With the fast-paced, high-pressure lives that many of us lead, full of significant and demanding job and family responsibilities, it’s no wonder that we experience stress that threatens the very core of our lives. We all have to live with stress, but if not reined in, it can profoundly affect both mind and body. Fortunately, you have options that will help you regain control of your life, slow things down, and curb stress.
Stress doesn’t just arise from unpleasant, aggravating events. Positive life transitions such as getting married, starting a new job, becoming pregnant, or winning an election can also create tension within us.
Stress isn’t all bad, either. In fact, it protects us in many instances by priming the body to react quickly to adverse situations. The “fight-or-flight” response has helped human beings thrive when their environment demanded quick physical reactions in response to threats. The problem in modern times is that our body’s stress response is regularly triggered even though our lives are not in danger. Chronic exposure to stress hormones can damage the body. Everything from headache, upset stomach, skin rashes, hair loss, racing heartbeat, back pain, and muscle aches can be a byproduct of our natural stress response.
The perception of stress is highly individualized. What jangles your friends’ nerves may not phase you in the least, and vice versa. In other words, what matters most is not what happens to you, but how you react to what happens to you.
It is now considered a well-established fact that psychological stress is an important factor in a variety of physical symptoms and disease processes. There is abundant evidence of this link in medical literature as well as in current medical practices.
Medical research suggests that up to 90 percent of all illness and disease is stress-related, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Acute stress is an immediate, yet temporary, incident (like an argument or traffic jam) that creates unexpected circumstances in our lives. Generally, we adapt to this sudden change and the stress is resolved. Yet, even brief encounters with sudden stress like this can induce physical reactions such as headache pain that may last for hours.
Sudden changes to our daily life can be viewed as acute stress, yet their impact can result in physical illness in the ensuing months. The death of a spouse or family member, divorce, marital separation, prison time, injuries, a job loss, and even retirement can be stressful events that can have a devastating impact on our health.
Unlike acute stress, chronic stress is the result of continuous, unchanging circumstances, like persistent physical pain or an unpleasant lifestyle. Unrelenting stress can raise blood pressure to dangerous levels that might lead to a heart attack or stroke. It has been determined that stress is as great a contributing factor in heart disease as smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
Chronic back pain and conditions such as arthritis, TMJ, bursitis, tendonitis, herniated disc, migraine headaches, sciatica, fibromyalgia, whiplash, and carpal tunnel syndrome set off a chain reaction of physical and mental side effects.
The persistent stress of chronic pain can affect the nervous and immune system. It can also intensify negative reactions to everyday stress. Coping with chronic pain can bring on depression, causing the brain to perceive even more pain, which subsequently creates even greater chronic stress. It’s a vicious cycle of stress and pain.
Chiropractors work primarily with the spine, the root of the nervous system through which nerve impulses travel from the brain to the rest of the body. One effect of chronic stress is prolonged muscle tension and contraction. This muscle tension creates uneven pressures on the bony structures of the body, often leading to the misalignment of the spinal column, known as subluxations in the Palmer tradition of chiropractic.
Chronic stress also leads to nerve irritation. The adjustment of a chiropractor releases muscle tension, which then helps the body return to a more balanced, relaxed state. Adjustments also reduce spinal nerve irritation, and improve blood circulation. These changes may be enough, in many cases, to convince the brain to turn off the flight response, thus beginning the process of healing. A healthy and balanced spine is one key to effectively managing stress.
In combination with chiropractic care, massage therapy is one of the best antidotes for stress. We know this is true on an intuitive level. If the untrained hands of a friend or partner can soothe aches and pains, and diminish anxiety, then imagine the effect of a therapeutic massage by a trained practitioner. Even the rituals of massage come as a welcome break from our hurried lives: dimmed lights, soothing music, the pleasant fragrance of a mild oil or candle—even without massage, these sensory relaxants might help your body calm. But coupled with the right massage techniques, you’ll actually feel the stress leaving.
Massage boosts the body’s immune system, which can become compromised from extended periods of stress. Tensions can build-up in the muscles, causing a decrease in circulation and nutrient delivery to tissues. Together, the combination of chiropractic care and massage therapy promote total wellness through hands-on treatment, without the implementation of medication.