Stress is the buzz word and condition of the moment. It is a symptom of our times and something that seems to affect us all, no matter what age, gender or stage of life.
What is stress? How does it affect us, and most importantly, what can we do about it?
Stress is a challenge to our systems. It can be good, a necessity for life, as it creates growth in our bones and stimulates our heart. Stress lets us become fit, to learn and improve ourselves. It is a necessary stimulation for a healthy productive life.
But when the challenges are greater than our bodies can manage and stress continues, we tip into a state that is no longer life enhancing.
The challenges come in many forms, but we can generalise them into three categories: chemical, physical, and emotional. It won’t take you long to compile a list of the possible stressors in your life.
Three types of stressors
Chemical stressors may include: toxic chemicals now found in any household: cleaning products, make up, skin care, perfume, garden sprays, paints, plastics, carpets, furniture and mattresses. Overuse of tea, coffee or sugar and other stimulants, drugs and alcohol and even dehydration caused by not drinking enough water will create stress.
Physical stressors include: poor quality sleep, extended periods of sitting, repetitive manual tasks, accidents and injury, surgery, lack of exercise, the wrong type of exercise or too much exercise.
Emotional stressors may include: workplace tension, over working, under employment, relationship challenges, parenting issues, addictions, negative thought patterns, unhealthy family dynamics, low self-esteem, poor body image, peer group pressure, engagement in social media, and excess screen time.
The lists go on and on and are related to many aspects of the modern world.
When our body or mind perceives this state of stress, the biological stress response is triggered. The “fight, flight, freeze” system is built into our nervous systems for survival.
It activates when we need to run from a tiger, fight a deadly opponent or flee a fire. It helped our ancestors survive and is the reason we are alive today. This physical emergency system is vital for life, so important that once activated, it dominates all other systems in the body and creates a storm of activity everywhere.
The moment we sense a threat our sympathetic nervous system is activated. Our heart rate increases and blood is directed away from the brain and digestive system into the major muscles. The shoulders elevate, the head shifts forward, the jaw tightens, and major muscle groups tense and get ready for action. The adrenal glands are stimulated and release adrenalin and cortisol, which fire us up, giving us capacity for strength, focus and escape or fight. Extra glucose and cholesterol are released into the bloodstream ready for extended and intense activity.
In this state our pupils are restricted and focused, our muscles are tense, and our brain thinks about survival. We are not available for connection, communication, love, care or creativity.
Everything feels urgent, and we are more aggressive and impatient.
Chronic stress can be devastating
If the “sympathetic fight flight” system stays switched on the consequences can be devastating. Long term consequences of stress affect most of the body: our hormones, immune, digestive, and cardiovascular systems, and psycho-emotionally. Symptoms of stress can include infertility and problems with menstrual cycles, ovarian cysts and endometriosis, effects on the thyroid gland and high levels of cholesterol.
After being high the cortisol balance will eventually drop as the adrenal glands fatigue, affecting the immune system and impairing serotonin uptake in the brain. Increased inflammation will affect all the tissues in the body, particularly in the muscles and joints.
The digestive system will become irritated and inflamed, and irritable bowel syndrome can follow, followed in turn by problems with absorbing nutrients and leaky gut syndrome. Other organs are also likely to be affected by this inflammatory state.
A whole body approach to recovery
So what to do? The best place to start is at the root of the problem. What are the stressors in your life and what can you do to change them?
It is often necessary to take a whole body approach to recovery, since this is a whole body problem.
We can change the chemical, physical and emotional-thinking parts of ourselves through diet, exercise, sleep habits, less screen time, drinking enough water, and avoiding toxic situations, foods and people. Take care of yourself, be kind to yourself and practise self-love, acceptance and forgiveness.
Breathing, being in nature, hugging, kissing, being with animals, exercising, smiling, singing and dancing, taking a yoga class, learning mindfulness or meditation can all be great places to start.
Deeper healing may be required to restore the damaged gut lining. This can be achieved by starting with removing aggravating foods, such as wheat, dairy, corn and sugar.
Taking probiotics and eating and drinking bone broths will help heal the wall of the intestines.
Vitamins and minerals can support your recovery. Coaching may help you change your thinking, behavioural and relationship patterns, and focusing on healthy life habits and changes can reduce overall stress.
Chiropractic will help to relieve tight, contracted and tense muscles, balance your spine and support your nervous system.
The most important thing to remember is that the whole body is affected by this chronic stress so a holistic approach to treatment and recovery will be required to bring about the best and most lasting results.
Chronic stress can be devastating
Whether in the workplace, family situation or personal life, chronic stress can be devastating. The good news is stress can be handled, we can learn tools and strategies to resource ourselves to increase emotional resilience in both our personal and working lives.
Coaching and workplace intervention will support individuals and organisations.
Neuroplasticity tells us the brain and nervous system have extraordinary adaptive reorganisational potential. Our bodies are designed to heal and by reducing blocks and stressors our systems will recover.