These days, we are all juggling multiple responsibilities, such as work, school, childcare, care of older family members, etc. And as a result, many people are experiencing long periods of chronic stress. Chiropractor Dr. Stephanie Louie explains that our bodies deal with stress through the nervous system, which has two parts, and how a holistic, combined approach of daily exercise and activity, and chiropractic care can help you de-stress.
Your Nervous System and how stress develops
the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Whether the stressor is physical or perceived, it triggers our fight or flight response, which affects every part of the body. The brain’s hypothalamus stimulates the SNS, which increases our heart rate, blood volume, and blood pressure; directs blood away from digestion and the extremities; and sharpens both vision and hearing. The adrenal glands secrete corticoids, including adrenaline, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. These responses have been hardwired into us for thousands of years, and are very helpful when running from danger, like a fire or a bear.
“We aren’t meant to be exposed to stress on a prolonged basis,” says Dr. Louie. “Our lives are so busy today that we are constantly dealing with stress, be it traffic or experiencing stress at work. The effect of long-term exposure to stress on our bodies is very negative.”
These effects include high blood pressure, damage to muscle tissue, and weakening the immune system. Chronic stress can result in prolonged muscle tension and contraction, which puts uneven pressure on the bones, often leading to misalignment of the spinal column.
Dr. Louie’s Approach
When a patient comes in to see Dr. Louie at her Saanich-area Chiropractic practice, Mind Body Spine, she asks them about stress. When she performs a spinal adjustment on the patient, it takes pressure off the nervous system. Often after an adjustment, Dr. Louie hears from patients that they are sleeping better and their immune system function has improved. This is because the body’s PNS kicks in to help with recovery from stress through aiding with digestion and sleep. It cannot perform these functions well when the SNS is working in high gear.
Through taking a holistic approach, Dr. Louie often advises patients about other things they can do to give their bodies a break from the stress they are experiencing.
“A lot of people have stressful jobs, or are in a rush after work to pick up kids, get dinner on the table, and take kids to their after-school extracurricular activities,” Dr. Louie says. “They can’t always change those things, but I can recommend ways each patient can reduce their body’s exposure to stress.”
These tactics might include lunch break exercises, breathing techniques, or other practical tips, like avoiding toxic people. Dr. Louie finds that most people benefit from meditation, which encourages mindfulness and helps the prefrontal cortex to function better, forming new pathways to enhance performance. For some patients, yoga helps them to de-stress. For others, high-intensity interval training is helpful by releasing endorphins. She also works collaboratively with physiotherapists and massage therapists and may recommend sessions with those professionals in addition to chiropractic adjustments to work on a specific problem.
Nutrition is another factor in relieving stress. Dr. Louie can recommend specific vitamins and supplements based on each patient’s needs, but also recommends cutting out sugar and processed foods as much as possible.