Stress is a normal part of life. It’s a physical response to an event that makes us feel threatened, or upsets our balance. This is also known as our fight or flight,” response. I’m about to map out how you define, take-on, and help prevent daily stressors that can affect your life in a negative manner. If you would like to learn more, you can also listen to episode 8 of the ICONiCAST on iTunes. Some of us thrive on higher levels of stress. Some have a much more sensitive reaction to it. The key is how we manage our daily stressors.
Stress can be good when channeled in a healthy way. However, chronic stress, has been a common denominator when it comes to current health problems today from high blood pressure, and heart disease, to infertility, and a rapidly increasing aging process. The long-term effects of chronic stress can completely change our brain chemistry in ways that can accelerate the deterioration of very important functions.
Our stress response comes from our Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), or the “fight or flight” response. On the other hand, our Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) promotes our relaxation or “resting digesting” response. Keeping a heavier parasympathetic response is obviously in our best interest. With job stress, caffeine, social media, etc. this is becoming a much more difficult task to deal with nowadays.
The chronic presence of stress hormones can have a dramatic effect on our brain development, or in this case, degeneration. High levels of cortisol over long periods of time can injure, and even kill parts of the brain (specifically the hippocampus) needed for memory, and learning new skills. That would be a very vital piece to be losing! Along with the brain, our hormones can be thrown out of balance from chronic stress. The primary area of the brain that regulates stress is called the Limbic System. This is the part of our brain that controls our emotions, and memory. This is so that when we have a perceived threat, imminent, or imagined, we will be able to recognize and respond much faster when that threat presents itself again. Because this response is so closely connected to our hormones, this can also affect how our metabolic response develops. Our body will turn on, and off various hormones and digestive functions in response to what the body needs at that time. As with any proper bodily response, balance is always key.
Over-production of stress hormones can eventually shut down functions that allow for growth, reproduction, and our immune system. With stress levels at an all-time high in today’s society, you can see why issues like chronic illness, digestive dysfunction, and sexual dysfunction are so common. Your body isn’t worried about reproducing, digesting food, or fighting off illness in times of emergency, it’s too busy getting glucose and fats to the bloodstream to keep a state of heightened alertness!
Psychological dysfunction can also arise from chronic stress. Everything from anxiety, panic, and pain disorders can become unexplainable problems for some of us dealing with high amounts of stress. While anxiety can be a rational response to a perceived threat, a chronic state of anxiousness can alter the brain chemistry to the point where it becomes an uncontrollable and irrational response to everyday situations. Some of the initial symptoms of this can be an inability to focus on a single task, shortness of breath, abdominal pain, and hand tremors.
We’ve now briefly identified what (chronic) stress is capable of, and how it can impact our bodies. Now, how do we deal with it?? Hans Selye, M.D. the father of stress research defines stress as that which accelerates the rate of aging through the wear, and tear of daily living. How you respond to/handle stress, closely ties to your overall body-mind efficiency including the effectiveness of your immune system.
Many times, our stress comes from a feeling of being alone to tackle major issues. Here are a few suggestions on how to go about addressing these issues.
- Developing a support network of friends, and family can be a huge buffer in addressing stressors. The more lonely and isolated one is, susceptibility to stress increases.
- Having a sense of control through preparation. The more you are aware, and can identify what your stressors are, the easier they will be to handle. Developing a to the hour/minute schedule can greatly reduce surprises that can trigger anxieties.
- Expose yourself to constant positive reinforcement! Turn off the news, avoid negative people, read uplifting books, and most importantly, find a reason to laugh!
- Unplug on a regular basis! We have way too much accessibility to information, and news that many times just puts us in a bad mood. Whether it be politics, social media, or tragic events. Turn off your phone, and TV. Get outside for some fresh air and exercise!
- I don’t care how, but our bodies were made to move. Exercise can come in many different forms not just in the gym. Join a basketball or soccer league. Take regular walks/jogs. Take your dog out on the leash more than just letting them out in the back yard. Exercise releases endorphins into the blood stream that can directly combat negative cortisol. It also happens to be the most effective, yet underutilized form of therapy out there!
Don’t let stress get you down. Again, if you would like to learn more, listen to Episode 8 of the ICONiCAST podcast on iTunes. The link is below.
Yours in Health,
Joseph Brilliant, D.C.