Can you measure stress? Is it possible to see just how your body handles the stressors it is exposed to in daily life?
Stress is an interesting thing. It is what you perceive it to be. Take me to an amusement park with a teenager and we will both have different stress responses to the really tall rides. I’m not a big fan of heights and as we both look at the roller coaster cars climbing higher and higher, then hesitating at the top before they quickly drop and then repeat we both will have different stress responses. Same roller coaster. Different responses.
Our stress response is coordinated by something called the HPA Axis and the SNS. It was designed to help our body respond to an immediate danger such as avoiding a car accident or being eaten by a woolly mammoth. Once activated by stress our body’s functions change. We have a heightened sense of awareness. Our heart and respiration rates increase. Digestion stops and blood sugar levels goes up as well as blood pressure. We become anxious. Muscle will start to break down and our immune system will be adversely affected.
The SNS part of this system is the Sympathetic Nervous System. As part of our stress response it will activate until the “stressor” is removed and will then return to its normal relaxed state.
The HPA part of the stress response refers to the hypothalamus as well as the pituitary and adrenal glands. Under stress cortisol and adrenaline are released into the blood stream to prepare our body for this flee or fight response.
This system is designed to work for short periods of time and then return to a relaxed state.
Unfortunately, these are times of increasingly frequent and extended periods of stress without relaxation. As a result, our stress responses do not activate for brief periods as designed and the HPA Axis and SNS becomes overwhelmed resulting in hormone imbalances, anxiety/depression issues, digestive problems and other health issues.
Using saliva samples obtained throughout the day, laboratories can measure the amounts of cortisol and other hormones secreted in the saliva or urine resulting in a chart measuring the totals over time. There is a normal expected stress response and the test results can help us to determine how stressed out a person has become, how stressed out they feel, how long they’ve been stressed out and most importantly the test result helps in preparing a treatment plan to correct the damage caused from prolonged stress.
Treatment may include diet and lifestyle changes, short term supplement programs, sleep strategies and emotional/ mental health support.
Left untreated, the effects of stress may lead to chronic disease.
Most of us think of stress as being emotional or mental. Changing or losing a job, getting divorced, home schooling, concerns about finances and health are but a few of the emotional events that can increase our stress. However, blood sugar imbalances, a lack of sleep and a poor diet can also cause disruption in the HPA Axis and SNS.
If you feel you may be experiencing the adverse effects of stress please contact Dr. Robert Richart in our Northfield, IL chiropractic and functional medicine office.