Time to De-stress

Time to De-stress

  Article by Jan Müller

We often tend to think that stress has something to do with the high-speed, overwhelming nature of modern life. After all, this is a justifiable belief in a Western society where almost everyone — from young children to elderly adults — somehow feels that they ‘just don’t have the time.’ But checking in with people during this strange period, in which most of us do have more time on our hands, actually shows us that there is not less tension or stress in our lives. In reality, the inner pressure is still there, even though our external conditions are rather different.

‘Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions not outside.’

Marcus Aurelius These words from a Roman emperor and stoic philosopher show us that stress is not a modern phenomenon: in fact, it is a deeply human phenomenon, one that has a profound physical, mental, and emotional effect on our wellbeing. So, let’s press pause. It’s time to understand what stress is and where it takes place within us. When thinking about stress, Chiropractic is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. However, Chiropractic is a powerful tool for aligning our system in a deep and effective way. Among a vast variety of techniques to treat muscles, joints and nerves, its focus is on adjusting the spine. This special emphasis on spinal health is unique to Chiropractic, enabling it to influence a diverse range of conditions, including many which are stress-related. Stress, can have many triggers: a long to-do list, a phone call from the bank, a strong emotional reaction that knocks us off balance… But the truth is that the most detrimental effects of stress actually come from chronic stress, with no such immediate trigger being directly involved.

The difference between acute and chronic stress responses

In both acute and chronic stress responses, two areas of the brain are significantly involved: the amygdala (an emotional center of the brain) and the hypothalamus (the command center of the brain).
In an acute stress response, the amygdala and hypothalamus work together to essentially release adrenaline into the system. Adrenaline, together with the nervous system, causes a higher breathing rate, increased blood pressure, and increased heart rate, channeling blood away from the organs and towards the muscles — cumulatively readying the body for fight or flight.

This primary response is natural and does not cause any lasting harm. However, after this a secondary response kicks in, which may have severe implications on us mentally, emotionally, and physically. In this phase, the phase of chronic stress, the brain signals to the adrenal glands to produce cortisol, a hormone which keeps the body alert and holds the whole system in the state of stress response described above, making it vulnerable to a range of diseases and dysfunctions.
Many diseases have been linked to chronic stress — principally heart disease, diabetes, cancer, autoimmune diseases, depression, and anxiety. Chronic stress causes the parts of the brain responsible for our emotions (the limbic system) to shrink, and nerve cells in these areas start to lose their manifold connections to other nerve cells.

However, going through an acute stress response does not necessarily imply that your body will enter the chronic phase. It is very much possible to halt the process in its first phase, but for this we need some fundamental understanding of the fact that we are the ones who control this continuum of agitation.
In order to gain this understanding, most of us need to practice in simplified conditions. When you go through an acute stress response and remain within it for an extended time, there are positive steps you can take. The first step is the recognition that you are undergoing a chronic stress response (including physical pain, muscle tension, and so on). Secondly, you can help yourself by either applying your own stress management tools, or by consulting a health care practitioner like a chiropractor, who can help you relax your system and reset. If you are looking for quick relief, this is the point where you will already feel better, relieved of many symptoms, and ready to go back to your normal ways. However, if you are looking for a longer-term solution, you can try going deeper through therapy, unveiling and releasing the root causes that trigger stress responses in your life, and reaching a deep sense of balance and stability.

To clarify: Chiropractic cannot simply take away your stress. However, it can release you from distressing physical and mental symptoms — permitting you to function well in difficult times, or to use the time of relief and clarity to contemplate your lifestyle. Your chiropractor will happily help you figure out the best specific means for you.

Because stress has a fundamental physical dimension (i.e. the activation of certain brain areas and hormones involved in stress responses), Chiropractic can be a beneficial treatment. Indeed, in so many ways, Chiropractic is much more than ‘just’ adjusting the patient’s back and neck. The mechanical adjustment of the spine is scientifically proven to have a variety of positive effects. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for rest and recovery, it changes the activity of the brain and it affects deeply the statics of our body. Nevertheless, there are many effects of Chiropractic that cannot be explained yet.

The two sides of Chiropractic

In order to dive deeper into the benefits of Chiropractic, let’s distinguish between two types of symptoms. Certainly, this is an oversimplification of the matter, but for our purposes it is best to divide them into neuromuscular-skeletal ailments (conditions related to the muscles, joints, or nervous system) and those that happen beyond the neuromuscular-skeletal level.

For instance, when you have a sprained ankle and see a chiropractor who works with the joint to ease it off, this is primarily operating on the muscular-skeletal level. However, when you see a chiropractor for conditions like dizziness, chronic pain, or other, more complex conditions, this goes beyond the neuromuscular-skeletal level. Scientific research has not yet concretely proven how the more complex effects of Chiropractic are brought about, but more recent research has focused on the effects of Chiropractic on the brain, yielding surprising results. It seems that many of these effects are brought about by a specific stimulation of the brain: in this way, a chiropractor can actually help shift our autonomous nervous system away from stress response and towards a relaxation response. Furthermore, Chiropractic can influence the release of stress hormones so that, for example, less cortisol is produced and the corresponding prolonged stress response is diminished.

In brief…

To summarize, here are just some of the positive impacts that Chiropractic seems to have on human stress responses: 

  • 1. activating the parts of the nervous system responsible for rest and recovery;
  • 2. reducing cortisol levels;
  • 3. releasing stress-related muscle tension. 

We are still a long way from understanding how Chiropractic truly works, but we are gaining further glimpses into the effects of chiropractic treatments on the higher centers of the body. Due to the promising results and research in the field, we can only imagine what other benefits could be discovered in due course.

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