Friday, 2 March 2012

The Stress Response - How It Affects YOU!

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The Stress Response

We always hear about it, we are told it isn't good for us, but do we really know why? Well if you're wondering I'll try to explain what happens internally when you're under stress, and how it affects your body and health.

The first thing we need to realize is that the Stress Response is a perfectly normal and natural response. It is our response to danger, it's necessary for survival, and without it we would die. It's fight or flight. Back in the day, if you were confronted with a bear etc, the stress response would kick in and you get the heck out of there, running faster than you probably ever could. But we are not designed to be under chronic stress, kind of like a race car can operate at very high RPM's to get up to speed, but it has to shift gears or the engine will blow up. Our "engines" are no different.

There are many things that can stimulate a stress response and everyone has different things that trigger this response. What are you're triggers? Understand that stress can come from being confronted with a lion, from a poor diet, obnoxious co-workers, finances, etc, and there are slight variations in the stress pathway for each, but for this article I'm going to use just one example that puts almost all of us in a stress response daily. It's Auto-suggestion. Things like thinking to yourself, "I'm too fat", "I'm not very smart", "I'm not very good", etc. I think it's safe to say that everyone has fallen into that trap at one point or another, most probably every day. This one simple thought can trigger a sequence of events called the stress response. That thought is going to stimulate the Amygdala, the area in the brain that deals with stress and anxiety. This in turn sends signals to a relay center in the brain that then sends the signals on to the Hypothalamus.

The Hypothalamus is a very important structure, in that it controls your neuroendocrine system, the substances that control all repair and growth in your body, control when you're thirsty, when you're hungry, how well you digest food, basically everything. It then sends signals to the Pituitary and then on to the Adrenal glands where catecholamines such as adrenaline and epinephrine are released. Cortisol is another hormone released under the stress response.

These hormones are meant to be short acting. They are meant to get you out of danger and be gone. But we don't allow that anymore. We keep ourselves under a constant stress response with our jobs, our relationships, our eating habits, our self thoughts. This long acting response can lead to:

Bone and muscle loss (Osteoporosis)
Increased heart rate (Heart Disease)
Increased Blood Pressure (Damage to blood vessels and eye damage)
Increased blood lipid level (Clogging of blood vessels)
Increased Cholesterol levels (clogging of blood vessels)
Insulin resistance (Diabetes)
Anxiety and Depression,
Decreased short term memory and concentration, and weakening of the immune system leaving you susceptible to things like colds and the flu.

Stress hormones also block the body's building hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone, meaning your body isn't able to repair the damaged blood vessels, grow hair and nails, replace damaged bone and grow new muscles.

Now the good news is there are things you can do to get yourself out of this cycle. People use a wide variety of ways to manage stress. This article deals mainly with mental stress, but remember there are physical stresses, and chemical stresses that will have the same effect on your body. I'll have to cover those at a later date. The number one thing you can do is be OK with who you are right NOW. You know that change is coming and things aren't going to be this way forever. Instead of focusing on the weight you might gain over the holidays, focus on the game of catch you played with your son or daughter the day before and how much fun it was to spend time with them and hearing about their day.

Some people turn to prayer and spirituality, and others meditate. Exercising is a great way to turn your focus in on yourself and not on everything else you can't control. Go for an early morning walk. There are as many ways to get yourself out of the stress response as there are to get you into one. Don't worry, you don't have to do it all today, just pick one thing. Focus on the positive, trust me it takes as much energy to focus on the negative as it does on the positive.

Dr. Eric Read
Chiropractor at Healthy Solutions Chiropractic in Appleton, WI

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