The Mess of Stress and How to Deal

Posted by on Aug 14, 2017 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

We live in a day and age where stress has become normalized- normalized in our daily interactions with the world. The flight, fight or freeze response is a biological response our bodies have when it has entered into survival mode.  It is a response that get’s triggered when we are in danger, you know when we are walking through the woods and a black bear starts chasing us. The adrenaline kicks in and we are able to run faster and longer than we ever thought ourselves capable.

 

When the adrenaline starts pumping, our bodies undergo several physiological changes. The heart beats faster, pushing blood to our muscles and other important organs.  The pulse rate and blood pressure goes up. We start breathing  faster. Small airways in the lungs open, thereby increasing lung capacity to take in more oxygen.  When more oxygen is sent to the brain, it makes us hyper-alert. All senses are heightened, (i.e sight, hearing, touching and tasting).

Meanwhile, adrenaline also triggers the release of blood sugar and fats from temporary storage sites in the body. The nutrients flood into the blood stream, giving energy to all parts of our bodies.[1]

 

Hormonal signals keep the sympathetic nervous system activated. After the surge of adrenaline, aka epinephrine, subsides, another component of the stress response is activated. Cortisol is released through the adrenal glands and the body is able to stay “revved up” and hyper-aware.  When the body feels it has returned to safety, the cortisol levels drop.  This is where the parasympathetic, or relaxation response activates to tell the stress response to quit it!

 

The activated stress response is beneficial for a brief amount of time, just long enough to get away from that black bear. Prolonged periods of a stimulated stress response damage blood vessels and arteries, increasing blood pressure and the risk of heart attacks or strokes.  Increased cortisol levels help to replenish the body’s energy that get depleted during the stress response.1 However, they inadvertently contribute to the buildup of fat tissue and weight gain. For example, cortisol increases appetite, so that people will want to eat more for more energy.

 

Stress can be attributed to other health problems as well. Because the nervous system is tied so directly to the integumentary system, stress can cause skin troubles, like psoriasis, eczema, hives, and other kinds of rashes. Stress is also linked to gastrointestinal troubles, obesity, asthma, Alzheimer’s disease, depression and anxiety, and an overall decreased immune system.[2]

The stress response and the relaxation response cannot activate at the same time. This can be explained by the simple processes of cell growth and protection. A cell cannot be in a state of growth and protection simultaneously. Because the immune response is activated when the relaxation response is activated, the immune response is suppressed during the time the stress response is activated.  The body is not so concerned with producing anti-bodies when it is running for its life. [3]

 

Day to day, we experience stress in traffic, at work, with family and relationships. We experience stress through worry, fears about the future, and even  the stress that comes from recapitulating traumas from our past. The evolutionary stress response that comes in handy and can even save our lives has become normalized and detrimental to our short and long term health.

 

We must find ways to relax- to find ways of activating the parasympathetic response. When the relaxation response is activated, our bodies are in a state of growth and healing. It is when our bodies are in a state of rest and repose, we are more creative because we aren’t focused on the stress that is consuming our thoughts, actions and overall energy. When the parasympathetic response is activated, we make clearer decisions, have better rationale, are in less pain and generally in a better mood.

 

In reality, there are no two ways of escaping stressful environments and the stressful things that may happen to us. However, we are in control of our attitudes and how we manage our stress. There are several approaches to calming the nervous system and activating the relaxation response that can actually empower us to take care of our health and overall wellness.  Activities such as spending time in nature, yoga, meditating, taking moments of silence and solitude, as well as deep breathing all encourage the body to slow down and connect to what the body is feeling and needing.

Managing stress alone is part of life. It is empowering to be accountable for our individual health. Part of being accountable is knowing when to ask for help and support.  Therapeutic modalities such as Chiropractic care, Acupuncture, and Massage therapy all encourage healthy nervous system function and help to activate the parasympathetic response.  Cranial-sacral therapy is a modality often practiced within therapeutic body work and is an off-shoot from osteopathic medicine. It is a gentle, hands-on approach that works to calm the nervous system.  Cranial-sacral therapy is one of the less invasive therapies, encouraging pain relief, stress relief and trauma resolution.

 

The healthy and mindful maintenance of our nervous system is one of the best ways to maintain and prolong good health. It prevents illnesses associated with stress and keeps us in a state of healing, growth, happiness and creativity.   We may not be able to control the stress of life’s uncertainties but we can certainly control our attitudes and approaches towards how we deal.  We can take back our health by being responsible for our needs, physically, mentally and emotionally.  We can be empowered to live with vitality, joy and longevity by our desire and commitment to ourselves and the lives we were given.

 

 

[1] “Understanding the Stress Response – Harvard Health.” Harvard Health. Harvard Health Publications, 8 Mar. 2016. Web. 28 May 2016. <http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response>.

[2] Griffin, R. Morgan. “10 Health Problems Related to Stress That You Can Fix.” Web MD. Ed. Joseph Goldberg. Web MD, n.d. Web. 28 May 2016. <www.webmd.com/balance/stress…/10-fixable-stress-related-health-problems>.

 

[3] Lipton, Bruce H. The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles. Santa Rosa, CA: Mountain of Love/Elite, 2005. N. pag. Print.

 

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