what is Stress?
RELIEVE STRESS | Stress is a reaction to a stimulus or adversity for the mind or body. Many people see the adversity or stimulus as the stress, however it is truly the interpretation or feeling they have that is the stress.
In this article we will break down the different types of stress, go into further depth about mental or emotional stress, the impact this has on our physical health and ways to relieve stress.
- A hot iron is the stimulus. Heat and pain are the stress
- Someone shouting at us is an adversity. Fear, anxiety and sadness are the stress
Health is the body’s ability to adapt to those stresses
“Stress at workplace, which affects you both mentally and physically, has now become a critical factor for major health issues around the world. It is even termed as ‘ill of the 21st century’.”
what causes stress?
Stress is the way the mind or body interpret a change in our world. This can be mental, emotional, physical or chemical. Stress is simply our reaction to any changes or adversity.
Stress is not caused by external factors, it is how we adapt to them
Stress can be either positive or negative. What causes stress very much depends on the adaptability and resilience of the affected person. Stress, as a measured controlled variable, can stimulate growth. When this level of adversity is exceeded it will manifest as a negative stress, potentially causing damage.
For example, think of yourself exercising in a gym. If you do certain exercises that are too easy, you put no stress on the body and no change is achieved. If you push yourself closer to your limit you will produce a stress on the body, forcing the muscles to adapt, eventually becoming bigger and stronger. However, if you push yourself past this point, you may exceed the level of adversity your body can handle. The body cannot properly adapt to the heavier intensity or weight and this is considered a negative stress. This results in damage and possibly an injury.
Stress is useful as a stimulus to help the body or mind improve, but it must adapt adequately to use this adversity.
What are the types of stress?
Before going further into the causes of this adversity and resultant stress, we will establish the different types of stress.
Physical stress can be both positive and negative. As explained above, stress can be a stimulant for growth, but if adversity is excessive, the stress will be more than the body can handle and result in damage.
Think of an athlete that hurts their knee. An injury may come after running. The knee moves past a point in its normal function, it cannot adapt and correct this and a ligament gets torn.
But this is the same action they have repeated for years, on the same surface and conditions. The road or exercise is not the cause of the injury. Their body’s lack of capability to adapt and use that stress positively is the cause of the stress. This may be due to a range of factors, such as inadequate rest, poor nutrition or over working.
Physical stresses are not always related to exercises and large movements. This can be related to posture and physical changes in the body. Physical stress can be related to improper healing of tissues, poor regulation of hormones or reduced regeneration of new cells.
Physical stresses are heavily influenced by mental, emotional and chemical stresses
Mental or emotional stress
When saying stress, this is the form most people consider. Similar the physical stress, mental or emotional stress is not the external event but how the mind interprets events or adversity.
The mental stress response is seen throughout all animals. It is a way the body reacts to avoid danger. A deer in the woods grazing on plants has a similar reaction to a stimulus we do. The ears perk up and the body prepares to run or fight. If it didn’t, the deer could be injured. Over time, the deer moderates that response to make better decisions.
This reaction is also seen in people, with generally more extreme over reactions in children and more moderate reactions in adults.
For example, if someone is insulted by a stranger, this presents the mind with a challenge. If the person doesn’t adapt and assimilate this adversity, either by understanding, ignoring it, or finding a way to to relieve stress, then it becomes a problem: destructive stress. The persons words are simply that, words. They are sound waves, but how the person interprets them is what makes it real. If the words were in an unknown language, would they elicit the same reaction even though they have the same meaning?
Mental and emotional stress are unique types of stress, because unlike the other animals, we exhibit them often without a stimulus.
Previously mentioned was the deer in the woods. Its ears perk up and it prepares mentally and physically for danger at the sound of potential danger. It doesn’t produce this reaction from memory of previous twigs being broken. Similarly, once the deer is sure they are safe, the stress response stops and they go back to grazing.
These types of mental and emotional stress can damage our well-being when we are safe and alone, but this can cause the most damage.
Chemical and physiological stresses are type of stress occurring in the body due to foods, drinks, bacteria, viruses or other substances that are ingested.
We know some of the obvious ones. Alcohol, cigarettes, narcotics, unhealthy foods and poisons are ingested and produces a negative adversity for the body, resulting in chemical stress.
Bacteria and viruses can act in a similar way. When take into the body the body reacts by releasing chemical cascades to fight and eradicate them, if deemed potentially destructive. This chemical reaction is the body’s defense to eradicate the intruder and protect us. Even a fever is the body heating up to kill a virus or bacteria. Ironically, people take medication to lower this temperature, allowing further chemical damage to take place by the virus or bacteria as they kill more cells.
Chemical stress can also be positive. Healthy food is a positive stress, the body works to break it down and has a gain. A low level viral infection is also a positive chemical stress. The immune system learns to recognise the pathogen, getting stronger for any potential future attacks.
What is the stress response? (fight/flight)
The stress response is the body’s physical reaction to a mental or emotional stress, whether from reality or memory. As mentioned with the example of the deer, all animals have this response to keep them safe from danger.
While some do not link the mental and physical, scientific research has been able to map out for decades how a mental stress produces physical changes in the body
The physiology of mental stress
When a mental stress is encountered, the first change is in the chemistry of the brain. The blood flows away from the frontal lobe (front of brain, intelligence and happiness centres), flowing more to the hind-brain (reaction and sense centres).
A small part in the brain is then stimulated, known as the hypothalamus. This starts a chemical cascade into the body, reaching the adrenal glands on top of the kidneys.
The adrenals release adrenaline, telling the arteries of the large muscles of the shoulders, arms and legs to open wider. These blood vessels open, with more blood filling the muscles, rich with oxygen and glucose.
This increased blood flow allows these muscle groups to become stronger. This is the fight or flight response. The muscles are ready to fight or run from the danger.
When the blood flows to these areas it must come from other body parts less important in this time. This includes the immune, digestive and endocrine systems. This includes the smaller postural muscles.
Over the short term this makes perfect sense. The danger in front of you is the priority. You can fight that cold, digest your lunch and regulate hormones another time.
The problem is when the danger is gone, or if it is only a perceived danger. This results in the stress response becoming chronic.
If this happens, the muscles get stiffer and tighter. The digestive, immune, endocrine and other systems run as a diminished level. The body can no longer heal and recover properly.
The small postural muscles are weakened. They can’t maintain proper alignment of the spine and joints. Mis-alignments, Subluxations and pain are more likely to occur.
In the beginning we also mentioned the effect on the brain. The blood flow keeps going to the hindbrain instead of the frontal lobe. This means the intelligence and happiness centres are under stimulated. People make bad decisions and are less content, more open to depression.
effects of stress: what are the symptoms of stress?
As detailed above, the stress response to a danger or perceived danger can be useful as a defense mechanism. In the short term this results in changes in blood flow and hormonal changes in the body. However, if this becomes chronic the symptoms of stress can be:
- Agitation, frustration, moods, depression
- Overwhelm, losing control, difficulty relaxing
- Low self-esteem, social avoidance
- Worrying and racing thoughts
- Forgetfulness and inability to focus
- Poor judgement and pessimism
- Low energy and fatigue
- Headaches, migraines and neck pain
- Digestive problems including nausea, diarrhoea and reflux
- Overall body aches and pains
- Insomnia or low sleep quality
- Sexual dysfunction or reduced libido
- Sick more easily or frequent colds
- Vertigo, dizziness or ringing in the ear
- Autoimmune problems
- Skin conditions or shingles
- Jaw pain or grinding of teeth
- Hormonal diseases
- Menstrual diseases
- Obesity and glandular issues
- Chest pain and change in heartbeat/blood pressure
“Did you say chest pain due to stress?”
As detailed, stress is not a purely mental problem and starts to affect the rest of the body (see above physiology of mental stress). This can lead to problems in the rest of the body, including the chest.
Chest pain due to stress can have a number of causes. In many cases this is due to tightening of the chest muscles which are involved in the flight or fight response. Chest pain due to stress can also be caused by poor posture when stressed mis-aligning the upper spine and ribs, resulting in spasms of surrounding and intercostal muscles.
However, if chest pain due to stress is linked to cardiovascular origins, this is more serious. This could be angina, heart failure or a heart attack. If this is expected, along with symptoms such as jaw and arm pain, please seek medical attention.
“So, I can get a headache from stress?”
Absolutely! Headaches are not normal and should not be regularly experienced. However, headache from stress is very common. This is due to the changes in spinal alignment, as detailed above. This alignment change results in nerve becoming compressed, causing pain, migraines and headache from stress.
This can also result in the surrounding muscles tightening to try to correct the misalignment. However, massage or stretching of the muscles may not be beneficial. If the muscles tense to protect the body for alignment or stress purposes, relaxing them may worsen symptoms.
“What is the cause of stress eating?”
Stress eating can be the body’s way of reacting mentally or physically to stress. Physically this can be an instinctual reaction to protect ourselves from attack or weakness by renewing our stores of energy.
Most commonly this is a mental reaction. Mentally this can provide relief and support in a difficult time. This food may be comforting.
How to relieve stress?
To relieve stress, some important steps must be taken.
- Identify the stress
- Question and understand why you are getting stressed
- Can you change this event?
- Is this stress helping you?
- Once understood, engage in one of the activities below
Most guides may start with common techniques for stress relief (listed below), however if the stress is never understood and addressed, the relief will be temporary.
Stress relief without change in behaviour will reproduce the same result in the future. Our memories can be deceptive. If you regularly get stressed, get a journal to log the times, the reasons and do what you can to understand them. Having this empathy to the situation, or talking it through with a professional, will help to give long term change.
Take these steps first, and then try the relief step below. This means you pre-empt and prevent this happening long term; then you deal with the present symptoms.
- Exercise to relieve stress is one of the most popular forms. This offers a physical release and changes the chemical balances in the body.
- Stretching or yoga. Stress in the body is a reponse of the sympathetic nerve system. Stretching or yoga (and even sleep!) stimulate the antagonistic system, the para-sympathetic nerve system.
- Meditation is a practice of being present, with any problems and thoughts. This will help in understanding and navigating the stress. Deep breathing can also help stimulate the parasympathetic nerve system. BONUS: try sensory deprivation float tanks for a fully immersive experience.
- Spend time with friends and family. Whether talking things through or just spending quality time, being around loved ones will be calming and supportive in stressful times.
- A light massage (not deep tissue) can help to relax the body and mind to help relieve stress.
- Get into nature. Being in nature can be calming and grounding yourself with the earth helps to regulate the body.
- Good chemicals. Eating health foods, essential oils or lots of water will give the body the best chance to handle the stress.
- Be entertained. Watching movies and shows or listening to music can calm the mind. Please do this only after going through the above questions.
- Speak with a professional. Speaking with a trained professional about how to relieve stress can be the best form if the stress is overwhelming.
How can Chiropractic help to relieve stress?
If the physical symptoms from stress persist (of any form), ensure to consult a medical professional. Chiropractors are experts in the nerve system, one of the systems most heavily affected by mental or emotional stress. If this gets damaged by stress this may produce stress symptoms or reduced function. Improving the nerve function will help control the associated stress symptoms and relieve stress.
Research has shown Chiropractic has a beneficial effect on brain functions. If thought patterns repeat it may be a physical body issue, which is partially contributing to this difficulty. By correcting this it can relive stress and make stress more manageable.
If you have any questions or need help finding the Singapore Chiropractic centre to help with stress, then contact us via 8438 9550 or email@example.com, or comment on Facebook or Instagram.
Since 2013, Upper Cervical Chiropractor, Dr. Shaan Rai helped patients achieve greater health, relocating to Singapore in 2016 and founding Vitality Chiropractic Centres. He has an impressive track record in providing relief and solutions for people who experience nerve system problems, such as headaches, migraines, dizziness, vertigo or neurological conditions.
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