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Stress, the good the bad & the ugly

Are you stressed? Do you need some help in managing it?

Phil Wise is here to help.


Stressed? – Is all stress bad?

Not all stress is bad, as stress is a natural response we have to alert us to a situation that is developing in our surroundings which may or may not be life threatening, but nonetheless, is in need of our awareness.

symptoms of stress poster


If you have only had stress for a relatively short period of time, then stress is actually good for you and this is known as acute stress.

In fact, stress is a primal response and would’ve been responsible for keeping us alive during the days when we were being chased by lions, tigers and suchlike on the plains of the Savannah 200,000 years ago.


So why do I hear all about it being one of the largest silent killers?

Unfortunately, according to research, if you have chronic stress then it’s true that stress can cause serious health problems which (if left unchecked) can lead to a deterioration in your health and even death. Chronic stress is where you have been stressed constantly for a very long time, usually over many years.

The sorts of problems that can manifest in the body of a chronically stressed person over the short term are:

Health ConditionLikely Cause
Headaches/general aches & painsChanges in your circulatory system can cause distress in all areas of your body. Stress-induced muscle tension can also lead to muscular aches
Digestive or intestinal distressStudies have shown that stress changes the way your gastrointestinal system processes food, and chronic stress can also cause changes in appetite
insomnia or sleep pattern disruptions
Fatigue
Changes to your sex drive
Increased susceptibility to infectionsThe stress response impedes the immune system, increasing the chance that you’ll get colds or other common infections
United Brain Association

As time passes, if you maintain a high stress level, then the sorts of problems that the body can eventually suffer (chronic stress over the longer term) are quite a lot more serious:

Health ConditionLikely Cause
High blood pressure1Atherosclerosis (fatty plaques in the arteries)2
Heart disease, heart attacks or strokes1Atherosclerosis (fatty plaques in the arteries) and the emboli which can result2
Diabetes, obesity or eating disorders1Psychological stress alters insulin needs2
Impotence or other sexual dysfunction1
Gastrointestinal conditions such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, or other inflammatory bowel diseases1Suppression of the immune system and increased stomach acid2
United Brain Association1/Life Event, Stress and Illness(NCBI)2

There is also some evidence to suggest that stress plays a role in reduced fertility, although the evidence is not conclusive and there is still much division on the subject in the medical community, there is a recommendation that fertility clinics should consider a patient’s current stress levels at the time of their initial assessment, and address them prior to treatment commencing.


What can we do to reduce stress in our daily lives?

Identify & remove known stressors

Try to find out what is actually causing you to be so stressed and where possible, reduce your exposure to the stressors involved.

An example would be paying too much attention to what’s happening in the news. It’s easy to get caught up with all that is going on in the world today, the current situation in Ukraine, school massacres in the USA, even the ongoing COVID19 Pandemic and many more newsworthy events related to religious and racial divisions throughout the world all can play a part in building up our stress response to unnecessarily high levels.
You may still want to find out about what’s happening in the world around you, but maybe try to read about what’s happening rather than watch video content, as this can sometimes be quite graphic and sometimes quite disturbing for those of a sensitive disposition. For more information on this, read the research “Is the news making us unhappy? The influence of daily news exposure on emotional states

Another example may be to avoid conversing too much with negative people as our tendency as a human to conform to the social norms has been shown to make us change the nerve pathways in our own brains to be more likely to fire up negative emotions.

Meditation

Meditation date back as far as 5000 years BCE according to some archeologists and has been used by Buddhist since around 2600BCE. In this randomised controlled trial meditation was shown to significantly reduce stress levels in the participants and in this study it was shown to reduce the perception of pain. Although the latter study showed that meditation didn’t reduce the pain intensity itself, it did show that it reduced the persons perception of it, which meant that they could cope with the pain much more easily.

Exercise

If you feel that getting some fresh air is more your thing, then you may like to know that in a systematic review of randomised controlled trials, it was found that exercise can help to reduce anxiety, although no conclusive evidence was found due to trial sample sizes, the use of other therapies concurrently and poor assessment and recording of fitness levels. Nonetheless, this review showed that there was promise amongst all the studies and certainly anecdotally, it has been said that exercise works very well indeed in reducing stress levels.

Diet

According to this research, there is a relationship between psychological stress and chronic disease in Puerto Rican adults living in Boston, Massachusetts and its relevance can be extrapolated to other populations elsewhere in the world.

It says that stress may affect health by influencing dietary and physical activity patterns. Therefore, perceived stress and two hypothesised mediators of stress-related food intake, insulin and cortisol, were examined for possible associations with dietary and activity patterns in >1300 Puerto Ricans (aged 45–75 years; 70% women) living in the Boston, Massachusetts area.

Greater perceived stress was associated with lower fruit, vegetable, and protein intake, greater consumption of salty snacks, and lower participation in physical activity. Stress was associated with higher intake of sweets, particularly in those with type 2 diabetes. Cortisol and stress were positively associated in those without diabetes. Cortisol was associated with higher intake of saturated fat and, in those with diabetes, sweet foods.

Independent of diabetes, perceived stress was associated with higher circulating insulin and Body Mass Index (BMI). The findings support a link between stress, cortisol, and dietary and activity patterns in this population. For high-sugar foods, this relationship may be particularly important in those with type 2 diabetes.

Osteopathy

Osteopathy has been shown to have many beneficial effects on helping the various systems in our body to come to a point of better balance and this includes the nervous system.

stressed person listing symptoms

In a study entitled “An evaluation of osteopathic treatment on psychological outcomes with patients suffering from chronic pain” it was shown “that there were significant reductions in anxiety, pain, mental health dysfunction and improvements in self-care”.

This research shows that it’s possible that Osteopathy can be used along with the adjuncts of known stressor removal, meditation and physical exercise, to help alleviate stress levels and reduce anxiety and depressive symptoms.


If you’re feeling overly stressed, and would like to learn more about how Osteopathy may be able to help, please contact us using the contact page here.


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