People seem to be more stressed than ever. And yes, it seems that we are living in stressful times. In fact, almost every major publication has published an article about stress and its damaging effects. Time, Newsweek, Men’s Health, Redbook, and just about every magazine you will ever see has had a cover story on stress. Stress has been linked to every ailment you can think of from heart attack to stroke, from cancer to anxiety, from anorexia to colitis, Alzheimer’s, and more.
People tend to have a very amorphous understanding of stress, though. We think we know what stresses us out, but do we? For example, both weddings and divorces can be stressful, but because we can have different emotional responses to the former vs the latter, we may not consider it stress. In terms of responding to stress, any outside force, input, or information could be perceived by our nerve system as stress. Our minds determine if we interpret that outside force or interaction and mentally tag it as stressful. However, as it turns out, your body doesn’t know the difference, and that’s why it can be dangerous to your health.
All stress can put your body into an alert state. That alert state might involve a shift of your neural system to “fight or flight” mode, what we call the sympathetic nervous system, and flood your body with stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. It is like living your life with the gas pedal down all the time. If you always have the pedal to the floor when driving your car, you’re going to run out of resources, a particular resource: fuel. Same thing with your body. If your body is always in fight or flight and responding to things from that place, then what will happen if you’re going to run out of resources quickly. The result of that will start showing up in different parts of your body.
Conversely, driving a vehicle with the parking brake on will wear down other resources: your brakes. The other half of your nervous system is the parasympathetic system, or “rest and digest”. If stress overstimulates that system, you can be stuck with the parking brake on, unable to get going, or trying to move and burning out your brake system.
If our nerve system is balanced between those two different systems, gas pedal, and brake pedal, fight or flight and rest and digest, sympathetic and parasympathetic, then we can be at ease and incoming stress will be dealt with in a more non-threatening manner. On the other hand, if the nervous system is already overloaded on either side, then any new event is going to be viewed as overwhelming and absorbed in a destructive manner. Often when we have tension and stress in our nervous system and our nervous system is overloaded, we will refer to that as wired up, high-strung, strung out, or ready to snap. These common terms are very accurate in describing what is actually taking place internally.
Understand that neural behavior changes and neural responses impact your structure, in that your structure changes by how your nervous system is behaving and reacting to things. Since muscles are coordinated by the nerve system, they get irritated, contract, tense up, and get out of balance. That has an impact on bones. Think about how stress can often manifest in the neck, upper or lower back, or different musculoskeletal areas. If you ask people the following question: Where is your stress holding you hostage? each person could point to where it is that their body is manifesting signs of stress, and how they feel it.
As muscles fire and shift under stress, it creates structural shifts in the skeletal bony structure and alters the relationship between joints, hips, knees, ankles, your neck, your head, and your middle spine. What happens next is interesting: this new structural shift now becomes the norm. It becomes how people live, the state of their body, and what they accept is the normal way they hold their body as well as how they respond to their world. In fact, the structural shifts can lock in the neural behavior and make it so everything that’s going on in the present is experienced through a lens of past stresses. It becomes is as if current stress responses are initiated from multiple past events that are still going on.
As it turns out, neural behavior changes and structural shifts from stress change our perception. The cumulative effects of the increased nerve tension, muscle tension, and structural shifts lead to obstructions in the coordination of the body through the spine. This then further disrupts the nervous system and continues a vicious cycle that has repercussions on your internal organs. As time marches on, as stress erodes the body, symptoms start to surface more and more, followed by pathological breakdowns and this lack of ease, or dis-ease, shifts toward actual disease over time.
Everyone has experienced stress at one time or another as tension in their neck or back, followed by an edginess that feels difficult to control. What’s the connection from this intangible thing, stress, to what we experience and feel in our bodies, and how do we shift that?
Rather than waiting until things are so out of hand that you experience even worse symptoms or manifest disease, it’s a lot better to optimize the neural structural system. You can prevent potentially devastating effects of stress by keeping the nervous system flexible, adaptable, responsive, and you can have a better experience of life because you’re not tagging your present activity with the events of the past. We can counteract your response to stress by clearing the nervous system of obstructions, freeing the path of your body’s innate ability to respond to stress yielding greater capacity to recover from stress and be at your best. Find out if we can optimize your neuro-structural system by having a complimentary consultation today.