Bear with me on this as I am about to try and write a short summary on a very long and complicated subject.
Yes, I know we probably use this term on a daily basis and probably do not think too much about it. So I want you to briefly think about what causes YOU stress, because I can pretty much guarantee it will be different to what causes stress to your partner, your parents, your children, your work colleagues or your friends. Basically, how each of us perceives and adapts to our external environment is different.
On a chemical level though, our bodies react in a similar way.
If you think about a line and at one end is our “fight and flight” response and at the other end is our “rest, digest and repair”, our body chooses to operate somewhere along this line and it is constantly changing. When we receive a stimulus, we evaluate it based on:
- Instinct / self preservation
- How we are feeling at that particular point in time
- Our previous life experiences.
Based on that, our body can move us towards the “fight and flight” response where our body releases a hormone called adrenalin. This causes the heart to pump faster, our senses become sharper and blood is diverted from the digestive system to our muscles. At times like this, digestion goes out the window and we are in self-preservation mode. This would have been great when we were hunter-gatherers and it was a case of eat or be eaten. It is still pretty great if you are about to do a park run or a cycle ride, because that activity is going to utilise that surplus adrenalin. But what if you are stuck at a desk? In a meeting? In traffic? What happens if this occurs day in and day out?
The whole point of the “flight or fight” response is to generate a quick action, it requires of lot of energy and it is not sustainable, so the body switches to a different hormone to maintain that elevated response: cortisol. And this brings a whole raft of problems of its own. Our bodies are truly amazing and they continually try to adapt to these hormonal changes – trying to repair themselves, trying to digest food to provide energy and maintain this elevated state of emergency. It should come as no surprise then, that if this continues, none of these “tasks” will be done very well and the body will eventually go into exhaustion phase.
As we know, fifty-five percent of communication is through body language. We use posture and movement to reflect how we feel. Now add chronic stress into the picture. As an osteopath I see many different postures and some of these physical adaptations can change the health and function of the tissues beneath.
The body has two different types of muscles – phasic muscles (not designed to work all the time) and postural muscles (which you do use all the time). When we are chronically stressed, phasic muscles become recruited as postural muscles. This is a job they are not designed for and they fatigue. Maintaining an antalgic posture takes more energy and becomes another “drain” on the body’s resources.
Things that may not have bothered you previously become stressors in their own right. Even sport, which can be useful to release those “feel good” endorphins, can become a stress if your body is in an adaptive state. And so the loop completes. Without realising it you could find yourself going round this several times with apparently little or no effect and then the smallest thing has a huge effect.
As an Osteopath I will work with you to unpick that cycle. When you come to see me, I will take a comprehensive case history. Apart from asking where your pain is, I will ask about your medical history, any previous accidents (which are essentially previous adaptations), amongst other things. I will also ask questions about your life and the things that are important to you, because this is very much a part of who you are. I will assess how you stand or sit. I will ask you to move and I will be looking for those adaptations. I will move parts of your body to assess resting tone, underlying joint restrictions and fluid health.
My treatments are aimed at helping you and your body find health again. The treatment may not “cure” everything in one session and my advice may require you to make a few minor adjustments but remember it was an accumulation of the small things that got you there in the first place.