How your body reacts to stress – and how we can help

Functional medicine

The body’s natural fight-or-flight stress response is designed for survival and can help us perform in highly stressful situations. However, when activated repeatedly, for prolonged periods of time, it can take a significant toll on our overall health.

The stress response releases hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol which automatically get the body ready for action. Your breathing becomes rapid, you become more alert, your muscles tense up, your heart starts racing as it pushes blood to your muscles and vital organs, and your blood pressure is heightened as your body shifts energy toward ensuring you can fight or flee from a perceived threat1.

Predators and parallel parking

Centuries ago, this stress response was very useful (critical even) for surviving an encounter with a predator. Now, our sources of everyday stress look a little different: from our daily commute, to worrying about paying the bills, relationship troubles, piling up work deadlines, or even just having to parallel park in a tight spot.

To our bodies, even these psychological stresses are responded to in the same way on a physiological level – sometimes this works in our favour to get us through a big presentation, a sporting event, or an exam – other times, the stress response can just be an overreaction. Over the long-term, the over-stimulation of the stress response, or chronic low-level stress, can have serious implications on both our physical and mental health.

The physiological stress response is supposed to be short-lived – helping you get out of danger and then allowing your adrenalin and cortisol levels to return to normal when the ‘threat’ is no longer present. Unfortunately, the types of stress we face in our daily lives don’t just go away.

Effects of constant low-grade stress

Being in a constant state of low-grade stress can increase your health risk for high blood pressure, anxiety, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleep disorders, and weight gain, among many more2.

The stress response can also lead to muscle tension and pain throughout the body, which can further exacerbate stress levels and create a negative cycle of discomfort and even pain. This is why it is so important to develop healthy ways to manage stress in our daily lives.

The functional medicine approach

Instead of simply prescribing anti-anxiety medication and pain killer, the functional medicine approach looks beyond the symptoms of chronic stress and tries to help understand, and treat, the underlying causes and while relieving pain and discomfort. We look holistically at lifestyle interventions to lower your stress and improve your health and quality of life.

Tension release

When in a persistent state of stress, your muscles tense and contract3. Often you’ll find you’re subconsciously holding your body in an unnatural position which can create further pressure in the body – especially the neck, shoulders and back4.

Chiropractic adjustments and massage can help to relieve tension in the muscles, helping the body to physically relax, while improving circulation. These changes can help your body to ‘switch off’ the stress response5, and put you in a more relaxed state – both physically and mentally.

Identifying and undoing bad habits

In functional medicine, we understand that simply releasing the built-up tension in the body doesn’t remove the cause. Our goal is to understand what is causing the chronic stress in your life, and which lifestyle changes could help you remove key triggers and improve the way your body manages stress.

Often people suffering from chronic stress will slip into bad habits that perpetuate the stress cycle – from eating poorly, to not exercising, not sleeping well, or relying on unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Treatment tailored to you

By understanding your unique history, lifestyle and triggers, we can recommend integrated lifestyle changes such as a tailored exercise and nutrition plan, relaxation techniques, and even postural changes to better manage and counteract the effects of chronic stress in your body.

Book a consultation online now to get started on your journey toward a happier, healthier year ahead.

References

1,2 Harvard Medical School. 2018. Understanding the stress response
https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response

3,4 How stress affects your health. American Psychological Association.
https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress/effects-musculoskeletal#menu

Dr. Matt le Roux is a man of many talents: chiropractor, sports scientist and functional medicine practitioner. His science-based approach motivates him to explore the synergy between health and performance that changes the way you move, live, train, think, and eat.

Dr Matt le Roux

Chiropractor, Functional medicine practitioner

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