Chiropractic and Stress Management
For some people, a ‘normal day’ can include stress from the moment they wake up, until the moment they lie in bed with their minds racing, trying to get to sleep. Stress has been nicknamed the silent killer by experts because of the damage it does to our bodies and the increase of illness it gives us.
Ideally, when your body or mind is under stress, your brain will initiate a rapid response, maintain this response for the right amount of time, and then turn off the response once the stress is gone. Today, many people have problems turning off the stress response which can cause negative consequences.
Stress works like this:
When there is a stressor in the environment, the brain signals the release of chemicals to handle the immediate response. This is known as shifting into fight or flight mode: an automatic response that dates back to pre-historic times. This results in multiple responses from the body including increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and redirecting blood to muscles to prepare to fight the potential threat or run for your life.
This “early warning system” can be useful. Imagine walking down a dark, deserted street and suddenly seeing a large shadowy figure heading for you. At times like this, sensing danger, we, like our ancestors, experience “fight or flight” body alerts. The heart races, breath quickens, muscles get tense, our vision might become more acute and time might seem to slow down, enabling us to focus more clearly on the situation at hand.
However, this response is meant to be short term process to survive the stress; the problem is that we stay in that state all day long. Because of this we burn out and burn up survival chemicals and hormones. Along with that, our immune system shuts down and growth and repair cannot happen. We cannot rest or sleep and over time this adds up, becoming the root cause of chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, muscle fatigue, insomnia, common colds, even heart disease and cancer.
There are three stressors that we focus on addressing with our patients.
Physical: too much or too little exercise, trauma, whiplash, falls, injuries, even sitting at a desk all day long!
Emotional: death of a loved one, deadlines and work stress, even seemingly happy moments: having a baby, marriage, buying a new home.
Chemical: nutrition decisions (fast food, coffee, sugary foods, foods high in fat, too much of most foods), smoking, alcohol, soda, impure water or air, and drugs (including prescription).
Many people are living with all three stressors for a majority of their lives. For example, if you sit at a desk all day (physical stress) and have a lot of deadlines to meet for work or a boss you are timid towards (emotional stress), and on top of that you are eating sugary snacks at your desk, fast food at lunch, having smoke breaks, and consuming after work cocktails (chemical) then your body is under too much stress!
Every person reacts differently to stress. Some people may be more affected by a certain event than others. This is not because it is the event which is stressful, but how we view and respond to that event. The good news is although we do have little control over what happens to us, we do have choices in the way we view circumstances and how we react to them.
There are many things we can do to aid our bodies and minds in dealing with stress. The first place to start would be within your own body. There are also some things you can do to deal with stress on a daily basis.
- Be aware. Jot down the physiological symptoms (e.g., racing heart, tightening of muscles); the emotional symptoms (e.g., difficulty concentrating, agitation); and the behavioral symptoms (e.g., overeating, difficulty sleeping). Just being aware of these bodily reactions takes away some “unknowns;” knowing what to expect is half the battle.
- Sleep. A good night’s sleep is very important. Deep sleep and dream states (even the disturbing ones) re-charge our systems and promote a sense of well-being. There are herbal supplements that aid in getting a good night’s sleep without the habit forming effects of prescription sleeping pills. Check your local health food store or pharmacy.
- Exercise. This is a MUST! Aerobic movements burn off harmful stress hormones, release muscle tension and allow endorphins (the brain’s natural pleasure chemicals) to flow into the body. Remembering that our bodies are connected to our heads is so basic that we often forget–especially when under duress. Sometimes it’s wise to establish exercise patterns (maybe more than one discipline) so that when stress hits we do it without thinking. At a minimum, start a walking program of at least 30 minutes daily.
- Breath Deeply. When tension mounts, it often helps to stop what you’re doing and breathe slowly, consciously and deeply. Follow your breath by counting the inhales and exhales (1 to 10) then start over. Allow your stomach to expand fully and put your “mind’s eye” on your abdomen. The increased oxygen levels and body-mind meshing will help induce a sense of peacefulness and calm.
- Don’t utilize negative self-talk. Become aware of your negative self-talk and change the language cues you are giving yourself. Become your own editor/best friend. There’s an excellent book on this by Shad Helmstetter called “The Self-Talk Solution.”
- Get Human touch Care.Massage can help us relieve stress and reduce anxiety and depression. Massage has also been shown to reduce aggression and hostility in violent adolescents, to improve mood and behavior in students with ADHD, and to lead to better sleep and behavior in children with autism.Massage has other therapeutic properties, as well. Regular massage may reduce blood pressure in people with hypertension and may lead to less pain, depression, and anxiety and better sleep in patients with chronic low-back pain. Compared to relaxation, massage therapy also causes greater reduction in depression and anger, and more significant effects on the immune system in breast cancer patients.
- Build a support system. Relationships are also key to health and happiness, especially for women. Women with low social support, for example, are more likely to increase blood pressure under stress. Loneliness may also contribute to stress in both men and women, also leading to poorer outcomes after a stroke or congestive heart failure. On the other hand, active and socially involved seniors are at lower risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Social support also helps cancer patients to boost the immune system and maintain a higher quality of life.
- Employ the power of music.Singing and listening to music can also relieve pain and reduce anxiety and depression caused by low back pain. Group drumming also showed positive effects on stress relief and the immune system. Music therapy can also elevate mood and positively affect the immune system in cancer patients and reduce fatigue and improve self-acceptance in people with multiple sclerosis.To help people deal with stressful medical procedures, music can help reduce anxiety before surgery. When played during surgery, it can decrease the patient’s post-operative pain. Aiding recovery, a dose of calming music may lower anxiety, pain, and the need for painkillers.
- Calm your mind.In recent decades, many forms of meditation have gained popularity as relaxation and pain relief tools. Focusing on our breath, looking at a candle, or practicing a non-judgmental awareness of our thoughts and actions can help tune out distractions, reduce anxiety and depression, and accept our circumstances. In cancer patients, meditation-based stress reduction enhances quality of life, lowers stress symptoms, and potentially benefits the immune system.Guided imagery, such as visualizing pictures prompted by an audiotape recording, also shows promise in stress relief and pain reduction. Based on the idea that the mind can affect the body, guided imagery can be a useful adjunct to cancer therapy, focusing patients on positive images to help heal their bodies.
- Give yourself avenues for SELF-EXPRESSION. Keep a journal, take an acting class, learn to play an instrument; the possibilities are endless. Find projects that you are drawn to or something that you are passionate about doing even when the going gets rough–because that’s when we need expressive outlets the most. Many find crafting or painting a source of solace.
- CHOOSE YOUR ATTITUDE toward the stressors in your life. This can help with chronic stress and depression. Viktor Frankl survived the concentration camps of Germany by exercising this power (For more about this, read his landmark book entitled “Man’s Search For Meaning.”) Realize that this shift takes time, practice and perseverance. Developing the pointers listed above will help you to move in the direction of self-empowerment and by extension, make you more stress resistant.
- LAUGH IT OFF Most stressful situations have a tender, not so serious side. Laughing (not necessarily out loud) at our predicament, can indeed be the best medicine. Norman Cousins pulled out of a life-threatening bout with cancer by renting Laurel and Hardy and other funny videos. This doesn’t mean denial of stress; it does mean that, not only can we choose our attitude, we can also choose to create a more life enhancing mood. Humor relieves stress and anxiety and prevents depression, helping put our troubles in perspective. Laughter can help boost the immune system, increase pain tolerance, enhance mood and creativity, and lower blood pressure, potentially improving treatment outcomes for many health problems, including cancer and HIV. Humor may also be related to happiness, which has been linked to high self-esteem, extroversion, and feeling in control. No matter what stress-relief methods you choose, make it a habit to use them—especially if you feel too stressed out to do it. As someone once said, the time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.
- TIME MANAGEMENT. Don’t become a slave to your lists. However, it helps sort out the chaos by developing skills in prioritizing goals and tasks. Many community colleges offer courses on time management and the bookstores are stocked with books on taking control of your time more effectively. A classic book on this subject is “How To Get Control Of Your Time And Your Life” by Alan Lakein. Those who plan and fulfill their plans are less prone to become stressed out.
8 Most stressful situations have a tender, not so serious side. Laughing (not necessarily out loud) at our predicament, can indeed be the best medicine. Norman Cousins pulled out of a life-threatening bout with cancer by renting Laurel and Hardy and other funny videos. This doesn’t mean denial of stress; it does mean that, not only can we choose our attitude, we can also choose to create a more life enhancing mood. Humor relieves stress and anxiety and prevents depression, helping put our troubles in perspective. Laughter can help boost the immune system, increase pain tolerance, enhance mood and creativity, and lower blood pressure, potentially improving treatment outcomes for many health problems, including cancer and HIV. Humor may also be related to happiness, which has been linked to high self-esteem, extroversion, and feeling in control.
No matter what stress-relief methods you choose, make it a habit to use them—especially if you feel too stressed out to do it. As someone once said, the time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.
Some exerpts taken from Martin V. Cohen, Ph.D. and the American Chiropractic Association, both used with permission.