Greetings friends, neighbors, blog followers, and all of you moving forward toward pain-free living chiropractic care here at Austin’s TexStar Chiropractic. Today, let’s talk about stress.
Stress is an unavoidable part of life. We can limit it, we can manage it, and we can ignore it. But, there will always be stressors in life. The good news is that we do have some control over how stressors affect us. There are two kinds of stress: physical and emotional.
Physical stress is harder to control because it’s based on the laws of nature, like gravity. It’s physical pressure or tension exerted on our bodies. This includes everything from the force that your muscles exert on your joints when you move all the way to the force of gravity causing us to shrink over time. The good part of this stress is that it tells our body where we need to build more muscle, or which bones to strengthen. The bad part is that this kind of stress is what causes musculoskeletal problems like athletic injuries or back and neck pain.
To address physical stress, we must first identify things in our everyday life that cause our muscles and joints to work harder than they are designed to work. For example, trying to exercise harder than your body is ready to, or having poor posture and bad ergonomics in your car or at your desk at work. One of the big issues we see in our office is posture changes due to the added strain that looking down at cell phones and tablets places on your neck and upper back. This forward head position can put up to 60 lbs. of tension on your neck, and it just wasn’t designed to sustain that type of pressure for long periods of time. There is even a new diagnosis for this called “Tech Neck.” The best way to combat this kind of physical stress is to try to maintain good posture which distributes your body weight evenly throughout your spine.
The second kind of stress is emotional or mental stress and that is created when our brains interpret the environment around us as adverse, demanding, or dangerous. This kind of stress affects your body in a very different way. When we perceive something in our environment as stressful like an exam, a work deadline, or a fight with our spouse, our bodies go into what is called “fight or flight mode.” This fires your sympathetic nervous system which causes your body to release hormones like adrenaline. As a result, heart and lung function are elevated, blood vessels push blood to the large muscles, blood sugar increases to provide fuel, and several other changes happen to prepare your body to either fight or run. At the same time, this response suppresses the function of your parasympathetic nervous system which controls things like digestion, sexual arousal, and other body functions that are essential for long term health.
This system worked incredibly well for our ancestors who may have found themselves face to face with a lion while out for their evening stroll or when dinner depended on them being able to run fast enough to catch it. In that environment our bodies would simply shut down the fight or flight response after the danger (or dinner) passed and our system would return to normal. The problem that modern man faces is that facing lions and catching dinner are not our major stressors. We deal with much subtler, but constant, stressors every day such as, very demanding work lives, over scheduled and over committed social lives for our families, and real or perceived dangers.
This constant over stimulation of our fight or flight system causes lots of major health problems including digestive issues, diabetes, weight gain, heart disease, decreased sex drive, tension headaches and many more. On the bright side, our brains get to decide what we perceive as stressful. This means we have some control over how we respond to stress and the damage that it causes to our bodies.
There are many great stress management techniques out there that can help us train our brains to not let these every day stressors trigger our fight or fight response. Different techniques will work better for some people than others, so we suggest that you try a few to see what works for you. If you need some ideas there is a great list online at www.bebrainfit.com/stress-management-techniques/.