Stress affects us all. Whether it comes from challenges at work, struggles with personal relationships, the strain of finances or the overwhelming work of parenting, we all have it. And as our society speeds forward with increased connectivity and the expectations that come with it, we are seeing stress levels, and the resulting health impacts, skyrocket.
While we know stress is bad for our health, we often don’t understand how detrimental it truly can be. Scientists have been studying the effects of stress for years but the direct connections between stress and physical health are only now becoming widely known. And those physical impacts are significant.
Dr. Murray Smith at Eastside Chiropractic sees the toll stress takes on his patients all the time. Not only does he see musculoskeletal impacts such as “tech-neck” and chronic back pain, but he sees the systemic changes that occur when people experience chronic stress.
So what’s going on inside our bodies when we feel stress? Dr. Smith explains:
Catecholamines are the chemicals of stress. They include adrenaline, norepinephrine, cortisol and dopamine. We are under a lot of stress in our lives from so many different places. When your body produces these chemicals, it is responding to a perceived threat and preparing to “fight or flight.” It’s the old saber-toothed tiger situation. The saber-toothed tiger jumps out…ROAR! Does your blood pressure go up? Yes. Is that a good thing? Absolutely! How about your blood sugar? Yes! It’s up, too. Your liver is going to pump out some sugar so you’ll have the energy to fight.
The blood sugar pumped out isn’t going to last very long and you don’t know how much flight or flight you’ll have to do to beat this tiger, so your body releases some energy from stored fats which causes an uptick in your LDL, which is considered your bad cholesterol. This is the carrier molecule for that sugar pumped out by the liver. The LDL then takes it back to the liver to convert it to a form of energy that can be used. When your LDLs go up, your HDLs, the good cholesterol, goes down because you don’t need them to fight the tiger. So your blood pressure is up, your blood sugars are up, your cholesterol is up….is that a good thing? Heck yes! You have a Saber-toothed tiger to fight and you need to win!
Do you need your immune system right now? Nope, not while you are running from a tiger. Your body will down-regulate parts of your immune system, too, because it’s an energy suck and you need all the energy you can get. Do you need wound healing? Oh yes! What if the tiger gets you? You need to heal fast. So, your body becomes more prone to forming clots.
The cumulative result of this “fight or flight” stress response is elevated blood pressure, elevated triglycerides, LDL/HDL ratios out of balance, a suppressed immune system and a body more prone to forming clots. If you are actually being chased by a saber-toothed tiger, this is terrific news. You will have the necessary burst of energy and adrenaline to successfully fight the threat or run fast enough to avoid it. During fight or flight, the chemicals produced by the initial stress response are burned up, returning your body to its natural balanced state.
Our modern problem is… there’s no tiger. Instead, there are deadlines, relationships, expectations and pressures. And, many of our modern stressors occur when we are stationary, say sitting in your cubicle at work. However, our internal physiology still believes there is a tiger after us. The chemical response is the same, but we do not run or fight, thereby burning up these chemicals and returning our body to balance. Instead, we might try and relax by watching a movie or having a glass of wine.
When this chemical balance remains off kilter over prolonged periods of time from repeated and long-lasting stress, the result is often the number one killer of people today – heart disease. Your body, consistently placed under stress, continues to produce stress chemicals yet has no way to use them.
One way to combat this effect of our stressful lives is to “run from the tiger” every day in the form of regular, aerobic exercise. By elevating our heartrate and engaging our major muscle groups, the chemicals pumped out by the stress are burned up and their negative effects are minimized. Of course, the ideal would be to eliminate the “tiger” or the stress, altogether. However, for most, this is unrealistic. Instead, try and fight that tiger (and those chemicals) each day.
Dr. Smith has nearly 30 years experience helping patients manage their total health. And while his chiropractic adjustment bring pain relief for many and promote a better life, it’s his advice on healthy living, beating the tiger, that can truly be a life-saver.
1526 Bishop Rd SW, Tumwater 98512