Functional Medicine* and Integrative Wellness requires Doctors to engage in further education outside of their core training and within their scope of practice.
Stress comes from a variety of places and for many different reasons. Stress is the body’s reaction to a challenge or demand. These could be mental and/or physical. Family, employment/unemployment, working too hard, the daily/nightly commute, relationships, illness, back pain, and sleep problems. All of these can create stress. The American Psychology Association showed that 54% of Americans worry about their stress and are likely to seek help. Constant stress can begin to cause adrenal fatigue and lead to excess inflammation, chronic joint pain, and other autoimmune conditions. Southwest functional medicine uses a combination of functional medicine and integrative wellness to alleviate symptoms of adrenal fatigue and other underlying conditions you may be suffering from.
People become stressed and they don’t know it. This is the way of the modern world and we’ve become used to it. Despite getting used to a stressful world, it still places genuine strain on the body. These manifest through increased blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, metabolism, adrenal glands, and blood flow. This is the primordial fight or flight reaction, preparing for action from a stressful situation.
The body’s Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) is what generates the fight or flight reaction. When the body feels a stressor, the SNS turns on and stimulates the appropriate bodily response. This is what allows us to defend ourselves in the wild, where stress comes from a reaction to wild animals and grave danger. In today’s world, this reaction can, unfortunately, do more harm than good, as most of us no longer live in danger from wild hungry animals.
Chronic Stress and Adrenal Glands:
The adrenal glass are small glands that sit on top of each kidney. These glands are essential as they secrete necessary hormones and communicate through signaling pathways between other organ systems. The main component of the adrenal glands are producing cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that helps the body respond to stress. When the human body is under constant stress, too much cortisol is released into the bloodstream. Here we see problems beginning to occur and patients showing symptoms such as brain fog, fatigue, inflammation, difficulty falling asleep, and anxiety.
Stress is the disruption of homeostasis but is helpful/necessary in various situations. For example, during exercise or sports, stress is needed in order to push the athlete or person to a new level. When in the learning process, stress is needed to help the brain learn a new language, solve a math problem, create a web page, presentation, etc. Humans can handle small amounts of periodic stress. But once stress becomes chronic, then it turns into a disease.
The effects of stress on the body are real. The symptoms fall into four categories: behavioral, cognitive, emotional and physical.
- Behavioral Symptoms:
- Eat More/Less
- Isolation From Others
- Need Alcohol, Cigarettes, Or Drugs For Relaxation
- Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)
- Procrastination/Neglect Responsibilities
- Sleep Too much/ Too Little
- Cognitive Symptoms:
- Anxiousness/Racing Thoughts
- Constant Worrying
- Memory problems
- Negative Outlook
- Poor judgment
- Unable To Concentrate
- Emotional Symptoms:
- Agitation, Inability To Relax
- Depression Or General Unhappiness
- The feeling of Loneliness and Isolation
- Feeling Overwhelmed
- Short Temper
- Physical Symptoms:
- Chest Pain/Rapid Heartbeat
- Constant Colds
- Low Libido
- Weight Gain
The body’s stress response, fight or flight works when threatened and in a dangerous situation. It’s all about self-preservation. However, it is not healthy if it never goes away. In today’s world it is triggered, not in response to an aggressive situation or wild animal trying to attack, but instead, as an ongoing reaction to life’s stresses, which is highly probable to be harmful to your health.
People react to the same situation in different ways. What might stress one person may not stress another.
During a stressful moment, the pituitary gland releases a hormone called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). It tells the adrenal glands to release stress hormones into the bloodstream, which includes cortisol and adrenaline. Then several physiological changes take places, such as heart rate and blood pressure increase, this shuts down the digestive system and affects the immune system. Following the stressful situation, the cortisol and adrenaline return to normal levels, as well as, heart rate, blood pressure, and other bodily functions.
There is a problem when these levels do not return to normal levels. Instead, they remain raised from the ongoing stress of various situations. The body doesn’t get a chance to recover to its natural state. When this goes on for a long time, the stress response can disrupt all of the body’s processes.
The immune system also takes a toll on chronic stress. It becomes weaker and less able to fend off infections. When it works properly, the immune system responds to infections by releasing chemicals to cause inflammation, in order to rid itself of the bug. But when chronic inflammation occurs from stress, degenerative diseases can begin to take over.
Stress also affects the nervous system, this causes anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and dementia. The chronic release of cortisol causes damage to certain areas of the brain. This affects sleep patterns and sex drive. As heart rate and blood pressure increase it is dangerous for the cardiovascular system, as it creates the potential for a heart attack or stroke.
Stress creates real detrimental physical effects. Trying to avoid stressful situations isn’t always possible. What is advised is to become familiar with the possible actions/outcomes and minimize the negative.
Relaxed Breathing Technique (Diaphragmatic Breathing): Stress often leads to rapid, shallow breathing, that affects the other aspects of the stress response, i.e. increased heart rate and perspiration. Controlled breathing is an effective way of dealing with the effects of stress.
Mouth closed, shoulders relaxed, inhale slowly and deeply through your nose to a count of six, allowing the air to fill your diaphragm.
- Keep The Air In The Lungs And Slowly Count To Four
- Exhale Through The Mouth And Slowly Count To Six
- Repeat This Three To Five Times
Progressive Muscle Relaxation Technique: The aim is to reduce the tension stored in the muscles. Find a relaxed private area. Dim the lights, loosen up and get comfortable. Tense up the following muscle areas for a minimum of five seconds before relaxing for 30 seconds. Repeat then move on to the next area.
- Central Face: Squint eyes tightly, wrinkle nose and mouth, feel the tension. Relax. Repeat.
- Chest, Shoulders, Upper Back: Pull shoulders backward where shoulder blades almost touch. Relax. Repeat.
- Feet: Turn feet inward, curl toes up and spread out. Relax. Repeat.
- Hands and Lower Arms: Make a tight fist and tense wrists. Feel the tension in hands, knuckles and lower arms. Relax. Repeat.
- Lower Face: Clench teeth and pull back corners of the mouth, show teeth like a growling dog. Relax. Repeat.
- Lower Legs: Lift feet toward the ceiling and flex them back to point at the body. Feel the tension in calves. Relax. Repeat.
- Neck: Lower chin to the chest, feel it pull at the back of the neck. Relax. Repeat.
- Shoulders: Raise shoulders toward ears, feel the tension in the shoulders, head, neck and upper back. Relax. Repeat.
- Stomach: Tighten stomach muscles. Feel the tension. Relax. Repeat.
- Upper Arms: Pull arms back, press elbows into the body. Don’t tense lower arms. Feel the tension in arms, shoulders, and back. Relax. Repeat.
- Upper Face: Raise eyebrows upwards, feel the tension in the forehead and scalp. Relax. Repeat.
- Upper Legs: Squeeze knees together, lift legs up off the chair or the floor. Feel the tension in thighs. Relax. Repeat.
- Do these muscle relaxations twice a day for maximum benefit. Take 10 minutes for each session.
Exercise: It is a great way to release energy. Improved health, which guards against the negative effects and releases endorphins (neurotransmitters that relieve pain). Exercise helps with concentration, sleep, illness, pain and contributes to a better quality of life. Age doesn’t matter, as exercise will create amazing benefits for mind and body, and remove feelings of stress.
Listen To Relaxing Soothing Sounds: Ten minutes alone with soothing sounds can help with relaxation. Allow the mind to get away from the accumulated stresses of the day. Meditation CD’s, soothing music or natural sounds all work to achieve a relaxed state.
Chiropractic Adjustments: Chiropractic adjustments are a great way to help the body relieve stress. Humans hold most of their stress and tension in their upper back and shoulders. This can begin to cause pain back, difficulty sleeping, and tension headaches. Regular adjustments will help to decrease the tension built up in the body.
Functional Medicine: If stress is a chronic frequent state, patients can seek relief with functional medicine. We use detailed diagnostic lab testing to discover the exact amounts of stress hormones you are producing and when. From here we evaluate physiological factors, discuss other underlying conditions if there are any, and create a custom plan designed specifically for you.
*Additional Education: M.S.A.C.P – Licensed in Texas & New Mexico. Scope of Practice Governed and Determined by State License & State Board Rules & Regulations.