In order for you to understand why stress might be contributing to your symptoms, you need to understand what happens in your body when you are stressed (physically, chemically, and/or emotionally).
When your nervous system detects a stressor, it initiates a stress response, also known as “fight or flight”. Hormones (epinephrine and cortisol) are released from your adrenal glands and as a result, certain body functions increase such as your heart rate, blood pressure, etc., and some decrease such as your digestion, sex drive, immunity, etc.
Here are some other interesting facts: those same hormones which stimulate your body while you are stressed also stimulate the area in the brain that processes emotions, affect your ability to focus, increase the sensitivity in the nerves responsible for feeling pain, and increase your cravings for fats and sugars. Have you ever felt more anxious when you were exposed to a similar stressor that you have experienced in the past? Could this be mistaken for attention deficit disorder (ADD)? Could you be feeling more pain than you are supposed to because you are under chronic stress? Do you find yourself craving more sweets than usual?
Here’s the thing; you can actually control this, and stop it! Obviously, if you remove the physical or chemical stress, the stress response will stop. As for emotional stress, I won’t go into all the endocrinology involved here, but your brain can stop the stress response if you change what you focus on; meaning, if you start focusing on positive thoughts (i.e. your faith in God that He will provide) instead of the negative thoughts, you can alter your own hormonal chemistry, thus reversing the process. Now this does not happen overnight, but it does happen; here’s why: The thoughts that you have on a regular basis are going to sensitize the resulting nerve pathways, in order to make them more efficient. This is called neuroplasticity. If you have had the tendency in the past to dwell on negative thoughts, you are going to be a lot more likely to feel anxious when a negative situation arises, because you have trained your body over time to sensitize those nerve pathways, and release the stress hormones associated with those thoughts. By starting to re-train yourself to focus on more positive thoughts, with time, you will re-educate your body to re-sensitize the proper nerve pathways, thus creating a more appropriate hormonal response the next time you encounter an emotional stress.
This is very important to understand because what is the most common approach to these symptoms? High blood pressure = diuretics, erectile dysfunction = PDE5 inhibitors, anxiety/depression = antidepressants, ADD = psychostimulants, pain = pain killers/anti-inflammatories. All can have serious side effects, but more importantly, none of these drugs address the CAUSE; they only address the symptom.
Therefore, may you reflect this week in order to determine if your thoughts, or some other physical or chemical stress, might be contributing to some of your symptoms, and may you take the appropriate steps in order to remove them if necessary. Now that’s true stress management!
Dr. Pierre Paradis is a Kanata Chiropractor. He is a Certified Maximized Living Mentor and is the co-owner of Hazeldean Family Chiropractic Clinic in Kanata, Ontario, which has won the Kanata Kourier-Standard Reader’s Choice award for 2009, 2010, 2011, as well as the Ottawa West Magazine Reader’s Choice Award for 2011.