Stress has both benefits and downfalls. It is an adaptive energy needed for growth and strengthening. We have evolved through the fight or flight response, which provides the physical energy and mental focus to remove us from dangerous situations (Segerstrom, 2006).

Examples of good stress include physical stress on muscles or the vasculature system to further strengthen, alertness as a psychological stress needed to take an exam, or pay attention driving during bad weather. (Cleveland Clinic, 2017)

When stress becomes chronic and mismanaged it is a detriment to our health and well-being.

Examples of unhealthy stress include inadequate recovery from physical, mental and emotional stress of any kind. This could be related to exercise, constant worrying and repetitive thoughts of a negative nature, and even emotions such as depression and anxiety (Cleveland Clinic, 2017).

Prolonged stress leads to hyper physiological levels of cortisol. This alters the effectiveness of cortisol to regulate both the inflammatory and immune response because it decreases tissue sensitivity to cortisol (Segerstrom, 2006).

As the human body heals, inflammation becomes a response to stress. Like stress, inflammation is beneficial, although when inflammation becomes chronic, it can lead to constant tissue breakdown and impairment of the immune system.

“Stressed people’s immune cells become less sensitive to cortisol. They’re unable to regulate the inflammatory response, and therefore, when they’re exposed to a virus, they’re more likely to develop a cold” (Cohen, 2004).

THE THREE KINDS OF STRESS

Stress management can be complicated and confusing because there are different types — acute, episodic acute stress, and chronic — each with its own characteristics, symptoms, duration and treatment approaches. Let’s look at each.

ACUTE STRESS

This is the most common form. It comes from demands and pressures of the recent past and anticipated demands and pressures of the near future. It is thrilling and exciting in small doses, but too much is exhausting. A fast run down a challenging ski slope, for example, is exhilarating early in the day. That same ski run late in the day is taxing and wearing. Skiing beyond your limits can lead to falls and broken bones. By the same token, overdoing on short-term stress can lead to psychological distress, tension headaches, upset stomach and other symptoms.

Fortunately, these symptoms are recognized by most people. It’s a laundry list of what has gone awry in their lives: the auto accident that crumpled the car fender, the loss of an important contract, a deadline they’re rushing to meet, their child’s occasional problems at school and so on.

Because it is short term, acute stress doesn’t have enough time to do the extensive damage associated with long-term stress. The most common symptoms are:

Emotional distress — some combination of anger or irritability, anxiety and depression, the three stress emotions.
Muscular problems including tension headache, back pain, jaw pain and the muscular tensions that lead to pulled muscles and tendon and ligament problems.
Stomach, gut and bowel problems such as heartburn, acid stomach, flatulence, diarrhea, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome.
Transient over-arousal leads to elevation in blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, heart palpitations, dizziness, migraine headaches, cold hands or feet, shortness of breath and chest pain. 

Acute stress can crop up in anyone’s life and is more or less inevitable.

EPISODIC STRESS

There are those who suffer acute stress frequently. They’re always in a rush, but always late. If something can go wrong, it does. They take on too much, have too many irons in the fire, and can’t organize the slew of self-inflicted demands and pressures clamoring for their attention. 

It is common for such people to be over aroused, short-tempered, irritable, anxious and tense. Often, they describe themselves as having “a lot of nervous energy.” Always in a hurry, they tend to be abrupt, and sometimes their irritability comes across as hostility.

The symptoms of episodic acute stress are the symptoms of extended over arousal: persistent tension headaches, migraines, hypertension, chest pain and heart disease. Treating episodic acute stress requires intervention on a number of levels, at times requiring professional help, which may take many months.

CHRONIC STRESS

While acute stress can be thrilling and exciting, chronic stress is not. This is the grinding stress that wears people away day after day, year after year. 

Chronic stress comes when a person never sees a way out of a miserable situation. It’s the stress of unrelenting demands and pressures for seemingly interminable periods of time. With no hope, the individual gives up searching for solutions.

The worst aspect of chronic stress is that people get used to it. They forget it’s there. People are immediately aware of acute stress because it is new; they ignore chronic stress because it is old, familiar, and sometimes, almost comfortable.

Chronic stress kills through suicide, violence, heart attack, stroke and, perhaps, even cancer.  Because physical and mental resources are depleted through long-term attrition, the symptoms of chronic stress are difficult to treat.

MANAGING YOUR STRESS

  • Try to keep a positive attitude.
  • Accept that there are events that you cannot control.
  • Be assertive instead of aggressive. Assert your feelings, opinions, or beliefs instead of becoming angry, defensive, or passive.
  • Learn and practice relaxation techniques; try meditation, yoga, or tai-chi for stress management.
  • Exercise regularly. Your body can fight stress better when it is fit.
  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
  • Learn to manage your time more effectively.
  • Set limits appropriately and learn to say no to requests that would create excessive stress in your life.
  • Make time for friends, hobbies, interests, and relaxation.
  • Get enough rest and sleep. Your body needs time to recover from stressful events.
  • Don’t rely on alcohol, drugs, or compulsive behaviors to reduce stress.
  • Seek out social support. Spend enough time with those you enjoy.
  • Seek treatment with a psychologist or other mental health professional trained in stress management or biofeedback techniques to learn healthy ways of dealing with the stress in your life.

Dr. Smith encourages his clients to seek mental health care when appropriate and helps his patients manage their physical symptoms through a combination of Chiropractic, Massage, Reiki, Craniosacral, Improved Nutrition & a host of other services. 

For more information, please call us at 415-496-0992 or book an appointment online.

References

Cleveland Clinic (2017) Stress. Retrieved from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11874-stress

Cohen, S., (2004) 5 Studies of behavior, biology, and the common cold: A data repository. The Common Cold Project. Retrieved from: https://www.cmu.edu/common-cold-project/

Segerstrom, S., Miller, G., (2006) Psychological stress and the human immune system: A meta-analytic study of 30 years inquiry. Psychological Bulletin, 130(4), 601-630. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1361287/