Last week I touched on the detrimental effects of chronic stress. The points I hope you remember are first that the stress response is a normal and programmed response consisting of a cascade of changes in the body all designed to help us survive a threatening (fight/flight) situation. Secondly, like any habit, our nervous system learns to activate the stress response and over time we can go into to this reaction more easily or continuously. While the stress response can help us survive a threat, the body changes that occur in the stress response are devastating over a sustained period of time. So all we need to do is cut the stress, right? Everyone knows, this is not always easy.
When in a time of stress with factors outside our control, there are several things we can and should do to minimize or turn off the stress response. Positive thinking truly works by interrupting the negative thinking patterns that feed the stress response. Making regular time for prayer and positive affirmations or writing in a gratitude journal every night before sleep really pays off. Similarly, practicing meditation where you simply sit quietly and try to quiet your thoughts will also break the habit of negative thinking and stress. Caffeine, nicotine, and sugar all stimulate the body and feed the stress response. However, fruits and vegetables, particularly those rich in B-vitamins will aid to shut off stress at a brain level. Likewise, lack of movement feeds stress while physical exercise stimulates the nerves that report to the brain and act to shut off the stress reaction. You must eat well and get up and move to relieve stress! Most people don’t know this, but massage and chiropractic care works much in the same way as exercise to combat the stress response. Releasing muscle tension and adjusting the spine shuts off the stress producing nerve signals of pain and at the same time stimulates the signals that go to the emotional center of the brain to shut off the stress reaction. Even though we often cannot control the situations that cause stress, this information should help you see the stress response as a brain phenomenon that can be altered or controlled. Whether you choose to see a chiropractor or massage therapist, follow a healthy diet, work on positive thinking, or exercise, all of these methods are proven to help us adapt to our increasingly stressful environment.