Stress is a common experience in the United States. Chances are you’ve got symptoms from stress. Over 75% of Americans experience regular physical symptoms of stress and just under 75% report psychological symptoms. Fatigue, upset stomach, headaches, irritability, and low energy are just a few of the signs you might be stressed out.
For most of us, it’s our jobs and finances but adults aren’t the only ones feeling the strain. About one-third of children said they experienced at least one symptom associated with stress. One of the biggest sources for children are their parents; only 14% say their parent’s stress doesn’t affect them. Avoiding some headaches and not stressing out your kids are great reasons to find ways to alleviate stress, but it can also be hugely beneficial to your health.
How it affects your health
When you encounter a stressful situation, a series of hormones are released in your body creating physiologic changes. Your heart rate increases, your muscles tense, and you’re in what’s called the “fight-or-flight” response. The system is designed to help us quickly react to and survive life-threatening situations. This change is meant to be short lived as the effects of the fight-or-flight response are for survival, not living.
In the past, this helped us overcome dangers posed by predators or other aggressors. Today, we live in the safest world ever despite what you see on the news. Life-threatening dangers are still present, but they are increasingly rare. So why does it seem like we’re more stressed than ever? We’ve traded immediate dangers for ever an increasing mountain of minor stressors that never seem to go away. Work, finances, family, relationships, emails, texts, phone calls, and so on all add up to the new danger, chronic stress.
Stress hormones disrupt things like digestion, bone remodeling, and the immune system because these functions aren’t needed to survive immediate dangers. They also increase blood glucose levels to enhance your brain and muscles ability to function for a short time. If the perceived threat continues, we get stuck in a state where important bodily functions aren’t working and the short burst of energy to the muscles and brain is out lived leaving us fatigued. This is why long-term stress is associated with diseases like diabetes, obesity, depression, anxiety, cardiovascular diseases, and infections.
How to fight it
In our world today, its impossible to avoid all stressors, so its important to find ways to deal with and alleviate stress. Everyone is different, so the way you relax won’t be the same as the next person. However, we can break it down into three areas; relaxation response, physical activity, and social support.
Much research has been devoted to the relaxation response and its effect on stress levels. Things like deep abdominal breathing, meditating on soothing words, visualization of tranquil scenes, repetitive prayer, yoga, and tai chi have been found to reduce stress and “turn down” the fight-or-flight response. It’s like stretching for your mind. Take time to find your relaxing activity and don’t confuse it with hobbies and watching tv. The activity should center around your body.
Physical activity can let you “burn off” stress. Exercise, even a brisk walk, deepens breathing and helps release muscle tension. Movement therapies like yoga and tai chi combine exercise with relaxing breathing and body focus.
Finally, a social support system can help you in times of high stress and crisis. Friends, family, co-workers, companions, and more contribute to the intricate social net that can increase longevity. It’s not clear why, but it is largely believed that the support, even from acquaintances, is part of developmental biology that helped lead to civilization.
Even if it’s just five minutes of kicking your feet up and picturing a beach, find some way to start de-stressing today. Reach out to us at Null Chiropractic or follow the links in this article for more information.