Five ways to alleviate chronic stress and inflammation
By Wendy M. Henrichs
Board Certified Chiropractic Pediatrician and Nutrition Counselor
We are an inflamed and stressed out society. Some stress can be good; it can motivate you to get things done and be productive. Environmental, emotional and physical stressors, when unmanaged, can lead to several negative effects in your body. Chronic stress is a silent killer in our society. How you manage the different types of stress can determine whether you experience its ill effects.
What happens in your body under stress, whether physical, emotional or environmental? Your body detects the stressful event or stimulus and it sets off the fight or flight response also known as a sympathetic response. Your heart rate and blood pressure will increase while your digestion, sex drive, growth hormone and immunity will decrease. Your adrenal glands are activated and release the hormones adrenaline, epinephrine and cortisol. Cortisol is known as your stress hormone. Your anxiety increases under the stress response and the stress hormones inhibit things like factual learning, short term memory and your ability to focus. Your body is responding perfectly, as it self-regulates and maintains something called homeostasis. These things are supposed to happen when under stress. The problem occurs when stress is chronic.
When your body is in a chronic stress response, your immune system is weakened making you more susceptible to infections; inflammation increases in your tissues and organs causing changes in function and pain; you may develop high blood pressure and cardiovascular issues; your sleep is disrupted causing fatigue; your bone density decreases leading to osteopenia and osteoporosis; your digestive system does not work the way it supposed and can lead to GERD, IBS and ulcers; your sex drive is lowered and your adrenal glands can become fatigued. You may have trouble maintaining a healthy weight even though you are working at eating right and exercising regularly.
The good news is you can get out of the stress loop. Here are five ways to manage physical, chemical and emotional stress.
Get moving: Getting daily movement will burn up cortisol. In addition to running, biking, swimming, yoga and weight training will have a similar affect. Remember that weight training will increase your metabolism long after your workout is done making it easier to maintain a healthy weight. Work towards 150 minutes of weekly movement and exercise or about 30 minutes – five days a week.
Eat a clean diet and eliminate added sugar: Eating a clean diet of organic meats, fruits and vegetables will eliminate a large source of toxins that add stress to your system. Sugar causes increases in your insulin levels. Cortisol is released to combat increases in insulin in the blood. This will lead to all the same affects as if you were under stress. Eliminating added sugar and toxins from your diet will reduce inflammation in your tissues, decrease pain syndromes and improve digestion as well as removing a source of added fat storage.
Deep breathing: A minute of deep breathing will lower your stress hormone. Deep breathing has been shown to lower your blood pressure and heart rate. Have you ever been in a stressful situation and taken a deep breath or two? I bet you noticed that you felt better. Today’s smart watches even tell you to take a deep breathing time out. Take a deep breathing time out during your morning coffee break or over your lunch hour after a short walk. Practice a minute of deep breathing before you go to sleep and enjoy more restful slumber.
Laugh more: The average child laughs around 300 times a day. Adults sadly laugh around 15 times a day. There must be something to being a kid at heart. Laughter has been shown to lower cortisol levels and improve your heart health. Find something to give you a great belly laugh every day and repeat many times.
Take a technology vacation and be positive: Technology can be a significant source of added emotional stress in your life. Do you feel anxiety or stress when you are watching or reading the news? Try taking a break. You can set restrictions on your smart phone as to how much time is spent on social media and news sites. You can also take a full vacation for a day, a weekend, or longer. There is also something to a positive mental attitude. You have events and experiences in life. It is how you see or view those events that determines what kind of emotion you experience. You can view any event or experience as positive, negative or neutral. Try switching the way you view any event or experience to something neutral or positive and see stress melt from your mind.
Stress is something we experience every day. Put a positive spin on stress by trying these strategies to lower your stress hormone cortisol. The side effects are improvements in memory, sleep, digestion, pain, decreased inflammation and better weight control.
Dr. Wendy Henrichs is a board certified chiropractor and nutrition counselor at Timber Land Chiropractic in Rhinelander. For a complimentary chiropractic, nutrition or lifestyle counseling consultation, visit TimberlandChiropractic.com, Facebook, or call 715-362-4852.