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Mental Stress

Mental stress and its effect on the body

Patient consultationIt is common to experience anxiety few times in our lives whether it is the nervous fluttery feeling in stomach before speaking in public, sleepless nights before a big test or a deadline or nagging worry about any of life’s stressful situations. Our bodies are well equipped to handle stress in small portions however when the stress becomes constant, chronic or long- term, it can have a serious effect on your body. In this blog, we will talk about how the stress can affect the different systems in your body. We will also discuss the ways to manage the stress and the role of Chiropractic care.

Musculoskeletal System

When there is a stress on your body, muscle starts to tense up. It is a reflex reaction of your body, guarding of the body against injury or pain. With acute onset of stress, muscle tense up and release the tension once the stress passes however chronic stress or long-term stress causes the muscles in the body to be in a more or less constant state of guardedness. When muscles are taut and tense for long periods of time, this may trigger other reactions of the body and even promote stress-related disorders. In an example: Presence of tension-type headache and migraines may associate with chronic muscle tension in the area of the shoulders, neck and head. Musculoskeletal pain in the low back and upper extremities has also been linked to stress, especially job stress.

Respiratory System

This system consists of supplying oxygen to cells and removing carbon-dioxide from your body through the breathing. Stress and strong emotions can present with respiratory symptoms, such as shortness of breath and rapid breathing due to the airway between the nose and the lungs constricts. People with respiratory disease such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are more prone to these effects. Psychological stressors can exacerbate breathing problems and can cause hyperventilation and/or asthma attacks.

Cardiovascular system

This system is made up blood vessels and the heart that work together in providing nourishment and oxygen to the organs of the body. Sudden mental stress causes an increase in heart rate and stronger contractions of the heart muscle, with the stress hormones release such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol (acting as messengers for these effects). Additionally, the blood vessels that direct blood to the large muscles and the heart dilate, thereby increasing the amount of blood pumped to these parts of the body and elevating blood pressure. This is also known as the fight or flight response. Once the acute stress episode has passed, the body returns to its normal state.

However, stress for prolonged period of time can contribute to long-term problems for heart and blood vessels. The consistent and ongoing increase in heart rate, and the elevated levels of stress hormones and of blood pressure, can take a toll on the body. This long-term ongoing stress can increase the risk for hypertension, heart attack, or stroke.

The risk for heart disease associated with stress appears to differ for women, depending on whether the woman is premenopausal or postmenopausal. Levels of estrogen in premenopausal women appears to help blood vessels respond better during stress. Postmenopausal women lose this level of protection due to loss of estrogen, therefore adding them at greater risk for the effects of stress on heart disease.

Endocrine system

When the body is under stress which could be a challenging, threatening, or uncontrollable situation, the brain initiates a cascade of events involving the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is the primary driver of the endocrine stress response. This ultimately results in an increase in the production of steroid hormones called glucocorticoids, which include cortisol, referred as the “stress hormone”.

Gastrointestinal System

Stress can affect the brain-gut communication which may affect pain, bloating, and other gut discomfort to be felt more easily. The gut is also inhabited by millions of bacteria which can influence its health and the brain’s health, which can impact the ability to think and affect emotions. Stress is associated with changes in gut bacteria which can influence mood. Thus, the gut’s nerves and bacteria strongly influence the brain and vice versa. Early life stress can change the development of the nervous system as well as how the body reacts to stress. These changes can increase the risk for later gut diseases or dysfunction.

Oesophagus: Individual may eat much more or much less than usual under stress. More or different foods, or an increase in the use of alcohol or tobacco, can result in heartburn or acid reflux. Stress or exhaustion can also increase the severity of regularly occurring heartburn pain.

Stomach: Stress may cause an unnecessary increase or decrease in appetite. It may also cause pain, bloating, nausea, and other stomach discomfort. Vomiting may occur if the stress is severe enough.

Bowel: Stress can cause pain, bloating, digestion difficulty or discomfort in the bowels. It can affect how quickly food moves through the body, which can cause either diarrhea or constipation. It can induce muscle spasms in the bowel, which can be painful.

Nervous System

This system is comprised of two divisions. Central nervous system (Brain and the spinal cord) and peripheral nervous system (autonomic and somatic nervous systems). The autonomic nervous system has a direct role in physical response to stress and is divided into the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). When the body is stressed, the SNS contributes to what is known as the “fight or flight” response. The body shifts its energy resources toward fighting off a life threat or fleeing from an enemy. Both the SNS and the PNS have powerful interactions with the immune system, which can also modulate stress reactions. The central nervous system is particularly important in triggering stress responses, as it regulates the autonomic nervous system and plays a central role in interpreting contexts as potentially threatening. Chronic stress, experiencing stressors over a prolonged period of time, can result in a long-term drain on the body. As the autonomic nervous system continues to trigger physical reactions, it causes a wear-and-tear on the body.

Management of Stress and the Chiropractic care

The effective strategies for reducing stress response may include Maintaining a healthy social support network. Engaging in regular physical exercise and getting an adequate amount of sleep each night. These strategies benefits for physical and mental health and form critical building blocks for a healthy lifestyle. Yoga also plays an important role in managing stress by relaxing the muscle tension in the body and giving a sense of well-being, and spiritual benefits. In terms of Chiropractic care, the objective of Chiropractic is to locate, analyse and correct any spinal dysfunction. These spinal dysfunctions can be caused by physical, mental and/or chemical stress.

Having chronic or long-term stress on your body can cause muscle tension throughout your body including paraspinal muscles (muscles attached with spine), nerve pressure due to over- working of your brain function. Chiropractors help to address those dysfunctions on the body to ensure optimal function of the brain and the body. If you would like further information and would like to get your spine check, talk to your nearest Chiropractor and start your journey today.