fbpx

When I was in medical school, one of my professors very clearly reorganized my thoughts about Stress. To me, Stress (and yes, I capitalize it because it seemed like an overarching theme in my life at the time, with managing work, being a full-time medical student, maintaining a relationship, eating good food, exercising enough, time management, “lions, tigers & bears, oh my!”… you get the point) was this huge obstacle that I just had to learn to get around no matter what. My only choices were to go over it and ignore it, go under it and let it bury me, go around it & pretend it didn’t affect me, or go through it and deal with the repercussions later. My thoughts were eventually reorganized to understand my overarching “Stress” (cue “Jaws” theme song) as something entirely different.

 

Stress = Stressors + Stress Response

I had to learn to understand stress comes in two separate parts; there’s the “stressor” & the “stress response,” but we seem to combine these two aspects into one term we call Stress. By separating Stress into two terms, stressor and stress response, we learn to start how to separate the external inputs we encounter from our internal output. Let me explain what this means…

 

You’re telling me that I have stressors?

Stressors are external inputs that we encounter on a daily, likely every hour and every minute. We can think of stressors as external factors that move us out of balance. These consist of many different parts of the human experience, including raising children, meeting deadlines at work, creating healthy relationships, paying bills, etc. 

The “stress of daily life” is all the stressors we encounter. These stressors can be categorized into a few different types: 

  • environmental stressor
  • biological stressors
  • sociocultural stressors
  • behavioral stressors
  • cognitive stressors. 

The most important distinction of stressors from stress response is that this is all external stimuli or situations — none of it is what we experience within our bodies/minds/souls. What we experience inside is the stress response.

 

What’s a Stress Response?

The stress response is the way our bodies/minds/souls react to stressors. This may include some typical phenomena:

Sympathetic Responses:

  • a racing heart/elevated heart rate
  • sweaty palms
  • wanting to fight or run away from the stressor

Parasympathetic responses:

  • feeling faint
  • forgetting what to do
  • wanting to curl up in a ball in the corner

Essentially, the stress response is what our bodies do to re-establish balance and to keep us safe. These experiences are different for everybody, but we know that these sorts of reactions exhibited by our bodies can have a significant impact on the rest of our day. It may take a while to come back down from the stressor and go about the rest of our day. We also may find ourselves thinking about what we would have done differently, or ruminating on the situation itself.

 

Is All Stress Bad?

So the question remains, is stress bad? If you watch the video by Kelly McGonigal, “stress,” or the stress response, is not a bad thing! In fact, Kelly McGonigal notes that when we change our minds about our stress response, that the stressor may not necessarily be a “bad thing,” our stress response changes & our blood vessels stay relaxed. She states, “…in the study when participants viewed their stress response as helpful, their blood vessels stayed relaxed like this. Their heart was still pounding, but this is a much healthier cardiovascular profile. It actually looks a lot like what happens in moments of joy and courage.”

If we change our thoughts about our stress response, in that the way our body is reacting helps keep us safe and meet any challenge we face, our bodies start responding in a positive way. By changing our mind and reframing our previous thoughts that our “stressors” and our “stress response” is creating resilience, and will actually change our health in the long run (see the studies in Kelly McGonigal’s video for more information).

 

Regain Control of your Stress Response with The Mind-Body Connection

One of the buzzwords going around the medical community over the last decade or so has been in reference to the “Mind-Body” connection and its impact on health and wellness. This type of approach to wellness stems from the basis that thoughts and emotions have a significant impact on the body, and vice versa. These two entities greatly affect each other. From the medical journal Pediatrics created by the American Academy of Pediatrics, authors note that “Mind-body therapies and practices (eg, meditation and yoga) are among the top 10 complementary therapies reportedly used by adults and children in the 2007-2012 National Health Interview Survey. 

 

Mind-body therapies focus on the interaction between the mind and the body, with the intent to use the mind to influence physical functions and directly affect health.” A simple search on Google or PubMed (the National Institute of Health’s database for research studies and white papers) would result in numerous documents published indicating the use of Mind-Body medicine and therapies on an array of different conditions, from cancer, to endometriosis, to chronic pain, to PTSD, etc. 

 

There is also evidence that mind-body techniques have an impact on:

  • improving cognition
  • reducing Parkinson’s disease symptoms
  • alleviating IBS
  • enhancing immune system function & wound healing
  • reducing the anxiety and pain associated with pregnancy and labor.

Mind-Body therapies typically include the following methods:

  • relaxation
  • hypnosis
  • visual imagery
  • meditation
  • yoga
  • biofeedback
  • tai chi
  • qi gong
  • cognitive-behavioral therapies
  • group support
  • autogenic training
  • spirituality

You have likely heard of many of these modalities, and may even practice some of them yourself without realizing it qualifies as “mind-body medicine”.

 

What does Mind-Body Medicine mean for you?

Have you ever noticed a time where a particular thought goes through your mind and your stomach starts to hurt or you experience butterflies a few seconds-to-minutes later?

Or have you ever been ruminating on an argument you had with a loved one and noticed that your shoulders were up to your ears and your jaw was clenched so hard you thought you were going to crack some teeth?

These are examples of how the mind and the body may be connected, sometimes even without our knowledge until we bring awareness to it!

For many people, the underlying source or root cause of their dis-ease is not necessarily a biochemical process happening in their body, a physiological response to the body being out of homeostasis.

Instead, what we have realized for many people, is that the real reason they are experiencing a certain condition (this is particularly true for conditions like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Fibromyalgia), is that there is an underlying mind-body connection that many folks are unaware of. One of the triggers for someone experiencing fibromyalgia or chronic pain is having a history of a traumatic experience, often physical or sexual abuse (PMID: 25129032)

Sometimes adults are unaware of this connection, or the memory of having such an experience is often repressed, but the body continues to experience the repercussions of the damage done on a daily basis. In his book, the Body Keeps the Score, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk states that “trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on the mind, brain, and body” (van der Kolk, 21).

It is important to remember that you have control over your thoughts, even if that may seem difficult to believe. There are particular mind-body techniques that help you harness this ability, to be able to change your thoughts, emotions, ideas, and the way that your body responds, all in a very short time period. 

 

What else you can do?

Even though mental and emotional patterns greatly affect your health and there are techniques that can improve your situation, there are other factors to consider. The physiological effect of stress on hormones can take a long time to balance unless directly addressed. If you find yourself suffering from symptoms or a condition where nothing seems to make you better, apply for a free consult with us to see if we can help you solve your most frustrating health issue.