How to Beat Stress

April is National Stress Awareness Month.

And its no coincidence that income taxes are due this month either!

The word stress was purely an engineering term until the late 1950’s when it entered everyday speech. When we think of stress, we always think about “bad” stress, aka emotional and mental stress. But there are 2 kinds of stress. We have something called eustress This is actually good stress. Gravity is an example of eustress as well as cardiovascular training like jogging, exercise – these are things that help our bodies get better. You can’t look like Arnold did in Conan without stressing out your pecs! So eustress helps us get better at things and grow, just like studying for a test or hitting the gym.

The bad stress is called distress. Distress can take a toll on our mental and physical well-being, leading to stress-induced aches and pains and anxiety. In extreme cases, the consequences can be worse—heart disease, high blood pressure, alcoholism, mental illness, even diabetes.

What the figures show us

Feeling like this?!Americans are stressed out! In 2010, we spent $8,000,000,000 on stress related products. Its no surprise a Prevention article said 73% of Americans surveyed  feel they have “great stress” one day a week with one out of three indicating they feel this way more than twice a week. In a 1983 survey performed by the same magazine, only 55% said they felt under great stress on a weekly basis. It has been estimated that 75 – 90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress related problems.  According the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America report:

Americans today experience more stress in month than their grandparents did in their whole lifetime.

Workplace stress costs $190B in Annual U.S. Healthcare Costs. Things like long hours, tasks that are arduous physically and mentally, work-travel and workplace politics are contributing factors. The stress from these lead to more mental stress: feelings of resentment, unfairness and job insecurity. To add to this, these people sink even further with unhealthy life-style choices like alcoholism, poor diet, and a sedentary lifestyle.

The Effects of Distress

Physiologically, chronic stress has long term effects on the body. It puts our bodies in constant fight or flight mode – Like being chased by a lion, 24/7. Not something we are designed to do for long periods. It can lead to diseases like:

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  • Heart disease…
  • Asthma. …
  • Obesity. …
  • Diabetes. …
  • Headaches. …
  • Depression and anxiety. …
  • Gastrointestinal problems. …
  • Alzheimer’s disease…
  • Accelerated aging…
  • Premature death…
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The Master Switchboard: Your Nervous System

The Stress Cycle is Neurological & Hormonal

Distress is very related to your nervous system and makes changes to your endocrine system, otherwise known as your hormonal system, and your cardiovascular system. By being stuck in a sympathetic response, aka fight or flight, we switch into survival mode causing your adrenal glands to put out more hormones and making your organs more sensitive to adrenaline. Though adrenaline only lasts for hours, the cycle of overproduction leads to anxiety.

Cortisol is longer lasting. It helps the body through long-term stress, makes the heart beat harder and causes blood vessels to constrict. Although it is helpful when being chased by a lion, it prevents proper digestion, and slows metabolism down. Long term cortisol production also lowers thyroid hormones and sex hormones – leading to weight gain and lack of libido. In some cases, this can lead to adrenal fatigue.

Want to know how to relax?

Exercise is a great stress reducer. 30 minutes of activity a day has been shown to reduce rates.

Deep breathing has a neurological effect as well and encourages the body to relax. The vagus nerve, the dimmer switch of the body, is stimulated this way thus helping digestion and encouraging heart rate and pulse to slow down.

Eating more protein, especially before bed helps reduce stress and helps worriers who have trouble sleeping.

Spending time doing what you enjoy is also very helpful – From friends and family, church, hobbies. They all help you relax.

The Best Way to Combat Stress: Get Your Nervous System Checked!

All doctors need tools to see what's wrong. Chiropractors check for nerve irritation.

All doctors need tools to see what’s wrong. Chiropractors check for nerve irritation.

One of the best things you can do for chronic stress is have your spine checked by qualified chiropractor. Spinal misalignments alone can cause autonomic stress in the body, due to something called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, a neurological connection between these organs that regulates your response to all stresses. Correcting spinal misalignments not only can reduce distress, but also has been shown to prevent other sources from raising it as well.

Leading a well balanced life, with a well balanced healthy nervous system and lifestyle are instrumental to being stress-free.

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