• Dr. Caroline Ricker

Want to Stress Less? We’ve got you covered!

If you followed out post last week, then you learned about how stress can heavily affect your digestion. This week we are going to focus on what stress is, sources of stress and how to limit it as much as you can!

So you’ve got stress. We all do, but what exactly is stress? “Stress” is defined as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” While that covers what people think stress is, it doesn’t really explain what stress really is on the physical plane.

Stress affects our body in three different forms: physical, chemical (environmental) and emotional. For most people, the focus is always on the emotional stress. Which is why lots of people are still really stressed; because they are missing two thirds of their body’s stress sources when they work to alleviate stress.

Before we dive into our stress sources, let’s talk briefly about what stress does to your body. Whether your body experiences a physical stress like running away from a giant murder hornet, a chemical stress like a medication or an emotional stress like an angry boss, the response it relatively similar in the body. When a stressor occurs, it’s interpreted in the hypothalamus in your brain who then shares the info with his buddy the pituitary gland. The pituitary then secrets a substance that activates little glands called the adrenal glands which are perched on top of your kidneys.

The adrenal glands produce the steroid hormone cortisol as well as the hormone adrenaline. The effects of these hormones combined will raise your blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate and blood sugar levels. They will also lower your digestion rate and ability to heal. This is all fine and good if you are experiencing an emergency that would require this type of response like running from an attacker, but it’s no fun if this is your everyday reality due to high levels of each type of stress.

Now that we know what our bodies are responding to, let’s lay out our top hidden sources of stress that many people don’t consider and therefor can’t address.

1. Posture – Did you know that if your spine is out of its normal motion and alignment you actually have to exert effort just to stay upright? This is why it often feels like such a relief to fall into bed or a comfy couch, because you are eliminating the work that you didn’t even know your body was doing. And no, the solution to this is not to stay in bed all day (there would be a whole other list of stressful effects of that!). The solutions to limiting this stress would be to have your spine checked, preferably by a chiropractor as they specialize in spinal alignment. Address your core muscles and posture muscles of the back. If these are strong and well activated then you won’t exert nearly as much energy and stress from holding good posture. Check the ergonomics of places like your car, work set up and any other space you find yourself in regularly.

2. Food – Food should be a source of nourishment and good for us. Unfortunately the SAD (standard American diet…yes it’s really called that) is full of junky processed convenience foods stuffed with toxins eaten at a fast pace. These toxins put a heavy stress load on the body all on their own. Add into the equation as discussed above that your body’s ability to digest well is suppressed and your blood sugar is already elevated while you max out on carbohydrates, it’s no wonder diseases like heart disease and diabetes run rampant. The steps here should be obvious. Start working towards whole fresh foods. Decrease your carbs. Talk with a functional medicine doctor about repairing any damage to your gut so that you can get your digestion back on track.

3. Lack of Sleep – most people think they have a lack of sleep due to stress. The kicker is that losing sleep is a massive stressor on your body. Deep sleep is when our body repairs. Our brain needs down time to re-organize and process everything that went down throughout the day. This process is important to let your brain stay working efficiently. When we mess up our sleep cycles, get to bed too late and stay hopped up on stimulants our brain never gets this chance to recoup leaving you feeling fragmented, fatigued, brain fogged and needing even more of those stimulants just to get your through your tasks. So cut the coffee and Red Bulls after 12pm, turn off screens (TV, phones, tablets) one hour fore bed, keep your bedroom cool and dark and work to get at minimum seven hours of sleep.

Knowing how to reduce hidden stressor will be a key factor in helping to reduce many of its negative effects. If you’ve been dealing with stress long term, which many of us have, then it is super important to take time for self-care and get your body back on track. If you feel you need help finding out where your sources of stress and damage are, I highly suggest a functional medicine practitioner. This type of physician will take a deep look into your current and past history to locate all of your stressors, the damages they’ve caused and find a solution to help get your health on track.

Dr. Caroline Ricker has been passionately helping people avoid unnecessary medications and surgeries since 2009. She combines a very logical functional medicine approach to digestive disorders and more using a more alternative holistic approach, utilizing standard lab tests and in-office evaluations as well as nutrition, acupuncture and homeopathy.

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