Stress comes from a variety of places and for many different reasons. These could be mental and/or physical. Family, employment/unemployment, working too hard, the daily/nightly commute, relationships, illness, and sleep problems. All of these can create stress. The American Psychology Association showed that 54% of Americans worry about their stress and are likely to seek help.
People become stressed, and they don’t know it. This is the way of the modern world, and we’ve become used to it. Despite getting used to a stressful world, it still places genuine strain on the body. These manifest through increased blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, metabolism, and blood flow. This is the primordial fight or flight reaction, preparing for action from a stressful situation.
The body’s Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) is what generates the fight or flight reaction. When the body feels a stressor, the SNS turns on and stimulates the appropriate bodily response. This allows us to defend ourselves in the wild, where stress comes from reactions to wild animals and grave danger. Unfortunately, in today’s world, this reaction can do more harm than good, as most of us no longer live in danger from wild hungry animals.
Stress is the disruption of homeostasis but is helpful/necessary in various situations. For example, during exercise or sports, stress is needed to push the athlete or person to a new level. When in the learning process, stress is needed to help the brain learn a new language, solve a math problem, create a web page, presentation, etc. Humans can handle small amounts of periodic stress. But once stress becomes chronic, then it turns into a disease.
The effects of stress on the body are real. The symptoms fall into four categories: behavioral, cognitive, emotional, and physical.
People react to the same situation in different ways. What might stress one person may not stress another.
During a stressful moment, the pituitary gland releases a hormone called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). It tells the adrenal glands to release stress hormones into the bloodstream, which includes cortisol and adrenaline. Then several physiological changes take places, such as heart rate and blood pressure increase; this shuts down the digestive system and affects the immune system. Following the stressful situation, the cortisol and adrenaline return to normal levels and heart rate, blood pressure, and other bodily functions.
There is a problem when these levels do not return to normal levels. The body doesn’t get a chance to recover to its natural state. Instead, they remain raised from the ongoing stress of various situations. When this goes on for a long time, the stress response can disrupt all of the body’s processes.
The immune system also takes a toll on chronic stress. It becomes weaker and less able to fend off infections. When it works properly, the immune system responds to infections by releasing chemicals to cause inflammation to rid itself of the bug. But when chronic inflammation occurs from stress, degenerative diseases can begin to take over.
Stress also affects the nervous system; this causes anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and dementia. The chronic release of cortisol causes damage to certain areas of the brain. This affects sleep patterns and sex drive. As heart rate and blood pressure increase, it is dangerous for the cardiovascular system, as it creates the potential for a heart attack or stroke.
Chiropractic treatment can help manage stress. Chiropractic focuses on the spine, which is the headquarters of the nervous system. An effect of chronic stress is muscle tension and contraction, which can lead to uneven pressure on the skeleton, which leads to subluxations. Chiropractic adjustments ease muscle tension, which eases the stress on areas of the skeleton and helps take the sting out of the subluxations. With the subluxations abated, a balanced spine can be achieved. This is a crucial component of managing stress. And it may sound like a CD on a loop, but nutrition is also a crucial component of stress management.
Chiropractic is effective for various pain conditions, but over the last few years, various research studies have found that chiropractic can also help improve overall health. These recent studies have shown that chiropractic can regulate immune function, heart rate and reduce blood pressure.
Stress creates real detrimental physical effects. Trying to avoid stressful situations isn’t always possible. What is advised is to become familiar with the possible actions/outcomes and minimize the negative.
Relaxed Breathing Technique (Diaphragmatic Breathing): Stress often leads to rapid, shallow breathing that affects the other aspects of the stress response, i.e., increased heart rate and perspiration. Controlled breathing is an effective way of dealing with the effects of stress.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation Technique: The aim is to reduce the tension stored in the muscles. Find a relaxed private area. Dim the lights, loosen up and get comfortable. Tense up the following muscle areas for a minimum of five seconds before relaxing for 30 seconds. Repeat then move on to the next area.
Do these muscle relaxations twice a day for maximum benefit. Take 10 minutes for each session.
Exercise: It is a great way to release energy. Improved health, which guards against the negative effects and releases endorphins (neurotransmitters that relieve pain). Exercise helps with concentration, sleep, illness, pain and contributes to a better quality of life. Age doesn’t matter, as exercise will create amazing benefits for the mind and body and remove feelings of stress.
Listen To Relaxing Soothing Sounds: Ten minutes alone with soothing sounds can help with relaxation. Allow the mind to get away from the accumulated stresses of the day. Meditation CDs, soothing music, or natural sounds all work to achieve a relaxed state. It’s up to you.
The information herein on "Stress Management" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional, or licensed physician, and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make your own healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.
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Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, CIFM*, IFMCP*, ATN*, CCST
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