"What Stress does to Your Body"

Cameron Bishop DAOM, L.Ac.

Copyright 2010

Sometimes I sit there and blink at my patient and their story thinking "I am amazed you are not up in tower getting a few rifle shots off before the police know where they are coming from". The patient just told me their spouse lost their job, a family member passed away, they hate their boss and they have two deliquent teenagers at home. On top of that they have a chronic health issue. Well, they are supposed to be stressed unless they are a saint. I think they need to give themselves a round of applause. Living in our culture there is an unwritten demand and worship of emotional perfectionism. Some families are more tuned to it then others. Understanding how our body works with stress can help us liberate ourselves from some self imposed suffering.

There are around two hundred responses to stress in our body. Some of the most obvious are increased heart rate and pressure, eye changes, reduced bowel motility, blood moves to the core, chemicals alter, brain chemistry changes, hormones shift, muscle twitches, senses heighten and more. All these responses are ingrained in our body. Some are stronger in some people.

These responses can be real or imagined. They are learned and the defense system was designed to keep us alive but it also was designed to be stimulated constantly all day by TV, traffic, kids, internet, cell phones, relationships, work and more. Constantly stimulation can lead to over stimulation which can lead to the "alarms" not going off. Once they are on long term they are difficult to shut down. It can be generational too. I have seen for a couple generations a frozen hysteria from families that lived through persecution or severe familial abuse. Each generation quiets the fear response slowly.

Ironically the stress can also be a "good" stress, such as, winning the lottery or retirement. Personally, I am willing to give that one a try. Long term the responses can vary. Some gain weight to hide, some lose weight quickly to run. The immune system can become increasingly susceptible or heightened to battle off everything. Some get loose stools and others constipated. Some get palpitations, or panic attacks or think they are having heart attacks. Sexual drive can decrease or become hyperactive. Others shut down, have memory issues or even have migraine. The responses very greatly but it makes anything already going wrong in your body get worse including general performance. Chronic stress whether psychological or physical or a combination leads to health issues. Often psychological stress is obvious to everyone but the one experiencing it. The fear of dealing with it is often greater than the desire to move to a healthier space which is often seen as undeserved or unimaginable.

There are many things that account for our response to stress. Strongly, how it was modeled to us by our family, friends and culture. Other factors are how we perceive control, a healthy support network, ability to be honest with oneself and view of the glass as half full. I clearly see that patients that see the glass half empty get better slower.

We all have patterns of dealing with stress. As we move along in life we need to adopt and add better methods, awareness, knowledge and friends. Coping with drugs, alcohol, sexual acting out, dysfunctional relationships, distraction emotionally arrests us at that time. Have you ever met a fifty something alcoholic or drug addict that acts like a teenager? Well, ask them when they started using and will find out that is their emotional age. It is not for everyone to walk into the places that scare you but doing it dissipates the darkness.

How do we deal with stress? It affects us on many levels and we need to attend to it on every level. If you live on a boat you take care of every part of it. Otherwise it will eventually return to the sea. It is inevitable that we return to our source but perhaps we can do it mindfully rather than frenzied.

Physically we need to have our body in the best order. Good food, elimination and exercise. Movement reduces neurological tension. Do something you like to do or start something new. Simply moving water does not get stagnant and the body is much the same way. Mix up your routine often, get fresh air, get into some water and go barefoot more.

Question the health of your support network. How is it working for you? You may need a counselor to help you sort it out. Often people are neurotic not because they are but because they live with one. The dysfunction is so familiar that it can not be clearly seen until they are apart for years.

Be realistic that we are living through history with the present economy. The top ten stressors generally are agreed to be Spouse's death, Divorce, Marriage separation , incarceration, death in family, injury or disease, getting married, job loss, marriage reconciliation and retirement. If you have more than one of the top ten stressors give yourself a break. It is all escalated by the real fact our country is at war. We have survived a few disasters and political upheaval. Although not always tangible it is palpable on some layer of our national consciousness.

Train your mind. You do not have to get new age weird to simply understand that every study says meditation regardless of the tradition makes you healthier, smarter and live longer. The key to meditation is mindful breathing. Mindfulness in everything enhances our ability to recognize that which truly causes us to suffer. The dance in duality is undone by the brave with long term devotion to a path with heart. Be brave.

Be serious about this or at least honest to yourself at your real commitment to healing, growing and change. Keep asking yourself if what you are doing is working for you. Ultimately we become what we cultivate. What are you cultivating?

What are you emotions doing? Stress creates a variety of emotional responses. We can flee, fight, hide, submit, or freeze in response to sudden overwhelming stimulus. Emotionally our responses can be anger, moodiness, irritability, depression, anxiety or some combination. This can be enhanced by recreational drugs, alcohol, sugar, nicotine, caffeine or medications. Mindful attention to our emotional state is a hint at our health. However, our emotions are not always barometers of who we really are. The brave seek our true essence.

Learn, practice and continue on the path. Rejoice if there are others with you on this journey and if not find some fellow travelers. If you were given only one car for you whole life what would you do with it? Obviously you would learn to take care of it, learn everything about it so it would last you your whole life. It is the same for you mind, body and heart. Getting a PhD in anything is not easy but getting one in your self is worth all the investment. Be brave we are living through history.