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Stress – A Killer or Our Friend?

Intro by Mike Clark

Pandemic. Fear. Accidents. Divorce. Abuse. Financial concerns. Depression. Other trauma …. All can be reasons for the body hitting overload.

Flight or fight? Two choices. Both are triggered by stress. In the short run, and of short duration, this automatic physiological reaction to a perceived threat, can save your life. Like running from a burning building. If chronic (of longer duration), this response to a perceived threat, can destroy your health.

Chronic stress, like the stresses that occurred daily during the pandemic, can continue to damage your body due to the fear created. Fear is stressful and if we live in a state of fear for long periods of time, our immune system is weakened. We may be fatigued, have difficulty sleeping, gain belly fat, slow down our cognitive abilities, be depressed or anxious - all due to the ongoing threats, whether real or perceived.

Example: watch the news on TV for ½ of an hour and count the number of “news” events that bring us fearful events like killings, viruses, variants of viruses, death tolls, etc... Or consider abusive situations. Even when the abusive situation is over, our programmed responses can continue to take a toll on our body.

Definition: The fight or flight response is an automatic physiological reaction to an event that is perceived as stressful or frightening. The perception of threat activates the sympathetic nervous system and triggers an acute stress response that prepares the body to fight or flee.

Fear and anger. Both trigger our fight or flight response. In the short term, blood is diverted to our limbs to provide us with the ability to take immediate action. It is diverted from the prefrontal cortex of our brain to the amygdala. We become “dumber” but more action oriented. The dumber part can be short lived if the stress is of short duration, or it can continue if chronic.

Chronic stress is that which continues to occur over time. This can be due to an abusive spouse, financial worries, injuries, pain, or being locked down for an extended period of time due to the fear of a virus. In the latter instance, our stress is maintained by daily, hourly, and minute by minute announcements of death rates, projected death rates, variants of the virus, etc.

So, what happens? The very thing that best protects our health, our immune system, is weakened by the stress. Our neurotransmitters are depleted in overdrive, and we are often faced with depression, anxiety, fatigue, and brain fog.

Stress Information by Dr. Joe Feste

What is stress? It is thought to be a state of the body in reference to mental strain, unwelcome happenings or, more medically, a harmful environmental agent that could cause illness.” Hans Selye, the father of stress, states that “stress is the nonspecific response of the body to any demand.” A stressor is an agent that produces stress at any time. The general Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) is the chronologic development of the response to stressors when their activation is prolonged. It has three phases: alarm phase (1), state of resistance (2) and mental disease. It is considered that mental disease, including stress-related disorders, is the second leading cause of disability in the world!

What to do? Functional medicine, Integrative Medicine, Naturopathy, Chiropractic, Acupuncture, Chinese Medicine, massage therapy, all take a holistic, natural approach to healing the effects of stress. Conventional medicine more often takes a pharmaceutical approach by writing scripts for anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications, sleep medications, and others.

Awareness of the effects of stress on your body (as explained below) is step one in effectively dealing with stress. Step two is working with a knowledgeable professional that can help address your real and perceived threats and the consequences for your health.

What does cortisol do as it is released from the adrenal gland with stress?

  • Diverts the body’s essential resources into promoting survival.

  • Causes blood sugar, pulse and blood pressure to rise.

  • Dampens immune defenses.

  • Shuts down reproductive functions.

  • Causes a reduction in stomach acid and increase in elimination of food in the intestinal tract so your system will not be distracted by digestion.

  • Heightens your brain awareness , so no sleep for you.

  • Suppresses growth hormone production.

  • Interferes with insulin action= weight gain, diabetes, MS

  • Reduces thyroid hormone activity by decreasing production and inactivation circulating thyroid hormone.

Blood tests that may suggest stress:

  • Low white count <4000

  • High SHBG caused or contributed to by:

    1. Stress

    2. Hyperthyroidism

    3. Cirrhosis of liver

    4. Increase estrogen, i.e., BCP, Merina IUD

    5. Anorexia nervosa, extreme weight loss

    6. Cigarettes

    7. Heavy metal toxicity

  • High cholesterol and/or LDL

  • Low DHEA

  • Normal estrogen PM but high FSH & LH

  • Normal blood studies but symptoms of low thyroid, testosterone or progesterone

  • Receptor site bound up by cortisol.

How common is stress in our society?

  • Short term stress is ok but in the long run can cause increased risk of:

    1. Diabetes

    2. Obesity

    3. Metabolic syndrome

    4. Inflammation

    5. Mood disorders

    6. Osteoporosis

    7. Irritable bowel syndrome

    8. Cancers

  • After prolonged stress, cortisol levels reduced and patient fatigue.

How common is stress in our society(according to the American Institute of stress?

  • 43% of all adults suffer adverse health effects due to stress.

  • 75 to 90% of all visits to PCP for stress-related disorders.

  • About 1 million workers are absent on an average workday due to stress. Stress is believed to be responsible for more than half of the 550 million workdays lost annually because of absenteeism.

  • Stress linked to all leading causes of death including heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide.

  • Nearly half of all American workers suffer from symptoms of burnout, a disabling consequence of stress on the job.

  • Workplace violence is rampant. Over 2 million reported instances of homicide, aggravated assault, rape, or sexual assault annually. Homicide is the 2nd leading cause of fatal occupations injury and leading cause of death for working women.

Cost for health care due to stress.

  • Healthcare costs nearly 50% greater for workers who report high levels of stress.

  • $171 billion spent annually: $145 billion for injuries and $26 billion for diseases.

  • 15 American workers die daily from an injury suffered at work.

  • 134 Americans die daily from work-related diseases.

  • Depression, a common problem among workers cost the USA $44 billion per year in lost productivity.

  • 38 million American workers develop work related stress a year.

  • 11,000 American workers are treated daily in the ER for work-related injury and disease.

  • Nearly half of all Americans take at least one prescription drug and 1/3 take 2 or more that cause adverse side effects, inadequate treatment and led to over 105,000 deaths annually.

  • Over ½ Americans have stress-disrupted sleep over concerns of money and unemployment

  • Pharmaceutical manufactures selling over 300.3 billion in sales with Xanax, Zoloft and Ambien in the top 20 prescribed.

Causes of stress.

  • Social stress

    1. In our relationships at home

    2. Divorce common, especially in politicians, taxi drivers, police officers, fire fighters and doctors

    3. Working mother and fathers have little time with their children let alone for themselves and creates stress.

    4. Domestic violence with unemployment & financial strain

    5. Birth of a child

    6. Death/illness

    7. Fear/worry/anger

  • Blood sugar issues

    1. high-glycemic diet

    2. Junk food diets

    3. Alcohol consumption

    4. Higher intake of simple carbohydrates versus protein

  • Workplace stress

    1. Increasing unemployment

    2. Competition for jobs

    3. Increase in job descriptions due to less employees.

    4. Increase in health insurance.

    5. Increase in taxes.

    6. Decrease in salaries.

  • Inflammation

    1. Tissue damage/surgery/pain

    2. Allergies

    3. Arthritis

    4. Overweight

    5. Bowel issues

    6. Celiac disease

    7. Environmental issues

  • Environmental factors

    1. Pollution: air, water, noise and land

    2. Radiation: consumer products, medical (about 50%), Radon and Cosmic

    3. Food and water sources: additives and preservatives, contamination and highly process foods or transformed foods.

    4. Medications: prescription and over the counter

    5. Local environment” Classroom overcrowding, workplace environment, home environment and heavy metal contaminants in the air, food and water.

Diagnosis of stress

  • Detailed history

  • 12-hour saliva test

  • Blood studies (mentioned above)

  • Heart rate variability

Treatment of stress

  • Life is a marathon, not a race. You do not get this way overnight: takes time to change habits.

  • Identify and eliminate stressors over which you have control, i.e.., smoking, alcohol, unhealthy foods.

  • Lack of sleep very destructive

  • Adjust attitude to personal stressors; learn to be more self-confident in decisions & opinions.

  • Diet, decrease fat which decreases inflammation.

  • High cortisol : cool breathing technique

  • Meditate (30-minute time out)

  • Neurofeedback

  • Modify sleep patterns

  • Learn to relax: Yoga.

    • Reduces cortisol secretion.

    • Reduces inflammation.

    • Improves cortisol release patterns.

    • Improves HPA axis regulation.

    • Improves quality of life and stress tolerance.

    • Reduces risk of heart disease in PMP women.

    • Impacts patients with inflammatory bowel disease.

    • Improve mood and anxiety better than walking.

  • Exercise

  • Magnesium 450 mg a day

  • Vitamin C 5000mg a day

  • ZEN

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