Stress. One short word, but with big ramifications for the human body. You probably read the word and thought about how stressed you are, and that’s become the norm in this day and age. Whether it’s stress from work, personal finance, family or anywhere else. Let’s face it our lives are full of it.
Most people think of stress as a massive negative, which is understandable given the reputation it has been given. But what if I told you stress is essential to your development?
Without stress humans would not grow or develop. Stress is the key element that kickstarts growth, muscles don’t grow without stressing them before, your bones don’t strengthen if they aren’t subjected to stress, even your brain doesn’t develop if it isn’t stressed in the appropriate way.
So the question is, why is stress so bad then?
In short, it's not all bad, just one specific type of stress. Chronic. Chronic stress, be it physical or psychological, is detrimental to the body eventually. Today I’m going to focus on psychological, as it’s the one we all know well.
So what does stress do to the body?
Well the body responds to stress the same way every time, by releasing a hormone called cortisol. It does this using the Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis for short. I don’t want to write that in full again). In the short term cortisol has positive effects on the body, essential to the immediate function required. In the long term heightened levels of cortisol can lead to a whole host of things that you just don’t want.
Decreased immune function
Reduces the production of bone, leading to osteoporosis
Damages the hippocampus(where memories are formed) so short term memory loss becomes an issue. It can also damage the retrieval of stored memories
Disrupted sleep. Cortisol levels play a large part in the sleeping pattern of humans, elevated levels tend to disrupt this pattern.
There is a whole host of other issues that can be caused by elevated cortisol levels, but these are the big ones.
How can we reduce the effects stress has on our body?
Well you might be surprised by this but you don’t necessarily have to reduce stress to reduce its effects, although that will work. You can actually reduce the effects it has on your body by changing the way you view stress. It runs back to what I said at the beginning of this blog, stress leads to growth. And this growth helps us better deal with the stresses our lives throw at us. Finding stresses that matter and acting upon them provide us with this growth. For example, someone who is suffering with cardiovascular issues that are a direct result of their bodyweight. They have every right to be stressed, but by improving their situation with diet and exercise they grow as a person and become stronger, turning the negative experience into one that is overwhelmingly positive. This positive experience leads to the production of a number of hormones, one of which is oxytocin, which actually reduces inflammation within your body and strengthens your heart, pretty cool right?
It has also been shown in studies that people who choose to help others and experience compassion don’t show the relationship you’d expect between stress and health. This is once again due to the production of oxytocin, when you form a connection with another person oxytocin is produced, leading to a reversal of all of the negatives stress might be causing.
If you're still looking to reduce stress in general, there are a number of things you can do. Start by getting some exercise, exercise has been proven to be one of the best stress relievers out there! Next you can try meditation, I've written a previous blog about meditation so i wont go into much detail, but meditating teaches you to relax properly, what better way to relieve stress? Thirdly, try eating a healthier diet. The foods we eat have a massive effect on our psychological state. making sure you get the right amounts of vitamins, minerals, fats, carbs and protein will help to reduce stress levels.
What can an osteopath do to help?
You might think that we just deal with musculoskeletal complaints, some of you might think we only deal with back pain. But the truth is us osteopaths like to look in depth to find the source of a persons problem. We look at the physical and psychological factors that may be causing you to be in pain, then once we find the source of the problem we treat that. We might be looking at your breathing, as this is directly linked to stress and anxiety, we might simply be providing reassurance, or we may even refer to another healthcare professional if we think it would help. The point is, for many musculoskeletal complaints we see, there is a large psychological factor that can be attributed to it. If we don't address this factor, the pain will either persist, or come back at some point in the future.
The lesson to take away from this blog is that you shouldn’t view stress as an overwhelmingly negative experience, view it as an opportunity to grow and improve as a person, and ultimately the effects of stress will be positive rather than negative. To do this however, you must focus on the stresses that are important and of consequence, and don’t bother thinking about those that have no real effect on your life (e.g. traffic).
I hope you all have a wonderfully stressful day! (see what I did there?)