How Does Stress Affect My Health?

When the body faces stress, it relies on the nervous system to help fight the effects of it. Chiropractic care removes pressure on the spinal nerves which optimizes nervous system function and promotes healing by allowing the brain to communicate messages to the rest of the body without interference.

Could you start by explaining the different types of stress that can affect the body?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: Okay, and that’s a fair question. There are a lot of different kinds of stress in the body, and from what I understand of the body and everything that I’ve learned, there’s probably three kinds of stress that are most common. There’s physical, chemical, and emotional stress. And stress or a stressor is anything that your body needs to adapt to in order to survive. And adaptation is an important sign of life, all living things have the ability to adapt, and it’s what they all must do to survive their environment.

For example, if it starts getting very hot in my office, my body makes the adaptation to start to sweat. What happens is that the innate intelligence or the wisdom of my body realizes that I’m starting to heat up. So, in order to make sure that I don’t have heatstroke, it’s going to open up the pores, water’s going to come out, and that vapor is going to cool on my body and actually make my body cooler. It makes us maintain the internal temperature.

So sweating was an adaptation to the stressor, which was heat. Just like excessive cold could be a stress to our bodies and could be dangerous if we were out there for a long time. Would you like to take a guess to the adaptation that our bodies make when it gets cold, Liz?

RC: I can’t think!

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: You start to shiver. You get cold.

RC: Oh, right, right. Definitely.

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: So, the innate intelligence of your body starts to tighten up the muscles and then they shake, and you actually start to generate heat. And both of those adaptations occur in our body without us even thinking about it. Our bodies or that innate intelligence or the inborn wisdom or the kingdom of God within you, whatever you want to call it, it realizes that we’re getting hot or cold, and if we continue to heat up, we’ll end up with heatstroke. If we continue to be in this really cold temperature, our body’s going to shut down. And so those are ways that our bodies make internal adaptations to the stressors of the outside, so our bodies don’t only just survive but actually thrive.

Physical stress could be taking a hit on a football field and getting a concussion, crashing your bicycle, or being in a car accident. Those physical stresses will affect the spine, create misalignments or what we call those vertebral subluxations, put pressure on the delicate spinal nerves. When those nerves are irritated, that’s going to limit the body’s ability to adapt because the communication is poor and it’ll lead us to a state of poor health or dysregulation in the body, in addition to causing pain or discomfort.

The last one is emotional stress. Very often it’s kind of self-inflicted, it’s how we react to certain stressors in the environment. If you were in a crowded room and someone pulled out a gun and shoots it into the air, immediately your body’s going to excrete so much adrenaline and so much cortisol that your body’s going to be on the highest amount of alert. Your visual acuity is up, your auditory acuity is up, your pain sensitivity is higher, your blood flow is higher, your muscles are tighter. All these things happen and increase because your body goes into fight or flight. So, it’s ready to do whatever it needs to get out of that dangerous situation, so that’s fight or flight.

What happens is if we constantly think about certain stressful things in our lives or these bad situations, wherever your mind goes, the body follows. So, if my mind is thinking about this horrible accident that I had, you know how you get that feeling and you get tingly and your body cranks out adrenaline and cortisol, because your body chemistry changes with that stress, and that’s going to have a deleterious effect on your health.

People who are in constant stress are the ones who are sick all the time, always coughing and sneezing. Because I think we talked about this in the past, how when the body is in fight or flight it wants nothing to do with healing, it’s only wanting to just survive that situation. Healing happens, again, we talked about with kids, when we’re more in that parasympathetic area where we’re just healing, relaxing, and resting. When we’re all intense and fired up, the body wants nothing to do with healing.

What role does the hormone cortisol play in how our bodies react to stress?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: Cortisol is a huge part of the stress adaptation in the body. And the primary reason that your body secretes cortisol is to do two things in the body. When you’re under stress and you’re in fight or flight, your body runs on sugar. And your body needs sugar to run your brain and your body, and that’s our energy source. So, if I need to fight or I need to run away from a situation, that sugar needs to be in my blood.

The first thing cortisol does is it stops insulin from doing its job, because insulin’s job is to put the sugar away, not leave it in the bloodstream. But when cortisol is around, insulin doesn’t come out and it keeps the sugar in the bloodstream so you have enough energy to fight or run away. And that’s what the fight or flight mechanism is that’s driving the body. It also pushes out adrenaline as well.

But the other thing that cortisol does is it alters the body chemistry. And when you’re in that state of fight or flight or your body thinks that it is and we’re in sympathetic overdrive, it shuts off our immune system. Now I want people to understand that running your immune system is what we call very metabolically expensive. It uses a lot of energy to run that system. It also is very metabolically expensive to build a baby. When people are pregnant, you’re tired all the time, you’re definitely lower energy and all that stuff. We have to understand that it’s about where the body is putting its energy.

So, if cortisol is floating around, your body doesn’t want anything to do with healing, it still thinks it’s in fight or flight and it’s going to be reactionary. So, if we’re constantly in that fight or flight and our muscles are constantly tight, pulling the bones, causing them to misalign, irritate the nerves and create that nerve interference that we talked about, when that nervous system is agitated or overexcited, it makes bad decisions, and we can’t live in that place of stress all the time.

We all know we’ve all been there, we’ve all seen those people. And those people who are constantly in stress are sick, they’re a little bitter, they’re angry, they’re always missing work, they’re always coughing and sneezing. It’s really a tough situation and we need to learn to manage our stress. And sometimes chiropractic can help with the physical manifestations, but sometimes we need other help to manage our stress as well. And that comes in a different realm from a different practitioner.

Why do our muscles feel tense and tight when we are under stress?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: I think I already answered this one, but again, it deals with that physical manifestation of stress. When we think about those stressful situations, our neck muscles become tighter. Those taut fibers tend to pull the bone out of alignment and keep it there. And just simply with a chiropractor providing an adjustment, provides a quick stretch to the muscles, which lets the muscles relax, and it realigns the vertebrae and gets the pressure off those nerves. And when you open up those nerve channels, the body can then rebalance itself between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, then your body heals, runs and regulates as it was designed to.

Chiropractic doesn’t really fix anything, it just gets the pressure off the nerves and allows the body to open up those nerve channels, allows the body to communicate within itself to make the best decision so it can adapt. And like I said, not just survive, but truly thrive in its environment. Optimization of the nervous system will allow you to have your best day every day. I always say, there are no guarantees in life, but when you’re well-adjusted, your nervous system works better, everything just works better. It’s really about stacking the deck in your favor. There’s no guarantee, and it doesn’t matter if you’re well-adjusted or not, if you step out in front of a bus you’re probably going to get seriously injured. But taking care of your spine and nervous system allows the body the best opportunity to heal, run, regulate, and optimize. And that’s really what it’s about, stacking the deck in your favor.

You definitely touched on this one already, but maybe we can get a little more specific. Can too much stress make us physically sick or cause other health problems?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: Absolutely, and we talked about this a number of times in a variety of different situations, but stress is the bane of our existence. And when we’re under stress, our body cranks out that adrenaline and cortisol, and that cortisol has the ability to shut off the immune system, and that immune system has to run. It uses a lot of energy. And like I said, that’s why when you’re sick and you need to heal, you’re encouraged to rest, even your body encourages you to do so, and that’s why you feel tired, achy and that malaise.

When you’re sick, it’s your own nervous system and your own body’s acting intelligently and saying to you, “Hey, dumb-dumb, take a rest and allow your body to heal.” Because if we take a bunch of pills, potions, and lotions, and we actually might feel better temporarily, we’re going to go out there, we’re going to start using our energy to do other things and take that away from the immune system, which will make it harder for the body to fight, slower to heal over time, and that’ll contribute to other health issues.

If you think about it, your immune system is what you allow your body to regenerate and replace the damaged cells with healthy new ones. If you’re cranking out adrenaline and cortisol, those processes don’t happen and your body will continue to break down. And if it breaks down faster than you can heal, you’re going to end up in a state of disease or a lack of ease and poor health. So, the whole idea behind chiropractic is eliminate that nerve interference, open up those nerve channels, rebalance the spine so we’re not living in cortisol and adrenaline plethoras in the body, and then the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system is balanced.

It’s not a miracle that you get your health back, it’s just a return to normal nervous system function. The state of health is normal in the body, and normal is being healthy, not being sick. It may be common in our society, but that’s not what we’re designed to be, we’re truly designed to be healthy. And as long as we follow some basic rules, keep our spine and nervous system healthy and add a couple other things into our health regime, life isn’t that complicated.

Let’s close out by summarizing what you did already say. How can chiropractic care and spinal adjustments help the body handle stress?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: Oh, wow. I did kind of jump the gun and answer that one. Look, chiropractic care is simple. Stress, tension, poor posture, accidents, and falls, create misalignments or subluxations. When we have subluxations in the body it limits the communication. We look at the body and we look at the nerve system, and to me it just looks like a giant communication center. And when communication in the body works better, the body works better. Just like if I’m the president or CEO and of a large company and I have 1,000 employees, if I send an email out and it only goes to 500 of them, well, we’re not going to have a coordinated effort as a company and we’re not going to be successful.

There are 70 trillion cells in your body that all need to be coordinated and work for the better good of your body. By keeping that nervous system clear, you have the best chance of maintaining a high level of organization, a high level of adaptation in the body. And when the body is functioning at its optimum potential, you’re going to be at your best.

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