Stress is normal and even plays a vital function in living an exciting and fulfilled life, but it must be properly monitered, embraced and kept in check.
Over the years, one of the interesting things I’ve learned about stress is that everyone reacts to it differently. Also, that what one person finds stressful, someone else has no problem with it. (Thank you fire fighters!)
Everyone feels stress at some point in their lives; it’s completely normal. However, what you can’t always feel are the effects that stress is having on your body. Whether you are feeling pressured by financial concerns, your job, your spouse’s job, family issues, or your children, all types of stress put a strain on your body.
Most people are aware of the feelings that stress can bring, such as anger, frustration, feeling as if your emotions are out of control and that you might ‘snap.’ What many people are unaware of, however, is that chronic stress also causes physical changes in the body.
The Effects of Stress on Your Body:
Changes in Appetite
This is far more common than most people realize. I can always tell when I am feeling stressed out because I will have an overwhelming urge for greasy foods, such as hamburgers and french fries. Other people, however, find that stress causes them to lose their appetite.
One study involving college students shows this phenomenon, with 62 percent of students reporting that they had an increase in their appetite, and 38 percent experienced a decrease in their appetite when they felt increased levels of stress.
Changes in Energy Levels or Sleep Patterns
Many people find that stress causes them to feel fatigue, most likely due to changes in their sleeping pattern. While some find that they avoid issues and stressful feelings by sleeping more than they normally would, the majority of people experience insomnia or have fitful, restless sleep, rather than restful.
One large study done in 2014 found that 2,316 subjects had an increased risk of insomnia after experiencing several highly stressful situations. Researchers admit that this study shows an association, however, since other factors might have contributed to the subject’s insomnia, further studies should be performed.
Headaches, cluster headaches, back aches, neck, shoulder, and other types of back pain are very common complaints among those with chronic stress — but you would be surprised how many people seem unaware of the connection.
While you can attribute some of the pain (such as neck and shoulder pain) to tight muscles, other studies have found that increased levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, might be involved. One small study found that those who had chronic back pain had higher levels of cortisol than their counterparts in the control group.
Cluster headaches are especially interesting since it appears that most people experience these intensely painful episodes only after a very stressful situation has ended.
While most people are aware of the stressors in their lives (commuting in heavy traffic, illness in the family, starting a new job) many people going through stressful events or living with stressors don’t know about or don’t believe these experiences are stressful.
To help patients gauge their stress levels, I have found the following 5 questions to be very helpful. I generally ask my clients to put this on a scale from 1-5, with 1 being never to 5 being very often.
5 Questions to Gauge Your Stress Levels:
- In the past 30 days, how often have you become upset or angry over some unexpected incident? This could be anything from a broken dinner date to your child failing an exam in school.
- In the past month, how often did you feel you had no control over important aspects of your life?
- In the past month, how often did you find that you could not complete all the necessary tasks on your to-do list? (if you don’t have a to-do list, can you complete your daily tasks with time to spare?)
- Generally speaking, how often do you feel that you are ‘on top of things’ or that things are going your way?
- How often do you get angry or frustrated at things that are out of your control?
Regardless of your rating to these questions, the answers are usually revealing on their own. People who feel out of control, are frequently angry, or that life isn’t going the way they had hoped are generally feeling, at the very least, a moderate amount of stress.
How to Find Relief
Although most people are aware of the many ways they can help to reduce or manage their stress, they fail to take advantage of them for a variety of reasons.
Patients come to see me, for the most part, because they are in pain. Sometimes, their pain is due to injury or a health problem, other times it is simply due to stress. I often recommend yoga, in addition to other well-known remedies, but one thing I’ve noticed that most stress reduction lists fail to mention is chiropractic.
Regular comprehensive chiropractic care is a terrific way to relieve stress, among other health benefits. Chiropractic can relieve stress by:
- Reducing muscle tension
- Improve posture
- Restore your spine to its proper position
- Soothes the nervous system
Whenever you are under stress, you will automatically tighten your muscles. This causes an unnatural pull on the spine that leads to chronic pain.
Regular chiropractic adjustments will keep the spine in place and restore your natural posture.
You should also remember that chronic stress causes nerve dysfunction, which results in numbness, shooting pains or feelings of electric charges running down the legs or arms. These are often called ‘pinched nerves’ but in truth should be called ‘stressed nerves.’
Most chiropractors also use massage therapy as a part of their comprehensive program. Chiropractic massage works hand in hand with adjustments and is perhaps one of the best stress relievers known to man!
Find ways to remove unnecessary stress from your life whenever possible. Then practice healthy ways of dealing with any residual stress, including eating a healthy diet, getting proper sleep, practicing yoga or other mindful movement techniques, and seeing your chiropractor on a regular basis.
You may also enjoy reading Chronic Stress: The Silent Hormone (And Life) Hijacker by Dr. Stephanie Gray