A stress is any stimulus that requires your body to respond or adapt. Although in certain situations stress can be good (resulting in improved focus and performance), living with chronic stress can lead to a multitude of health problems ranging from anxiety and depression to cancer and heart disease. Today we are succumbing to stress at an accelerated rate — not just because we have more of it — but also because we can handle so much less.
There are three types of stresses: environmental, physical, and emotional. When your body perceives a stress, your nervous system responds. Known as the“fight or flight” response, the sympathetic nervous system becomes stimulated, resulting in increased heart rate, increased blood flow to the extremities, increased blood pressure and better vision. Stress hormones, such as adrenalin and cortisol, are released by the adrenal glands, all of which prepare the body to fight or flee the danger by increasing muscle strength and stamina, and heightening the senses.
While these physiological changes may come in handy if you actually are threatened, individuals with chronic high stress experience constant stimulation of the sympathetics and an overactive nervous system. Overproduction of the stress hormones can weaken or exhaust the adrenal glands, causing fatigue as well as difficulty sleeping and insomnia. Not good. Ultimately, adrenal insufficiency can cause chronic fatigue syndrome, thyroid problems, metabolism imbalance, and decreased immunity. Additionally, research studies have shown links between high cortisol levels and increased carbohydrate cravings, weight gain, and obesity.
Chronic stress is the number one contributor to illness and days off work. It steals our joy. We’re often told we need to “manage” it, reduce it, and even avoid it. But is stress really the problem? Or is it how we adapt to daily stressors that is the real culprit?
A healthy and balanced spine is a key component in coping with stress. Physically, one of the effects of acute and chronic stress is muscle tension or spasm. Muscle tension directly causes misalignments of the spine. Areas within the spine that are not moving properly may exert pressure on the surrounding nerves, causing irritation or interference, and disrupting the flow of nerve impulses to the rest of the body.
Chiropractic care focuses on eliminating subluxations by restoring normal movement of the spine, as well as reducing muscle tension and nerve interference. Furthermore, regular adjustments may be enough to turn off the fight or flight response in the body, thus beginning the process of healing. By correcting the misalignments in the spine, homeostasis (or the state of balance within our body) can reestablish itself.
In addition to a properly functioning nervous system, exercise has been proven to help decrease stress. Exercise results in the depletion of adrenaline in our bodies, which allows relaxation to occur (it also increases circulation and oxygen uptake, which burns excess weight and produces endorphins). It also distracts our mind from whatever may be causing us stress.
The good news is simply walking 30-45 minutes can do the trick. Yoga, tai chi, meditation and reiki are also wonderful channels for relieving stress, as is the simplest option of all – proper breathing — an often overlooked option in coping with stress.