Over the last year we have probably all experienced stress in some form at one time or another, writes Reading Chiropractor Beccy Norman. Stress is a physiological response in the body that is there to prime our bodies, ready to attack. However, if we are kept in this fight or flight state long term, this can have harmful effects on our bodies. Here are just 5 ways stress is affecting your body.
Increased blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a very serious problem. During the fight or flight response, adrenaline is released into your body. This makes your heart beat faster and the blood pump faster around your body. Long term this causes stress on the blood vessels that are taking on this turbulent blood flow. Symptoms of hypertension can include shortness of breath and headaches. However, most of the time you won’t even know you have high blood pressure unless it’s checked (your practitioner is able to do this for you at the clinic). Long term effects of hypertension can be very serious. They include heart attacks and strokes.
I have heard so many patients reporting in the last year that their sleep has been worse than normal during this year of Covid. This is unsurprising. Stress can often lead to insomnia and other sleep problems. This Is also a catch 22 because lack of sleep can increase our stress levels as well – what a mess! Insomnia is defined by severe lack of sleep despite allocated the correct amount of time for sleep and a comfortable sleep environment. Insomnia is considered chronic if it lasts for more than 3 months. This is when you should seek the help of your GP . Not only is Stress linked to insomnia, it’s also linked to sleep apnoea. There are some helpful ways to possibly improve your sleep. This is includes:
When it comes to stress and insomnia, it can also be helpful to have a journal by your bed to ‘brain dump’ things your are feeling anxious or stressed about. The BrainTap App is also great as it offers both sleep meditation and sleep stories to help you drift off. You can read more about BrainTap at Reflex Spinal Health here. CLICK the BrainTap Banner immediately below to try a FREE 15-Day Trial… you don’t even need to add any card details, so give it a try!
The 3rd of our 5 ways stress is affecting your body are stomach issues. Your gut Is full of nerves and bacteria that communicate with the brain. Stress can interfere with this communication. When we are in the fight or flight state, the body decides prepping our bodies for battle does not need to include sending signals and blood to the digestive system to function efficiently. This means that a chronic state of stress reduces the efficiency of our digestive system. This can lead to pain, bloating and loss of appetite. Stress can alternatively also be a trigger for overeating for some people and lead to obesity. This also has its own problems associated.
Being mindful of how you are feeling and relating that back to your diet is a good way to analyse whether you are eating because of how you feel or if you are actually hungry. Eating good quality foods, little and often can also help with the stomach symptoms for some. If you already have an existing digestive issue such as Chrohn’s or IBS, stress can worsen these conditions.
If you are stressed, you may often notice your shoulders are up by your ears and you jaw is clamped shut. This is all part of that fight or flight response again. The body Is priming itself to protect you from potential harm. This Is caused by dilating the blood vessels in you muscles. Over time this chronic tension can lead to long term musculoskeletal problems. This may include tension headaches, migraines, jaw pain and upper back and neck pain.
We then enter a negative cycle once again where this pain then become another source of stress. Both our massage therapists, and our practitioners, can help relieve and manage this tension in the body. Many of our patients tell us that they rely on us to keep this symptom of their stress at bay. Do you suffer with bruxism (teeth grinding)? This is commonly as a result of stress. It may be worth chatting to your dentist about getting a mouthguard to reduce the damage to your teeth.
If you suffer ongoing pain, you will have excess stress! If you are suffering from ongoing anxiety, you may feel musculoskeletal pain. It is simple, physical stress and mental stress are completely entwined. Chiropractic, osteopathy and massage therapy can all have a clear effect on improving musculoskeletal function.
Last, but not least, of our 5 ways stress is affecting your body is the affect on your immune system. There is still little research In this area. If you are someone who seems to constantly have the sniffles then Its thought this could be due to the stress. If your body Is constantly under stress then much of your energy is spent dealing with an ‘imminent attack ‘.
A study was done with 235 adults who were either put In a low-stress category. Over a 6 month period the high stress group reported 70% more respiratory infections and nearly 61% more days of symptoms than the low-stress group. In order to try and counteract this It may be worth looking in to both ways to de-stress but also ways to take care of your immune system. This includes keeping vitamin D and C levels high and keep up your activity levels.
Camilleri, M. and Neri, M., 1989. Motility disorders and stress. Digestive diseases and sciences, 34(11), pp.1777-1786.
Glaser, R. and Kiecolt-Glaser, J., 2009. Stress damages immune system and health. Discovery medicine, 5(26), pp.165-169.
McEwen, B.S., 2008. Central effects of stress hormones in health and disease: Understanding the protective and damaging effects of stress and stress mediators. European journal of pharmacology, 583(2-3), pp.174-185.
Zimmerman, R.S. and Frohlich, E.D., 1990. Stress and hypertension. Journal of hypertension. Supplement: official journal of the International Society of Hypertension, 8(4), pp.S103-7.
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