By Kathryn Haynes, D.C.
“There is more to life than increasing its speed.”
~Mohandas K. Gandhi
Stress is a common word used in every social and economic class. We hear the word often and even know ways to reduce stress like, meditation, exercise, prioritizing your life, etc… but what about social engagement? How can “getting out”, having a girls night, guys night, trivia night, going to a wedding, or another similar social event to help reduces stress?
I guess the best way to understand the answer to this question is to understand stress a little better. Like what is stress? What are symptoms of stress? How does our body respond to stress? What turns stress on? And what turns our stress off?
Stress can be defined as the brain’s response to any demand. Something happens within us or around us, and our body reacts. It responds. We hear our baby cry… our body responds. We are running late for an important meeting… our body responds. We are watching a game when the score is tied, there are seconds left on the clock, and the quarterback has just thrown the ball to an open man in the end zone… our body responds.
The stress response can look different and affect people differently as well. Common stress responses look like fatigue, anger, indigestion, “butterflies”, constipation, and/or depression. There are many more stress symptoms that we should be aware of. The symptoms can be broken into 3 categories: physical, emotional and behavioral stress symptoms.
Take a look at the below list. Are you experiencing any of the below symptoms yourself? How many? One or more symptoms might warrant a closer look into reducing stress in your life.
Physical symptoms of stress
- Muscle aches and pains
- Digestive disorders (constipation, diarrhea ,etc.)
- Nausea, dizziness
- Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
- Loss of sex drive
- Frequent colds
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
Emotional symptoms of stress
- Irritability or short temper
- Inability to relax
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Seeing only the negative
- Anxious or racing thoughts
- Constant worrying
Behavioral symptoms of stress
- Eating changes
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Isolating yourself from others
- Neglecting responsibilities
- Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
- Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)
All of the above symptoms can be our body’s response to stress. By why does our stress response “turn on” in the first place? Another term for our stress is called the “fight-or-flight” response. This “fight-or-flight” response “turns on” to protect itself from something physically, chemically, or emotionally dangerous.
Say you’re walking down the street, and you see a saber tooth tiger. You would sense a dangerous threat and your fight or flight response would turn on.
Your heart rate would increase, pumping blood to your head, arms and legs. Your adrenal glands would pump stored sugar in to the bloodstream to fuel your brain and muscles. Your respiration would increase providing more oxygen to your brain and muscles. Digestion would slow down, to conserve energy to fight or flee from the tiger. All these reactions happen automatically. Your body would get you ready to fight-or-flight to innately protect you. This response is also called “stress.”
Realistically, the above scenario isn’t going to happen. But, the threat can be chemical, physical or emotional to turn the stress response on. You could be threatened by losing your job, worrying about your children, going through a divorce, moving your home or the plethora of other potential threats in today’s life like:
- Winning a race
- Watching a scary movie
- Riding a roller coaster
- A chemical in the air
- Daily responsibilities
- Getting your child to school on time
- Getting yourself to work on time
Over time, continued stress on your body from routine stress may lead to serious health problems.
So far, you have probably known, or at least heard about, most of what you just read. We know that most of our society is stressed and we know we that we are exposed to thousands triggers that turn on our stress response every day. Let’s now look at what can Turn Off the stress response.
Turning off the stress response is as important to our health as is turning it on. In addition to eating healthy, getting appropriate amount of sleep, and meditation there are 3 more I would like to discuss in a little more detail.
- Move. Remember how during fight-or-flight your body releases fuel into the bloodstream for your brain and muscles? The fuel is glucagon (sugar). This sugar is put into the bloodstream to be used. If the stress we encounter causes us to run from it or to fight, then we will use up the sugar. If the stress does not cause us to actually fight or flight, then the sugar will sit in our bloodstream. Over time this can lead to diabetes and other illnesses. So… we need to use up the sugar. Running, walking, yoga, dancing, etc.… will all help to counter the effects of stress.
- Chiropractic care. Chiropractors deliver adjustments that can relieve pain, decrease muscle spasm, increase circulation and turn off the fight-or-flight response.
- Social engagement. Believe it or not, we are the only mammal that can use social engagement to calm our nervous system. The interactions between you and other people can stop the fight-or-flight response and calm your nerves. The key is to be engaged in the interaction where your senses are pre-occupied with listening, making eye contact and talking calmly.
In summary, managing stress is best done when you are able to recognize the signs of stress, eat healthy, exercise, see a chiropractor regularly, and remember to attend social events with people you care about and that support you.
“When it comes to your health, we’ve got your back!”