Regulating stress seems to be at the top of everyone’s mind these days. And it’s no wonder, because we’ve been living in an upside-down world, where nothing seems stable and “the new normal” is suddenly a widely-accepted phrase.
Stress can manifest in the body in a variety of ways. But it typically starts in one spot and can lead to a lot of issues throughout your body. The fatigue and headache you’re feeling isn’t just because you forgot to drink your second cup of coffee today (and maybe it’s time to start drinking herbal tea). Those symptoms can be indicative of stress that your body is going through. Additionally, your body may be dealing with aches, pains, and muscle tension. When you go through something stressful, whether internal or external, it can lead to increased tension of the body, pulling in and tightening, and making it difficult for your body to function normally.
All of this can create difficulty or disturbance in your sleep patterns and can lead to getting sick more often. When your body is busy working in fight-or-flight mode, it doesn’t have the resources to attend to typical immune function. Stress may start in your head or in one tight muscle, but it certainly doesn’t stay there. Chronic stress can trigger tense muscles (especially the upper trapezius) and can cause aches and pains or lowered immune system response—much like a domino effect.
There are three main types of stress: physical, emotional, and chemical.
Physical: This is stress on the body. It’s typically from tense muscles and stress from exercise. It can also stem from repetitive motions, inactivity, or even more commonly: poor posture.
Emotional: Emotional stress is any outside situation that causes (what feels like) internal turmoil. This can be as simple as a never-ending to-do list, stress from your job, or not feeling comfortable or at ease when you’re home. Any of these can cause stress or anxiety if not managed properly.
Chemical: Chemical stress is typically something internal that can cause an inflammatory response. Food or drink with little to no nutritional value (junk food or alcohol) can create this response, but triggers can also include foods that your body is allergic or even sensitive to, including gluten or dairy. Check in with your doctor to find out what may be harming your internal balance and try to align your diet accordingly so you can lessen your body’s stress response from the inside out.
Chronic stress can break down the body in multiple ways. In order to “fight back” you need to break the cycle with relaxation and using your body in alternate ways to counteract the damage being done. This can include yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and breathwork. These activities can help release the body’s tension, keep you focused on controlling your emotional and physical response to outside triggers, and improve your emotional intelligence through awareness and groundedness. Breathwork can help with your fight-or-flight response when you do a long inhale through your nose (counting to 6) and a longer exhale out the mouth (counting to 11) and can even help lower your heart rate and blood pressure, signaling to your body that everything is okay.
Beyond breath-work and relaxation, you can also practice exercises provided for you at your chiropractic office, helping to counteract any damaging positions your body may be in for too long. Reversing poor posture through suggested exercise and minimizing tension through adjustments and massage at the chiropractor can also be a helpful method.
Chiropractic can help with stress regulation and reduction in a number of ways.
Muscle tension release: The muscles that were once so tight don’t have to stay that way. Through gentle adjustments and massage therapy, chiropractic can help your muscles begin to re-learn how to work—the way they were always supposed to before you experienced stressful events.
Lowered cortisol levels: Proper nervous system function is required to help speed up your body’s recovery times. Getting sick all the time? Feeling run-down? This is your body signaling to you that your cortisol levels are at an imbalance. With adjustments, pain goes down and cortisol lowers to regular and more balanced levels.
Nervous function improvement: After the nervous system function is improved through gentle adjustments and massage therapy, the communication between the brain and body is optimized. Your pain and stress response should be able to be lessened and your body can manage external and internal triggers much better in the future.
Stress should be dealt with appropriately. When you notice your body tightening or your heart rate increasing, take note. Be in tune with your body and give it the nourishing food and sufficient rest it needs, adjust your posture habits, and remove yourself from situations that increase your stress levels. Make an appointment with your chiropractor to discuss the kinds of stresses you’re experiencing, and how they can help you manage it. Because stress is the number one cause of most pains and diseases, it’s worth taking the time to address it for your long-term health goals.