Unfortunately, for many of us, this word may be all too familiar. Normally, “stress” is our body’s way of responding to physical and mental challenges, however, when we experience too much of it our bodies can respond with illness and chronic disease.
In this edition of Neurology Insights, we are going to unpack what it means to have “chronic stress” and discuss how our bodies respond to it. We will examine what ongoing stress does to the neurological system and what steps can be taken to remove it so that you can move on to living a more peaceful, meaningful and healthier life.
What is Chronic Stress?
If you experience the following symptoms on a regular basis, you may be suffering from chronic stress: Anxiety, heart palpitations, lack of energy, nervousness, trouble sleeping, muscle weakness and aches, brain fog, depression, high blood pressure, lightheadedness, or unexplained sweating.
These symptoms are just a few that have been shown to reveal underlying stress in the body. When these symptoms linger around for too long without being remedied, the immune system weakens over time, leading to greater susceptibility to disease and disorder.
The latest scientific breakthroughs have shown a direct link between stress and medical conditions ranging from diabetes and heart disease to hypertension and cancer. Tremors, aggravation of underlying illnesses such as Parkinson’s Disease and Dementia can also be seen.
Our bodies have a hard time keeping up with a constant abnormal supply of stress hormones, making it increasingly difficult to heal and repair the cells necessary for longevity and health.
Why Is This Happening?
When facing chronic stress, your body has not “turned off” its flight-or-flight response system (sympathetic nervous system) which is regulated by your nervous system. It prevents the relaxation nervous system (parasympathetic nervous system) from activating, thereby leading to less calm and relaxation. It is very much like keeping your foot on the accelerator, and never using the brake!
This causes an ongoing supply of adrenaline (the stress chemical) and cortisol to your bloodstream causing both physical and mental changes in the brain over time. While this is helpful when true imminent the danger is ahead, this response can be debilitating to your body and your brain when activated over long periods of time.
Ways to Cope
It is nearly impossible to eliminate all external stressors. Whether it be environmental triggers or challenges in your career or relationships, many things are often out of our control. When I first started practicing a few decades ago, I would tell my patients to simply “get rid of stress”. That was a very simple and unrealistic instruction! We all have stress in our life. The key is to manage the stress, so it does not come out as an illness.
The best thing you can do to give your body the ample resources it needs to tone down the hyperactive stress responses is to first remove as many stressors as you are able to and then commit to finding a solution to deal with the stressful situations that you cannot eliminate.
Ways to begin
Start with proper nutrition, a good night’s rest and the elimination of triggers such as nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol.
Next, cultivate a number of relaxation techniques to help cope with stress.
For many, this may come in the form of meditation, mindfulness training, therapeutic breathing, stretching, biofeedback or neurofeedback, or tai chi, and for others it may be necessary to combine with medication.
Either way, setting aside the time for yourself to breathe and enjoy activities that bring you peace and relaxation should be at the top of your list.
In the end, your brain and your body will thank you. And as I tell my patients, if you do not take care of yourself, you can’t take care of family, friends, work, or anything in your world that is important to you!
“To Cure Sometimes, To Heal Often, To Comfort Always”
If you have any questions related to hydration or would like to schedule an appointment, please contact the Neurology Office for more help.
Neurology Office, Joseph Kandel M.D. and Associates
“Concierge medicine without the concierge price”