-Norman Anderson, CEO of the American Psychological Association
As the winter chill turns to April showers, we’re reminded that April is also National Stress Awareness Month, with April 16 recognized as National Stress Awareness Day in the US. Initiated by the Health Resource Network (HRN) in 1992, it’s a time to highlight the very real health concerns over the shockingly high stress levels in our society today, and how we might proactively work to alleviate it.
In this two-part series, we’re going to illustrate a lot of facts, research and tips about stress, including exploring how chiropractic care has been proven to reduce stress levels.
We encourage you to share this information with your patients, audience, friends and love ones all month long!
Stress is our body’s natural alarm system
Throughout the evolution of the human species, stress severed a crucial role. In fact, abnormal external stressors on the body indicated that a person’s very survival was at stake, triggering a strong and instantaneous response. Called the Fight or Flight Response, stress was a good thing because without it, our species wouldn’t have survived.
Stress in modern humankind
But these days, we’re far less likely to get eaten by a dinosaur. In fact, the modern man or woman has very few life or death situations in everyday life, yet our fight or flight response is still just as acute. Too often, that fight or flight response is activated unnecessarily, and yet we can't turn it off at will, causing serious health concerns.
Things like everyday work-related pressures, relationship turmoil, anxieties, money concerns, information overload, road rage, etc., as well as exacerbated by a lack of sleep, not enough exercise, bad nutrition, and other toxins can trigger high levels of stress.
How stress affects our system
When the stress response system is triggered, our body, mind, and senses go on hyper-alert, ready to fight off (or flee from) any attacker. As our sense take in stimuli that our mind interpret, a part of the brain called the hypothalamus responds, flooding our body with stress hormones (including cortisol) that override our normal state of functioning while at rest. Our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is stimulated, resulting in a faster heartbeat, a huge boost of adrenaline, greater muscle response, and even the release of opioid compounds which reduce our ability to feel pain at normal levels.
While this is critical in emergencies, it’s usually unnecessary in our modern-day life for most of us. However, this over-stressed state leaves our body depleted and overtaxed, in desperate need of recovery. But when we don’t allow it to recover –or the same acute stress response is activated again shortly, the consequences on our health can be dire.
As we'll document throughout these blogs, acute stress can change the neurochemical makeup of our body, inhibiting normal systems and functions.
The three channels of stress in our bodies:
Our bodies have three basic “channels” through which we perceive, register, and manifest stress: environment, body, and emotions.
These are the stressors on our body that we take in from all around us, like pollution, chemicals from pesticides, packaging, and cleaning products, etc.
In fact, it’s estimated that every day, our bodies are subject to several thousand toxins simultaneously!
Stressors on our system include illnesses, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, toxic habits like smoking, drinking too excess and doing drugs, lack of exercise, among others.
Our bodies also manifest all of the rigors and physical symptoms of stress based on our emotions How we perceive and intrepid things and our feelings are one of the biggest contributors to our stress and anxiety, and also our ability to properly deal with these external stimuli. But the good news is that, with conscious practice, we also have control over how we interpret and filter our experiences, thoughts, and viewpoints about life.
The warning signs of chronic stress
Most of us are aware of the sensation of typical everyday stress, but chronic stress is much more serious, with significant effects. In fact, here are some warning signs of chronic stress:
Feeling anxious or irritable
Depression or inescapable deep moods
Random aches and pains
Frequently feeling overwhelmed
Procrastinating and neglecting responsibilities
Relying on other substances to relax or sleep, including drugs and alcohol
Remember that there's a profound difference between normal stress and deeper psychological disorders. To clarify, we are talking about the spectrum of stress that most people experience, not the extremes that need more in-depth treatment. About 10-20% of patients suffer from severe anxiety or depression indicative of a major psychiatric disorder. But the vast majority of us feel what's called "everyday psychological stress."
Chiropractic care is proven to reduce stress as well as alleviate its symptoms
One of the most comprehensive studies into the link between chiropractic care and stress management took place in Japan in 2011. Scientists in that country tested to see if chiropractic treatments altered stress levels in 12 men and women who were suffering neck pain. Instead of looking at generalities and the subjects' overall health, they narrowed in on specific empirical data used PET scans to monitor brain activity, saliva samples to measure hormone changes, and other tests of the nervous system.
(For anyone who wishes to look up the study, it’s official name is “Cerebral metabolic changes in men after chiropractic spinal manipulation for neck pain,” and it was published in Alternative Therapies in 2011, November/December; 17 (6): 12-17.
After these patients received a series of chiropractic neck adjustments, the scientists found that the parts of the patients’ brains that were responsible for pain processing and stress reactions were actually altered in a positive fashion. The results of these chiropractic treatments were that the patients had significantly reduced cortisol levels, known as the “stress hormone” because if its effect on stress levels in the body. The longer-term effects of chiropractic were just as encouraging in the study, as the subjects reported lower pain scores and a better quality of life over time.
The conclusion of the study was that chiropractic adjustments directly impact how our bodies interpret and cope with stress, pain, and other responses, leaving us in a much healthier state.
Tune in for part 2 of this series on stress, where we'll cover more facts, as well as tips how to proactively reduce your stress levels – including with chiropractic care!