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How Stress Affects Your Body's Ability to Heal


woman holding headStress is an inevitable part of life, and it’s not always bad. It stimulates our nervous system and can act as a catalyst for growth, pushing us to adapt and become stronger. However, chronic stress, if not properly managed, can have severe implications for our overall health.

The Physiological Effects

The way we perceive our surroundings directly influences our stress levels. Whether we find ourselves in a happy, stressful, or caring environment, it’s our interpretation of these situations that dictates our stress response.

Just like the buildup of toxins and chemicals can harm our bodies, so can the accumulation of physical and emotional stress. For instance, lifting weights at the gym is a form of physical stress. In the right dosage, this stress can be beneficial, prompting our bodies to adapt and grow stronger. Similarly, challenging emotional situations can help us develop resilience and better prepare us for future stressful circumstances.

However, when we find ourselves in a continuous state of stress, our bodies react by releasing hormones. If these hormones stay elevated for prolonged periods, they can lead to long-term health consequences, such as high blood pressure, increased blood sugar levels, and a higher heart rate. This cascade of metabolic reactions can lead to what is known as metabolic syndrome.

Understanding Our Response

Our body’s response to stress is regulated by two systems: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic response is often referred to as “fight or flight.” For example, if a large dog chases you, your body will shift into this sympathetic state, diverting blood from your vital organs to your muscles to allow you to run away. However, during this process, other bodily functions, such as digestion, reproductive function, and your immune system, shut down.

In a safe environment, these parameters return to normal. But if we stay in a stressful environment, such as being stuck in traffic or having a stressful day at work, our bodies remain in that sympathetic state. Multiplying that by weeks, months or even decades, we can start to see how this can lead to numerous health issues including, immune and digestive problems, high blood pressure, and a loss of energy to get through the day just to name a few.

Balancing Stress with Relaxation

To counterbalance the effects of chronic stress, we need to spend more time in a parasympathetic state, also known as the “rest and digest” state. This is the state in which our bodies can heal and repair. Many of us, however, spend too much time in a sympathetic state and very little in a parasympathetic one.

Finding ways to transition between these states is crucial. This could involve activities such as:

    • Keeping a gratitude journal
    • Stretching
    • Meditating
    • Doing breathing exercises (e.g. box breathing)

With this type of breathing, you breathe in 4 seconds in and hold it for 4 and out for 4. Then repeat.

The Importance of Sleep

Improving your sleep quality and duration can also help balance these systems. Chronic lack of sleep can keep our bodies in constant alert, creating a cycle of stress. Aiming for at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night can help our bodies shift from a sympathetic state to a parasympathetic one, allowing healing and restoration.

While stress is a natural part of life, understanding its impact and finding ways to manage it effectively can greatly improve our overall health and wellbeing.

Looking to experience less stress and more gentle, natural healing? Contact Lindenwoods Chiropractic today to book an appointment for chiropractic care. And check out our doctors’ The Healthy Commute podcast to learn more!

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