Yeah, I'm Stressed! So What?

What is stress and why should I care about it?

In 2013, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a report citing that stress contributes to somewhere between 60-80% of all health issues seen in primary care. The American Psychological Association reported in 2013 that 42% of Americans lie awake nightly with stress. Yet, JAMA found that only 3% of patients who visited their doctors received help with stress management -told to get more exercise, take a yoga class or see a psychologist. I was appalled at that figure. We know that stress contributes to disease, pain, and more, yet doctors are addressing it only a fraction of the time. I made it my purpose to understand the detrimental hormonal and biochemical effects of stress on health and specialized with working with people to recognize and reduce their stress. We all have stress, yes.  But it can be balanced and managed. And the best way to manage stress is to address it in a regular manner rather than binging on stress then purging it later. 

Perhaps it is helpful to first define stress. Essentially, stress is a complex series of neurological and hormonal signals that occur in the body in response to a perceived stimulus. It is a mental, emotional and physical reaction to or resistance against what is happening to us. 

"The research show that what stresses people more often is uncertainty, lack of information, loss of control AND lack of the ability to express yourself."
~ Dr. Gabor Mate

One way stress can be recognized is as reaction to things not meeting our expectations, becoming overwhelmed because too much is happening at one time, not accepting or wanting what is happening in our lives, having negative thoughts about what is happening in our lives, etc. The truth of the matter is that stuff happens, and there is a split second reaction ( a thought, an emotion, an action) and a series of biochemical events. The problem is when these reactions go unchecked, the biochemical responses affect our energy, our cognitive clarity, our effectiveness and our health.

Further there are physical stressors that our bodies register - toxins, food sensitivities, low nutrient intake from unhealthy “fast” foods, eating on the run, excess alcohol, too much caffeine, jet lag, allergies, infections, poor air quality, over or under eating, over exercising, pain, apnea, hyperventilation to name a few. So circadian disruption, glycemic regulation and inflammatory signaling can have an impact just as great as perceived, mental/emotional stress. 

So essentially we have stressors - events - and either resistance or resilience. If we are resistant to what is happening, then we perpetuate the stressor. If we are resilient, we deal with the stressor then reset to a balanced state.  Short term stress is a normal, healthy response to the stressors in our lives, such as the bear chasing us in the woods. Whereas, long term unchecked stress causes elevations in hormones cortisol, epinephrine and adrenalin, increasing heart rate and blood pressure via the nervous system, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol and diabetes. And it can exacerbate conditions that already exist. Many problems - sleep disturbances, chronic fatigue, decreased energy, decreased or increased appetite, mood swings, headaches, dizziness, ADHD, anxiety, irritability, anger, grinding teeth, high blood pressure, heart disease, arrhythmias, digestive disorders, upset stomach, abdominal pain, irritable bowel syndrome, weight gain, obesity, decreased sex drive, muscle tension and pain - have a stress component, either as a triggering event or worsening factor.

Thus, stress is accumulative. Too much and the body begins shutting down functions to preserve itself leading to degeneration and disease.

In my next blog I will share how I work with patients to identify their levels of stress and stress resistance and begin to address their stress on the spot. In a future blog, I will also address a variety of ways to manage stress on the fly.

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Dr. Skye works with patients from all walks of life to improve their vitality and vibrancy through personalized nutrition (not fad diets), and stress management (relaxation is a prerequisite for digestion and cellular repair.) She offers specialized testing to determine true heart and diabetes risk factors, hormone imbalances and uses natural medicines, nutrition, mind-body medicine, and biofeedback to bring the body back into Ease (vs. Dis-Ease) allowing our natural innate vitality to do its healing magic. She loves helping people discover the healing power of nature, their own nature, within their own bodies. Most diseases and pain cause us to want to escape the body. However, the journey to health is within the body, discovering its nature and supporting its vitality.


References:

JAMA Intern Med 2013; 173 (1): 76-77

American Psychological Association Stress in America Report 2013

HeartMath.com “How Stress Affects the Body"

Author
Dr. Skye LaChute, ND, BCB Naturopathic Physician in Bellevue WA specializing in stress management and chronic conditions

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