That being long hours, not having control of the outcome, which is what I’m talking about here, and being sedentary, sitting at a desk. You have to sit at a desk when you’re trying to solve a problem to get someone alone. You can’t be out gallivanting. You’ve got to be at the computer and work through numbers and things like that. It’s set up for failure. It’s set up that way being the fifth top suicide business and 3 out of 10 of the reasons you have a heart attack. I look at one of those three reasons is the lack of control. You can do whatever because it’s a repeatable offense.

Loan officers and realtors, for example, close anywhere from 3 to 25 deals a month. It’s a constant problem. You’re stressed about it and you do whatever you can to ensure that it won’t escalate to more stress. It’s a vicious circle, and you’re stressed because you’re like, “Did I do everything?” When it pops up and it’s a problem, you’re like, “I didn’t do everything.” You lose sleep over it time and time again, and you’re stressed all day long. I don’t know how you get out of the subconscious driver beliefs about stress. “I’ve already dealt with this before and knowing that I’m going to deal with it again, no matter what I do, this is going to happen again.” I don’t understand how we can deal with that, knowing that there’s stress coming. No matter what I do, it’s going to be here again. I need to learn how to deal with it better.

I totally get it because everything you said applies to me too. It’s absolutely everything. You can do everything right and things can still go wrong. Here’s what I’ve discovered. When you and your body spend more of your time in the non-stressed mode, you’re not dealing with this low-level normal stress most of the time. When you do have these things that come up which granted, they may come up once a day, they come up once a day for me or was something like that, I have way more capacity to deal with them, and there are fewer mistakes made.

I want to bring up an interesting statistic for you when we’re talking about causes of death that may relate here. The third most common cause of death in the United States is unintentional accidents. You think that stress has nothing to do with an accident. It’s totally unintentional but there have been several studies. The first is, there are higher rates of accidents in people who have rated their workplaces as moderate to severely stressful. Occupational psychologists will go in, rate and ask people, “Is this a high-stress environment?”

In those places that are high stress, they have a 40% higher rate of accidents. There’s something about that. Number two, most car accidents, when you look retrospectively at what was going on in the world weeks or days before the accident, there’s been some major life change like a loss of a job, contract, and some other stressful thing. You wouldn’t think that that would cause you to get rear-ended, which isn’t your fault, but there’s a correlation.

I was thinking it was being distracted in the car at the moment so not something in the past. That’s interesting.

It’s distracted in your brain. You’re distracted by what’s going on. The third one is military accidental deaths. Being in the military is dangerous and there is, unfortunately, a risk of death, but the military does everything it can to avoid accidental deaths. The rate of accidental death in the military is much higher for people who have either been demoted, not been promoted or stagnant in their career, which are causes of stress. Those people have a higher rate of death from accidents.

This is what I experienced in my own life as well. It’s some of those things that you can’t control. We are energetic beings and if you’re putting out, “I can’t control. The world is out of control,” around me, out of control comes to you. If you spend more of your time in that relaxed, I can handle it state, and I don’t mean relax in the sense of comatose, but relaxed, ready, able to respond rather than stressed, you find that there’s less of it. It takes a while to get there, but it happens.

I’m being reminded and we’ve all done that. In fact, I was on a podcast and someone was talking about it and saying, “Bring it on, baby.” It’s like, “I’m ready for it,” instead of, “If I can avoid it as much as possible, it’s going to come to me anyway.” Get in the state of mind of, “Bring it on. I’m ready.”

How Stress Affects Health: Having a creative outlet can help relieve stress.

I’ve done it before. It’s worked out okay and I can do this again. I’m good at this disaster, which isn’t a disaster.

What’s number three?

We talked briefly about learning to communicate with your body and listening to what it is so you’re not doing all of that guesswork. For the people I work with, many people have seen dozens of doctors, tried all sorts of diets, nothing works and they get to the point where the idea of making a medical decision about their health is stressful in and of itself. Learning to talk with your body and work in that way and that partnership with your body is key. The fourth thing I work with people on is making sure that they have health-full actions built in their lives. It doesn’t take long and it’s enjoyable. It’s fun to feel healthy. It’s not that you’re not feeling stressed anymore. It’s fun to be alive once you get this right.

What are some of the actions that we would take? If someone’s reading and they’re saying, “Is that way down the road? I’ve got to get to these other things before I can even start doing health-full actions.”

You can starts now.

What are some of the things I would do in my case?

Make sure to celebrate. All of those stressful things that you make it through, celebrate. Celebrate yourself. I lived and that feeling of celebration releases all of these happy chemicals. People are reluctant to celebrate what they do. We all downplay. We all think we’re not doing well, but you need that celebration.

It’s having that daily gratitude that can put you in a different mindset. For me, it’s dancing. If something went well, I’m like, “I need some music to celebrate this.”

That’s another thing, movement. If you can do movement with celebration or movement with another person because relationships and trying to connect with someone is important. Maybe you’re dancing with someone. You and your husband dance a little bit for your celebration. That’s awesome. Having some creative outlet is important and that does not mean visual art. A lot of people think we do visual art, I’m terrible. For me, it’s coming up with talk ideas or doing research so I can put it together for my clients. That’s my creativity. My creativity is words. Finding what that is and making sure that you’ve got time to be bored. Turn everything off so your brain doesn’t have to respond for a little while.

For me, that’s dancing. That’s what I know because I’m a competitive dancer. It turns everything off. If you’ve never danced and you’re going to your first dance class, it’s going to give you stress.

There’s something else that you might do because maybe you are a fantastic paper artist and folding or origami is your thing, where it would drive me insane.

We have to look at the instructions back and forth if I did it wrong. If you’re going to sit there and you do it and do sudoku, that is brainless for me. Doing a crossword puzzle? Never.

I used to spend much of my time calling myself. My nickname for myself was Lazy Beth. If I was ever blowing off, I was lazy. I was giving my brain this important downtime to think and percolate in the background. I might have been doing sudoku, or knitting, which is one of my things, or wandering through the park aimlessly and I used to blame myself for it, you need it. There’s a whole bunch of things like that, that aren’t hard or difficult to do that you can build in that automatically bring a sense of joy and excitement to being alive, which is the opposite of feeling stressful.

You’re all going to laugh at me when you know this because I love to clean. I’ve got to clean the house. It used to be that we had group clean because mommy was stressed and we have a choice. We can all do it together for three hours or I can yell all weekend while I’m cleaning. Now, it’s just dumb down stuff. I turn on the music and I walk around. I love cleaning and it is a good stress reliever. I’ll tell you, what we’re doing here is I sit for most of the day doing videos, coaching, planning and all those things, and it is my gap. I will get up and do this. Every day of the week, I do one little thing. If I’ve got ten minutes, I’m going to clean, not because I’m stressed to clean, but because it’s my, “Let me go move and not think about anything.”

That’s it. That’s what I do. If people don’t realize that they already have these things that are helpful in their lives, it’s making sure you structure it in.

I talked about that quite a bit in my coaching. It’s finding those things. I love those four antidotes to try to stop doing this. I’m going to repeat them quickly. It’s remembering what it feels to not be stressed in those beautiful moments that you had. For me, I could go back to my daughter’s wedding and use that as an anchor for myself for a long time because of the feeling of not being stressed. Also, the subconscious belief that I can’t get through this when I’ve been through it before. Communicating with my body and honing in on making sure that I’m recognizing that my vision is I am not going to send all the cells to one area. I’m done doing that. The next time that I feel like that, I’ll go, “Everybody go back. False alarm. It’s time to go back.” Also, taking action. You’re doing things and celebrating all the things that we’re getting through on a regular basis. It’s celebrating happiness. I love that. What would you like to leave with everybody? If there’s one thing that you could leave with everyone that has something they could put into action or do for themselves right now, what is it?

You can do everything right and things can still go wrong. Click To Tweet

The idea that stress isn’t normal. The next time you see someone talking about how stressed out they are, you want to get into that competitive suffering mode of, “While you’re stressed out, I’m worse.” Stop yourself and realize that that’s not healthy. You think it’s neutral and it’s a way to communicate and connect with others, but it’s not doing anything good for you.

Please stop saying, “I can handle stress,” because people say that all the time, “I know how to handle stress. I’ve got it.”

You’re handling it.

It’s not normal. What are you reading that’s inspiring you?

I am reading a book by Chip Conley called Emotional Equations. It’s one of those books that I took out of the library and I loved it so much. I was twenty pages in that I ordered it from Amazon because I know I’m going to want to go back to it.

What is this book doing for you?

In a mathematical and logical way, it takes all the emotions and breaks it down so you can look at the parts and he gives a perfect idea at the beginning of despair equals suffering minus meaning. If you’re feeling despair, if you focus on the suffering, the suffering gets bigger. If you don’t focus on the meaning, the meaning is smaller, so your despair is higher. It tells you where to put your focus. Maybe there’s a meaning for that. That’s where he begins the book and that’s an idea because when you break these emotions down and if you want to maximize or minimize whatever is on one side of the equal sign, you can fiddle with things on the other side of the equal sign.

Thanks for sharing that. If someone wants to get in touch with you and get de-stressed, they don’t want to be stressed about trying to find you.

My website is my name. It’s I’m also on Facebook. It’s Elizabeth Hughes, MD. You can find me.

That is where you’ll want to reach out and send her instant message or something letting her know that you’ve read about her here and you want to get some more questions answered. Are you speaking at conferences and things like that and someone’s reading and they want to de-stress their entire organization, they could call you?

Yes. I do speak to organizations. I’ve spoken with both with medical organizations, which often bring me in, but also with volunteer organizations, patient support and corporations.

If you’ve read about Dr. Hughes and you want to bring her in to decompress everybody, get in touch with her as well at Be sure to use the links in there. I want to say thank you so much for coming here. I’m starting to be de-stressed. I’m going to probably have to breathe a little bit more and take deep breaths for a few minutes. I purposely stressed myself out sharing this with everyone so everyone can realize how this is affecting their health and if they want to have a long, healthy life, they’re going to have to change things. Thank you so much for the opportunity to chat with you.

It’s been totally wonderful. Thank you.

You’re welcome. We’ll catch you next time. Have a great day.

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About Dr. Elizabeth Hughes

Dr. Elizabeth Hughes is a Stanford-trained physician with more than 25 years of clinical experience. After treating thousands of patients with stress-related illness — and having her own life nearly ruined by stress and chronic anxiety — she realized that the conventional medical approach is completely inadequate to treat stress-related conditions. She vowed to find a better solution.

Her quest led her to study non-western systems of health and healing, placebo research, and the emerging sciences of epigenetics and psychoneuroimmunology. In the process she became a registered yoga teacher, a health coach, and practitioner of several energy medicine modalities. Dr. Hughes has developed The Stress Antidote™ System, a unique process to turn off the body’s harmful stress response. She has helped clients all over the world overcome the root cause of their stress and reverse symptoms of stress-related illness.

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