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Optimizing Your Stress Response with Dr. Greg Kelly

Greg Kelly is a Naturopathic physician (N.D.) and lead product formulator at Neurohacker Collective. Author of the book Shape Shift. Past editor of the journal Alternative Medicine Review and has been an instructor at the University of Bridgeport in the College of Naturopathic Medicine, where he taught classes in Advanced Clinical Nutrition, Counseling Skills, and Doctor-Patient Relationships. Naturopathic Doctor and subject matter expert on nutrition, wellness, and preventive medicine, with a solution-minded approach to problems and a broad scope of experience, including clinical practice, nutraceutical research & formulation, classroom and online education, medical writing and publication, corporate wellness, medical claims’ analysis, and development of IT solutions.


"We all have an ability to carry a certain amount of weight. That’s our resilience.'"


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  • The analogy that Greg uses for stress is based on a game that his parents gifted him in the late ’60s, called The Last Straw, also known as The Camel Game. In this game, players continue to add straws to the camel’s storage buckets until one finally breaks the camel’s back.
  • We all have the ability to carry a certain amount of weight — a number of straws. That’s our resilience.
  • We are all carrying a certain amount of straws in our buckets. We want to make sure there is plenty of room in our buckets so some inadvertent straw getting added in is not the last straw that breaks the camel’s back.
  • There will be straws in our buckets that we all share like 5G, EMF, or pollution. Those are straws we can’t really do much about. We can add another straw to our buckets by worrying about those types of things.
  • Ruminating about things you have no control over just adds more straws or weight to your bucket.
  • The heaviest straws are the mental-emotional ones.
  • Some people view emotional and mental pain or anguish as less traumatic than physical pain. It’s easier to say, socially, that your knee hurts or your head hurts than it is to say your heart or spirit is broken.
  • The frequent attempt to hide or suppress the internal stress or pain can further increase the burden and weight we are carrying.
  • If you want to be able to fly you have to be able to let go of what’s weighing you down.
  • Physical pain is more obvious and socially acceptable to express. Not that physical pain is insignificant, but often it’s the hidden straws that we are not dealing with that buy us the most if we can get rid of them.


  • We first have to identify the ones that we have influence or control over and the ones we don’t.
  • There is an adage that says, ”If you can do something about it, you don’t have to worry. If you can’t do anything about it, then you shouldn’t worry.”
  • We all have some degree of resilience. Building more resilience means we can carry more weight.
  • Life is going to add straws without us having a great deal of foreknowledge about it.
  • One could never know when the last straw will be added that will break the camel’s back. The goal is to be able to remove the straws that can be identified to make ample room for the expected ones.
  • It’s common for patients to identify the last straw that served as the tipping point that caused their health to spiral into a poor place. Dealing with that straw is not enough to heal the back at that point. To get more healthy by that time, you often have to deal with a number of different straws.
  • It is much better to make sure the back never collapses.


  • Watching the movie, Courage Under Fire, you see that there is a congruence gap between the story of what happened and what the characters know in their heart actually happened.
  • When the congruence gap is high, you invariably often see health suffer.
  • One of the things to ask yourself is: Is there some sort of incongruence here?
  • If there is, closing that gap can be super important for getting rid of that straw.
  • A low-level example of incongruence is eating a Big Mac if you are a vegetarian. It does not align with your goals or who you are.
  • On a bigger level, it’s important to consider if there is a gap in how you are showing up in the world that is vastly different than what truly aligns with your authentic self.
  • Anything we ruminate about serves as a big straw that chews up our bandwidth.


  • Doing something is the key to removing straws.
  • Making any decision is like removing that straw — it helps to mitigate stress.
  • It can be something as simple as deciding to take clothes to the goodwill, instead of ruminating over if you will lose weight to fit them again.
  • Using exercise to build fitness is a great way to build resilience. There is specific and non-specific fitness that will help improve our ability to respond better to challenges.
  • Having a mix of exercises including weight training, endurance, and balance and flexibility serves as a triangular form of stability.
  • Lack of sleep can be a straw but good quality sleep builds resilience.
  • Adaptogens are plants that build non-specific resilience. They essentially help us build resilience no matter what stress we are facing.
  • If used appropriately, they can be helpful. More adaptogens do not always mean better. Greg suggests using adaptogens like exercise.
  • Ginseng is the most well-known adaptogen. Other more common examples include Schisandra, reishi mushrooms, and hawthorn. Some adaptogens are tissue-specific.
  • Meditation builds some degree of mental-emotional resilience.
  • For most people, the first thing affected by stress is brain function.


  • Take a screenshot of this episode, tag me on social media (@JimKwik), and share your greatest “aha!” moment from this episode with us.
  • What’s your go-to for managing stress? Please share and tag us!
  • Find out more about the Neurohacker Collective blog, here.
  • Get Greg’s book, Shape Shift, here.

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