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Stress – The good, the bad, the ugly and what you can do about it

Another day with way too many things on your plate.  Pounding headache, kid is sick, and your boss on your back for that latest report.  Not everything in that sentence may be you, but I know we can all relate.  A quick google search about stress can send you in multiple different directions, but let's take a look at what it is and how it relates to your body. 

So what is stress – simply put, stress is the physiological response to environmental stimuli.  Most of us perceive it as negative which is completely understandable because that is normally how we communicate it, but did you know that stress can actually be good and that the adaptation to stress is what makes us healthy.  More on that later.  For now, let's focus on the negative component and the perceived stress which has the devastating effects it has on our body.  So why is stress so detrimental.  In order to understand that let's take a look at what stress really is.  The person who really first described what stress is was Hans Selye, a Hungarian born endocrinologist.  He was the first to really describe what was happening in the body as it adapted to stress in his General Adaptation Syndrome.

Fight, Flight, or Freeze Response theory states that animals react to threats with a general discharge of the sympathetic nervous system, priming the animal for fighting or fleeing.

First, your body perceives something that may be potentially harmful.  Maybe you're out on a hike and you see a mountain lion, a bear, or a rattlesnake.  Maybe you have a report due or some deadline fast approaching,  or maybe you just remembered you forgot to pay your mortgage payment last month.  Anyone of these will cause your stress response to go through the roof.  In this state, our sympathetic nervous system is engaged and adrenalin is released, blood sugar elevates, blood pressure rises, pulse increases, muscles tense, pupils dilate, immunity readies, and digestion turns off.  While this is clearly a great short-term response to help keep us alive in immediate danger, it becomes a very bad term solution long term.  While seeing a mountain lion, a bear or even a rattlesnake is very short lived our bodies can and should shortly after that experience return to a normal state.  This is done by our parasympathetic nervous system, unfortunately when we have too many things on our plate and deadline after deadline keeps approaching we never have the ability to allow our selves to calm down. 

This is where stage 2 of the General Adaption syndrome engages which is resistance.  Instead of what should be happening through our system calming itself down, the sympathetic system stays on.  This state is only sustainable for so long because all of those changes in our bodies stay on as well.  If we push it too much for too long now all those good things to keep us alive, now start to become detrimental.  If left on this is where Stage 3 kicks in Exhaustion.  In this stage we can see how all those beneficial things now become the diseases we suffer from: adrenalin is released (adrenal fatigue), blood sugar elevates (diabetes), blood pressure rises (high blood pressure), pulse increases (tachycardia), muscles tense (fibromyalgia, muscle tension, low back pain and neck pain), pupils dilate (vision issues), immunity readies (autoimmune diseases), and digestion turns off (Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Constipation, Indigestion). It doesn’t take someone long to see the impact stress has had on their life. 

Did you know:  Stress can now actually be measured and I’m not talking about measuring your stress hormones with blood work. I’m talking about Heart Rate Variability, HRV for short.  HRV is exactly what it sounds like, the variability between our heartbeats.  The heart rate itself is modified by the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system inputs.  Because of this, we are able to see on a graph which state someone is primarily in.  We used to think that our heart rate was a steady number, but research has proved that’s not the case.  In fact, when we are at rest our heart rate should be consistently going up and down.  If it’s not then your body is likely adapting to some stressor.  Because of the nervous system involvement, it’s no wonder that they are using HRV to study multiple different diseases ranging from heart attack and stroke to autism and cancer.  It’s not just for the sick anymore, many professional athletes are using it to determine how hard they should push themselves in their daily training.  Intense exercise stimulates the adrenals and stress response as well.  If training is done to often to soon it can lead to the same issues as noted above in stage 3 of the General Adaption Syndrome.  Utilizing HRV, athletes have a greater chance of avoiding this.   

You can’t always control the situation you’re in but you can control how you respond to it.  So aside from leaving your job or walking away from everything, what can be done?  Remember when I said stress can be a good thing, well here is where that comes in.  Our bodies are constantly adapting to everything around us good or bad.  Well, we already talked about the bad and the impact that has so now let's talk about the good or better known as eustress by Hans Selye.  

Exercise – when done right this can have a huge positive impact on every aspect of life.  Not only does it reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer, it makes you stronger and has more energy.  Now when it comes to stress exercise helps on multiple fronts from increasing your endorphins (those feel-good neurotransmitters), improve depression and anxiety, and sleep.  With the newer recommendation by the National Institutes of Health that we should be exercising 5-6 days a week for a minimum of 60 minutes.  Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you have to get on a treadmill and kill yourself every day.  In fact, exercise comes in many different forms.  The main components of exercise to focus on are flexibility and mobility, strength, and cardiovascular.  You can break up the exercise into multiple components but really you want to get your heart rate elevated, get your muscles stronger and keep your flexibility.  Just remember if it has been an overly stressful day it’s not the time to set a personal best for you workout.  You’ll actually create greater gains long term if you can step it down a notch.  If it has been one of those out of control days you might want to just focus more on a restorative activity, see below.

Meditation – Now this might sound like one of those no-brainers, no pun intended, but the ability to calm one's mind and body goes a long way when it comes to sustainability.  By now you might have guessed it but meditation actually helps slow the sympathetic nervous system that fight or flight response and helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system to calm the body and get it into a healing state.  Not only does your body heal faster but it is actually able to think clearer which helps improve decision making.  It helps decrease heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure.  It’s no surprise that meditation is something used by billion dollar business owners and CEOs to help maximize their effectiveness. 

Chiropractic – Well I know your what you are saying, “how can chiropractic take the stress away?”  Without getting too complicated.  By gently reducing the pressure off of the nerves and spinal cord, it shifts the body’s sympathetic state to the parasympathetic state.  With this shift in the stress response, it’s not a surprise that chiropractic has shown to help in a multitude of different places.  In addition to that Network Spinal Analysis (NSA), the gentle low force chiropractic technique was at the center of one of the largest chiropractic studies ever.  It showed that people under NSA care had improved the overall quality of life, improved response to stress, improved mental/emotional state, improved physical state, and improved life enjoyment.  I know we could all benefit from any of those. 

Massage – In all reality who doesn’t love a good massage and if you haven’t tried it you are definitely missing out.  Massage can be an important step in helping with stress relief.  Because of its ability to calm that fight or flight response, it helps lower heart rate, cortisol, insulin and positively support all of those other life-giving changes.  In addition to helping the stress response, massage helps improve lymph flow, decrease muscle tension, and can help you heal from those injuries. 

Stress is a big issue in our society, but it doesn’t have to overwhelm your life. You just need to figure out where it is coming from and eliminate or reduce the cause if possible.  Since eliminating stress isn’t practical or possible for most of us, it is important to help your body adapt and thrive whenever possible.  If you have been dealing with stress for too long and it’s showing up as health problems, then let us help. We can specifically evaluate you and develop a personalized plan to get you the best results possible. Call 303-215-0390 to schedule an appointment to address your health concerns and get you moving on a road to better health!

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