Stress is a part of everyone's life and a small amount of stress isn't necessarily harmful and can in fact be beneficial in many situations (e.g. before an exam or sports game). Chronic stress, on the other hand, can have a negative effect on your mental health and can even have serious physical health consequences. There are a variety of methods that you can use to reduce your stress levels and chiropractic care can be an excellent source of both practical hands-on treatments and personalized advice.
What is stress?
Stress is your body's natural response to a potentially harmful or dangerous situation. In our evolutionary history, these types of situations would often involve facing a dangerous foe that you would either need to defend yourself against or to be able to run away from. And this is reflected in the way our bodies respond to perceived stress.
When you encounter a stressful situation, your body goes through several powerful processes, triggered by a hormonal response of releasing epinephrine. These processes are known as the "fight-or-flight" response and they prepare your body to survive against something life-threatening. These include:
• increased heart and breathing rate to push oxygen to the muscles and vital organs
• pupil dilation for greater alertness
• tightening of the muscles for increased strength and speed
• extra oxygen sent to the brain
• release of glucose and fats from their temporary stores for extra energy
Your body will also temporarily divert energy from bodily processes such as the digestive and reproductive systems to allow as much energy to be put towards dealing with the threat. After this initial rush of hormones and the threat has subsided, a secondary hormonal response which triggers the body to relax from its stress response.
What happens during chronic stress?
In the modern world, the threats that we face are very different from those our ancient ancestors were likely to come across. Rather than the threat being defeated or being able to escape from it, many of the situations we encounter that trigger our stress response are long-term. This can be anything from a difficult work environment to living in an unpleasant area or dealing with financial worries.
Our bodies, unfortunately, deal with these modern threats in exactly the same way as if they were a threat from our ancient past. But the response isn't designed to cope with long-term stress and this shows in the effect on our bodies when we are stuck in a flight-or-fight response without being able to go into the second relaxation stage.
If you suspect you are living with chronic stress, you might be encountering some of these symptoms:
• Pain from constant muscle tension, including headaches and muscles aches/pains
• Chest pain
• Digestive problems
• Problems with sexual desire and performance
• A lowered immune system, which can show in increased viral infections
• Clenching of the jaw
Emotional and cognitive symptoms
• Uncontrolled worrying
• Feeling overwhelmed
• Irritation and frustration
• Depressive symptoms
• Difficulty relaxing
• Problems with attention and focus
• Fidgeting and nail-biting
• Increased use of alcohol, smoking, or drug use
• Avoidance of people and responsibilities
• Appetite changes
Over time, these physical and mental symptoms can start to have a serious impact on our health, and some of these issues can even be life-threatening. This can include menstrual changes and sexual dysfunction, mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, gastrointestinal problems, obesity and eating disorders, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Can chiropractic care help with stress?
Seeing a chiropractor for help with your stress levels can help to improve your health and your wellbeing. Chiropractic treatments are varied and can help to reduce the physical impact of your chronic stress and help you to relax.
The spine is the center of the nervous system and when the spine is aligned as it should be, the nervous system can function at its optimal capacity. A chiropractic adjustment can help to ensure that your nervous system is best able to support your body in its functioning.
Massage can have a range of benefits that can reduce your stress levels. Chronic pain can increase your stress and, similarly, stress can increase your chronic pain. A massage can reduce your muscle pain and encourage muscle relaxation which will help your pain, and therefore reduce your stress.
One of the most powerful methods of reducing your chronic stress is through increasing your physical activity. A chiropractor is qualified to give exercise advice and support to find the right methods that work for you and your body.
Stretching is an often-overlooked but very important method of improving the way you feel. Stretching can help you to move better, improve your posture, decrease your muscle soreness, decrease your back pain, and more. All of these can have help to reduce your stress levels. A chiropractor can help you to stretch and can give you a program of stretches to complete at home.
Sleep advice and help
Poor sleep has a big impact on your stress levels. Sleep deprivation can make it more difficult for you to control your worrying, make any mental health symptoms worse, increase your chronic pain, and make you more fatigued. It can also independently have an impact on many of the health conditions that can arise from chronic stress, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. A chiropractor can give you personalized sleep health advice and can help you to get a good night's sleep in other ways, including reducing your pain and increasing your relaxation.
Chiropractic care takes a holistic approach to treating patients so they may suggest a range of other treatments to help reduce your stress levels on a personalized basis.
Chiropractic care is an effective treatment for reducing your chronic stress through a range of different treatment options that attack the problem from multiple directions. This can help to reduce your risk of serious illnesses, improve the way your body feels, and increase your overall happiness and wellbeing.