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The Devastating Effects of Stress on your body

StressWhen something stressful happens in your life (job loss, death in the family, someone creeps up and scares you) your body must react – or more so your brain. Your brain sees and interprets the stress and then figures out what you need to do to keep safe. How well you deal with stress is determined by how well your brain responds in the long and short term. We are becoming accustomed to more and more stress and prolonged periods of elevated stress. We need the brain to produce a response – this could be life or death (if you were mugged walking down the street), but a prolonged elevation in stress is detrimental to your health.

For you to be able to fight or run away from your mugger, you need your brain to accurately interpret what is happening, chemicals need to be released in your body to increase your heart rate and blood pressure (and much more). Then you can choose to either ‘fight or flight’. But what happens when we are experiencing periods of prolonged stress?

When we have stress in our lives long-term, your body changes your physiology to help you cope. This long-term stress elevates those chemicals that cause a constant in increase your heart rate and blood pressure. Over time, this is stressful to your cardiovascular system, having to cope with this prolonged increase in heart rate and blood pressure – which it is not designed to do. Research shows that this prolonged increase can lead to atherosclerosis which over time can contribute to strokes and heart attacks.

Even when the prolonged stress finally disappears, our brain can be so familiar with this stress response that it’s not always switched off when it’s no longer needed. Or there can be an over-reaction to the next stressful thing that life throws at you.

How can you help your brain cope better with stress? The research is very clear on this: LIFESTYLE. By improving your sleep patterns, improving social support, creating a positive outlook on your life, eating a healthy diet, avoid smoking and engaging in moderate physical activity regularly are all ways you can help your brain manage stress more effectively.

A well-known measurement of how well your brain and body respond to stress is Heart Rate Variability (HRV). Research shows that monitoring HRV represents a unique way of measuring how well your nervous system (and body) is coping with the stress of your life. Poor (or decreased) HRV correlates with cardiovascular disease, inflammation, diabetic neuropathy, emotional dysregulation, sleep disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder. Conversely, good (or high) HRV has been associated with health and longevity and is utilised by athletes to predict their ability to function optimally in their sport.

Research shows that chiropractic care improves and then can maintain an improvement in HRV. A research paper discussed how this demonstrates improved neurophysiological regulation, adaptability and resilience, and suggests the utility of chiropractic care for outcomes more than aches and pains.

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