Stress is ever-present in our daily lives. How many times have you heard those around you, including yourself, say that they’re stressed out?! But what does that exactly mean?
Many times we equate stress with emotional or psychological stress, such as being worried about a job, career, money, health, family, marriage, children, friends, social situations, you name it. The reality is that our bodies do get stressed out for different reasons from the inside out. So let’s first figure out what types of stressors we encounter on the every day:
- Physical – strenuous activities, cold/hot temperature extremes, injury (falls, slip, accident, etc.), subluxated vertebra, etc.
- Emotional – anxiety, depression, guilt, etc.
- Chemical – poor diet, chemical toxins in home and environment, etc.
Our stress response starts with the nervous system (NS): brain and the whole neural network that supports it throughout the body. The nervous system is further broken down into a number of subsystems. One of those is the autonomic NS, which regulates many bodily functions without our conscious engagement of a particular body organ. This system is separated into 3 parts:
- Sympathetic NS – “Fight-or-flight”
- Constantly maintaining a homeostatic balance in the body through stimulating activities
- Responds to a stimulus or a stressor with a quick reaction time
- Function: dilates pupils, increases heart rate and force of contraction, dilates bronchioles, constricts blood vessels, activates sweat secretion, inhibits peristalsis, increases renin secretion, promotes ejaculation
- Parasympathetic NS – “Feed-and-breed”
- Promotes the maintenance of the body at rest
- Does not require immediate reaction
- Function: salivation, lacrimation, urination, digestion, defecation
- Enteric NS – “Second brain”
- Controls the gastrointestinal system
- Coordination of gut reflexes
So what exactly happens when we get stressed out?
The stress response break-down (very simplified):
- Stress signal is encountered
- Hypothalamus in the brain responds
- Triggers the sympathetic NS and its “Fight-or-flight” response
- Blood is redirected from skin and other organs to muscles
- Body is preparing itself to either fight or run from the stimulus, by providing more glucose (=food) to the muscles
- Hypothalamus has also sent another signal to the adrenal glands to release the stress hormone, cortisol
- Cortisol sends amino acids & fatty acids for more food production while sending glucose to the brain for nourishment
- Once the threat is over, the body returns back to its basal state of homeostasis (process of a negative feed-back loop)
However, the issue arises when our bodies become overloaded with stress signals and start not to be able to respond appropriately each time the stimulus occurs. The body starts slowly becoming desensitized to a stressor and it is not able to properly engage in a stress response. On the other hand, the body may also become unable to turn off the stress response and will encounter every type of stimulus as a threat.
Some signs that an inappropriate stress response is taking place may include:
- Excessive fatigue
- Lightheadedness, dizziness
- Rapid/slow heart rate
- Digestive disturbances (constipation, diarrhea, acid reflux, nausea)
- Trouble breathing
- Feeling anxious or panicky (non-mental related)
- Orthostatic hypotension (drop in blood pressure when standing up suddenly)
- And more…
So what do we do about a inappropriate stress response?
First, it is important to identify what type of a stressor we are dealing with. Here are a few suggestions that may lead to further investigation depending on whether the stress is physical, emotional, or chemical:
- Physical stress– Main goal is to provide the body with the proper physical and biomechanical environment to properly function and support it through the range of activities without injury and to maximize health! Some examples below:
- For injuries or traumas, subluxated vertebra, and optimal physical health: visit your local chiropractor, massage therapist, acupuncturist, and others (for a full list of alternative health care practitioners, here are more suggestions)
- For a more serious injury: seek out your medical doctors (IF it is a medical emergency, dial 911!)
- For overexertion/strenuous activities: try switching to a less physically demanding activities, if permitting; using proper techniques when lifting and/or exercising to avoid injury
- Emotional stress– Main goal is to allow the body and mind to be properly supported and nurtured without judgement! Examples below:
- Do deep breathing, yoga, relaxation techniques, exercise or other physical activities, spend time outdoors, and many more….
- Recognize that you may need to ask for help from family, friends, or a professional!
- Chemical stress – Main goal is provide the body with the proper fuel to be able to perform all of the biochemical processes and to nourish the body to help heal itself from inside out. Examples below:
- Eat “real food” – whole, unprocessed, unrefined, grass-fed, wild, local, seasonal, and organic!!!!!
- Avoid toxic exposure in your home and environment; review the labels of household products for BPA, formaldehyde, arsenic, heavy metals, etc.
As you see from this very brief summary, there is a lot that we are exposed to each day in terms of stressors. Each person has its individual threshold that they can manage before it becomes too much. So think about where you and your family fit in this picture?
Feel free to contact me here to help you evaluate your state of health, at email@example.com, Facebook, or Twitter!
Be healthy & happy, Dr. Tijana