Chiropractic Care: A Natural Stress Reliever
Our lives are full of pressure, stress, frustration and worry, both physical and mental, about — job security, being overworked, driving in rush-hour traffic, arguing with a spouse, concern about a loved one, retirement.
Much of our stress simply comes from everyday responsibilities. In response to these daily strains, our body automatically increases blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, metabolism and blood flow to muscles. This response is intended to help the body react quickly and effectively to high-pressure situations. It’s known as the “fight-or-flight” response.
The Stress Response
The body’s fight-or-flight reaction has strong biological roots. It’s there for self-preservation; it gave early humans the energy to fight aggressors or run from predators, helping the human species survive. Today, instead of a protection, it may actually make the body more vulnerable to life-threatening health problems. Any of life’s changes, good or bad, can cause stress. It’s not just the change or event itself, but also how you react to it that matters.
How stress affects your body
In a stressful situation, the pituitary gland responds by increasing the release of a hormone called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). When the pituitary sends out this burst of ACTH, it’s like an alarm system going off deep inside the brain which tells the adrenal glands, situated atop the kidneys, to release a flood of stress hormones into the bloodstream, including cortisol and adrenaline. These stress hormones cause a whole series of physiological changes in the body, such as increasing heart rate and blood pressure, shutting down the digestive system and altering the immune system. Once the perceived threat is gone, the levels of cortisol and adrenaline in the bloodstream decline and the heart rate, blood pressure and all other body functions return to normal.
If multiple and repetitive stressful situations occur, the body has no chance to recover.
Common physical responses to chronic stress affect:
- The digestive system — manifesting in stomach aches or diarrhea because stress hormones slow the release of stomach acid and the emptying of the stomach. The same hormones also stimulate the colon, which speeds the passage of its contents.
- The immune system — making the body more susceptible to colds and other infections. Typically, the immune system responds to infection by releasing several substances that cause inflammation. Chronic systemic inflammation contributes to the development of many degenerative diseases.
- The nervous system — leading to depression, anxiety, panic attacks and dementia. Over time, the chronic release of cortisol can cause damage to several structures in the brain. Excessive amounts of cortisol can also cause sleep disturbances and a loss of sex drive.
- The cardiovascular system — increasing both teh heart rate and blood pressure, which may lead to heart attacks or strokes.
If you show signs of these or any of the following conditions, it may be a sign that you are suffering from stress: anxiety, insomnia, back pain, relationship problems, constipation, shortness of breath, depression, stiff neck, fatigue, upset stomach and weight gain or loss.
We can show you how to reduce the effect that stress has on the body:
Practice Relaxed breathing
Stress typically causes rapid, shallow breathing. This kind of breathing sustains other aspects of the stress response, such as rapid heart rate and perspiration. Get control of your breathing. The spiraling effects of acute stress will automatically become less intense. Relaxed breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing, can help.
Practice this basic technique twice-a-day, every day and whenever you feel tense:
- Inhale. With your mouth closed and your shoulders relaxed, inhale as slowly and deeply as you can to the count of six. As you do that, push your stomach out. Allow the air to fill your diaphragm.
- Hold. Keep the air in your lungs as you slowly count to four.
- Exhale. Release the air through your mouth as you slowly count to six.
- Repeat. Complete the inhale-hold-exhale cycle three to five times.
Learn Progressive Muscle Relaxation
The goal of progressive muscle relaxation is to reduce the tension in your muscles. First, find a quiet place where you’ll be free from interruption. Loosen tight clothing, remove glasses, take shoes off.
Tense each muscle group for at least five seconds and then relax for at least 30 seconds. Repeat before moving to the next muscle group.
- Upper part of your face. Lift your eyebrows toward the ceiling, feeling the tension in your forehead and scalp. Relax. Repeat.
- Central part of your face. Squint your eyes tightly and wrinkle your nose and mouth, feeling the tension in the center of your face. Relax. Repeat.
- Lower part of your face. Clench your teeth and pull back the corners of your mouth toward your ears. Show your teeth like a snarling dog. Relax. Repeat.
- Neck. Gently touch your chin to your chest. Feel the pull in the back of your neck as it spreads into your head. Relax. Repeat.
- Shoulders. Pull your shoulders up toward your ears, feeling the tension in your shoulders, head, neck and upper back. Relax. Repeat.
- Upper arms. Pull your arms back and press your elbows in toward the sides of your body. Try not to tense your lower arms. Feel the tension in your arms, shoulders and into your back. Relax. Repeat.
- Hands and lower arms. Make a tight fist and pull up your wrists. Feel the tension in your hands, knuckles and lower arms. Relax. Repeat.
- Chest, shoulders and upper back. Pull your shoulders back as if you’re trying to make your shoulder blades touch. Relax. Repeat.
- Stomach. Pull your stomach in toward your spine, tightening your abdominal muscles. Relax. Repeat.
- Upper legs. Squeeze your knees together and lift your legs up off the chair or from wherever you’re relaxing. Feel the tension in your thighs. Relax. Repeat.
- Lower legs. Raise your feet toward the ceiling while flexing them toward your body. Feel the tension in your calves. Relax. Repeat.
- Feet. Turn your feet inward and curl your toes up and out. Relax. Repeat.
- Perform progressive muscle relaxation at least once or twice each day to get the maximum benefit. Each session should last about 10 minutes.
- Listen to soothing sounds. If you have about 10 minutes and a quiet room, you can take a mental vacation almost anytime.
- Spoken word. Listen to spoken suggestions to guide your meditation, educate you on stress reduction or take you on an imaginary visual journey to a peaceful place.
- Soothing music or nature sounds. Music has the power to affect your thoughts and feelings. Soft, soothing music can help you relax and lower your stress level.
Exercise is healthy way to relieve because it releases pent-up energy and tension. Physical activity can decrease levels of anxiety and stress and elevate moods. Numerous studies have shown that people who begin exercise programs, either at home or at work, demonstrate a marked improvement in their ability to concentrate, are able to sleep better, suffer from fewer illnesses, suffer from less pain and report a much higher quality of life than those who do not exercise.
So if you want to feel better and improve your quality of life, get active! Contact us today to hear how we can help.