Humans need stress. The body’s natural response to stress drives processes that keep you healthy and fit. Modern life, however, often dishes out too much of a good thing.
When your body is confronted with stress, the hypothalamus signals the adrenal glands to produce the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which speed up heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, and metabolism. Muscles contract and are put on alert, while the liver releases some of its stored glucose to increase available energy. Pupils dilate to improve vision and sweat glands activate to cool the body. This process is the healthy stress response that has kept humanity alive for thousands of years. Coping with draining situations like divorce or work pressures results in a state of chronic stress. The unrelenting nature of this type of stress causes depletion of the body’s resources. A run-down immune system causes illness. In response, the nervous system redoubles its efforts. The adrenal-gland malfunction and exhaustion that follows lead to feeling run-down, which we self-medicate with too much coffee or energy drinks— making things worse.
The feedback loop that results from chronic stress causes insomnia, headaches, ulcers, heart disease, heart attacks, and numerous other illnesses. It attacks the areas of your body that are weak due to previous injury or genetic predisposition. As the primary drivers of chronic stress are lifestyle related, it takes a lifestyle-related method to interrupt it. I call my strategy the DREAM sequence: a five-pronged list of stress reducing life habits.
First is diet.
Bad food contributes significantly to stress. I see this every day with my two kids. Grandma feeds them tons of sugar, and then I come home to find the girls either bouncing off the walls or being miserably cranky. Sustained energy comes from wholesome foods that are not processed or refined and are free from trans-fats. Taming these peaks and valleys quiets your stress response.
Second is rest.
Adequate sleep keeps your body and mind in top shape, setting you up to deal with potential negative stressors. Most of your healing and repair takes place when you are sleeping. This is when the body recharges its battery. If you continue to deprive your body of sleep, your immune system breaks down, and you get sick. It’s recommended that individuals get 6 to 8 hours of sleep each night.
Third is exercise.
Movement is the greatest stress-buster; regular exercise can change your life. A study conducted at Harvard University concluded that brisk walking at least 30 minutes a day can reduce the incidence of breast cancer by as much as 70 percent. Further, a California State University study found that a 10-minute walk is enough to increase energy, alter mood, and provide a positive outlook on life for up to 2 hours. Exercise also helps you sleep more soundly and erases the little mistakes in your diet.
Fourth is chiropractic adjustment.
Chiropractors locate and remove pressure put on your nerves. The immune system uses the spinal cord as a telephone system between your brain and the rest of your body as it works. Chiropractic adjustments to the spinal column relieve the pressure of choked or pinched nerves caused by rotated vertebrae. Essentially, chiropractic adjustments provide increased vitality.
Fifth is mental attitude.
Stress is like a snowball: If you let it roll, it will gain speed, momentum, and weight. Over reacting makes your body perceive small difficulties as major crises, triggering a stress response of similar scale. Counter a stressful situation with a calming action. For example, when rush-hour traffic is irritating, listen to a self-improvement audio or choose relaxing music. Some things you can’t control, but you can influence your response to them. In sum, chronic stress can cause all sorts of health problems. It affects all ages, but it can be dealt with, and doing so consistently can help you pass any kind of stress test.
Raj Gupta, LAc, is the founder of Soul Focus Wellness Center and the author of Wellness Center Solution: How Physicians Can Transform Their Practices, Their Income and Their Lives. He has a doctorate in chiropractic medicine from Life University. Visit him at drrajgupta.com.
s-fats. Taming these peaks and valleys quiets your stress response.