In the Bay Area- stress is high an continually increasing. Isn’t it normal? What does it matter anyway? Well, stress is normal and dealing with stress is good as it improves brain performance. But too much stress is not good.
Luckily, there is a solution. But before we get into what you can do to empower yourself, know that stress is a necessary response that we were innately given to help us survive in the world. Stress is a response that triggers our Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) to survive by a “fight or flight” response. This is what keeps you alive when given the choice to run or fight a tiger in the jungle. The thing is, we do not cross these types of emergencies daily but that doesn’t stop the triggering of the SNS. Being caught up in traffic, late for an appointment- boom, triggers it. Standing in line at the bank with only one teller when you have another appointment to get to- stressed again. Drinking coffee in the morning, another after lunch, then afternoon to get you through the day. You get my point- we have all been there. Living in this state is known as Sympathetic Dominance.
The SNS should only be activated only when there is life threatening situation. However, in today's world, the SNS is alive and well on a daily basis. The health implications of living with high stress is dangerous and potentially deadly. This increased stress worsens or increases the risk of conditions like obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems, and asthma. Some studies have said that up to 75 to 90% of all diseases stem from stress. So if many diseases stem from stress, isn't it reasonable to think we can prevent disease by dealing with stress better? Getting rid of all of the triggers is not realistic. Traffic is going anywhere. I could go on and on, but you know what you can and cannot change.
Is there a solution? Yes, the answer is activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) which is the opposite system, the rest, digest, and recover system. These two systems naturally counteract each other and work to achieve a natural balance. The truth is our bodies are meant to spend most of the time in a PNS state which is quite the opposite of what most people experience.
You can active your PNS with some easy changes physically, emotionally, chemically. Keep in mind that you only have to do one thing different to start. So many times I see patients take an all or nothing approach which is a set up to fail.
First, exercise. Rigorous exercise is not the type of activity that will help you here as it actually activates your fight or flight system. However, walking or swimming for at least 30 minutes per day at least five days per week is perfect. If you choose to walk, make sure you are wearing good walking shoes. Time yourself so you can get a regular route for a 30 minute walk. Before work is always nice as it sets up your day of calm. I like swimming which is easy on your joints. You actually feel better getting out of the pool then when you get it. If you are not a swimmer already, take lessons. In a few weeks, you will be good to go. Local community centers are a great place to take lessons. Start out slowly, and increase your workout so you can do steady laps. You can increase your laps as your cardio and endurance improves. Very important, you must have recovery days so as not to over train (over-training will put your body into a sympathetic dominance).
The second thing is to minimize mental and emotional stress which makes it easier for your body to get into the PNS state. Control the controllable is a great motto. If you have no control over it, why spend time on it. There are things you do have control over, focus on them. Meditation is also a great way to activate the PNS, thus balancing your nervous system. There are so many different ways to meditate. You can get an app on your phone for a guided meditation. Doing positive affirmations for a few minutes is another great way. Massage can also activate the PNS. Focus on letting go of all thought when getting a massage. Can't say that is possible when getting a deep tissue sports massage, but a relaxing massage- easier to get into the place of relaxation and calm.
The next is chemically which is anything that you put in your body that makes biochemical changes to your state of balance. Caffeine is a big one. Now I am one to have my coffee in the morning. Can't see life without it. That is not what I am talking about. The caffeine changes that I am talking about are when you drink it all day in order to keep going. This is burning out your adrenal system which is keeping your SNS in overdrive. If you can drink coffee close to bed time and fall asleep, it is likely your adrenal system is not working well. You can rehab your adrenal system by only having 1-2 cups of coffee in the morning. If you must have some later in the day, make it caffeine free. At first, your body will be dragging as it is used to artificial energy from coffee. Be patient, your adrenal system will start to work again. You may also supplement your adrenal system to help it heal faster. Before any supplementation, you should always check with your physician. Avoiding fast food is also a great way to avoid unwanted chemicals. Really, there is no telling what you are eating. The best way to avoid unwanted chemicals is buy organic vegetables and fruit. And only use meats that have no antibiotics and are grass fed.
And lastly, and most importantly, your nervous system should be checked and balanced. If there is an area of the spine that is subluxated, causing a nerve interference, this can effect your bodies ability to balance. After an adjustment, you can feel the difference. Your body goes into the PNS giving you a more grounded feeling. You may sleep better, feel rested upon waking, digestion gets better, increased energy. All signs your system is balanced.
To conclude, you do have control with how stress effects your health. You do have the power to help your body function better, thus increasing your quality of life while decreasing sickness possibilities. Exercise, meditate, massage, eat well, and get your spine checked!
Be well, live well