The effects of stress in the body are far reaching. It affects most systems as being stressed is not the normal state we are designed to be in day to day. Stress diverts energy from these systems to other systems to ensure we are ready to run from our predators. Many people are chronically stressed, and this has serious implications with numerous diseases that plague human beings.
Musculoskeletal system – In acute stress, the muscles of the body tense up. Long term stress can cause inflammation and muscle atrophy (degeneration and shrinkage). Stress has been linked to many musculoskeletal conditions. Interestingly, meditation has been shown to reduce pain related conditions.
Respiratory system – Some studies show that acute stress can actually trigger asthma attacks. There is a specific style of breathwork called buteyko which has amazing results with asthma reduction and which also works well for anxiety and panic conditions.
Cardiovascular system – Stress causes elevation of blood pressure and is known to increase the risk of hypertension, stroke and all cardiovascular disease.
Gastrointestinal system – One of the most known links for stress in the body. When we are in a stressed state, our body shunts the circulation away from our digestive processes. Therefore, digestive processes such as enzyme and bile production, motility and proper absorption of food are lowered.
Reproductive system – the reproductive system is influenced directly by the nervous system as they act on the same pathway. Stress can reduce libido, testosterone production, impact the menstrual cycle and stop ovulation. Chronic stress can also negatively impact sperm production and maturation, causing difficulties in couples who are trying to conceive.
Maternal stress can impact breastfeeding, foetal development and increase rates of postnatal depression.
Immune system – The stress hormone corticosteroid can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system. All immune cell production is lowered.
This is just a snapshot into how stress affects the body; many other systems of the body are also affected.
Fortunately, stress management is something we have a lot of tools for. You may have heard of a group of herbs called adaptogens. Adaptogens help us adapt to stress. We have a range of herbs that all have different mechanisms of action. Many of these herbs work on reducing cortisol, balancing the nervous system and improving the function of the HPA axis. It’s rare that we see a case that doesn’t require some form of herbal stress support.
- Withania (ashwagandha) – This herb has many actions but is most commonly used for stressed states. With a wide range of mental health benefits, withania has also been seen to significantly improve immune health, metabolic health and reproductive health for males and females.
- Rehmania – Great for use where there are prolonged periods of chronic stress. Rehmania supports the adrenals by helping prevent the breakdown of cortisol. This may sound like something we don’t want but, in periods of chronic stress, preventing that breakdown helps to aid with exhaustion. Rehmania has been seen to have uses in asthma, allergies, skin rashes, menstrual irregularities, constipation and diabetes.
- American ginseng – For those that feel wired and tired. It helps support energy levels without overstimulating. American Ginseng helps with the production of many neurotransmitters and promotes cognition. An amazing herb, its effect also reaches out to the immune, digestive, metabolic and reproductive systems within the body.
- Licorice – Helpful for those times of exhaustion to boost and tonify the body. It has the ability to help the body retain magnesium, aiding in promotion of GABA levels, a calming neurotransmitter. Again, its effects don’t stop at mental health and stress. It’s a brilliant anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, lung tonic and indicated for reproductive conditions like PCOS.
Lifestyle modifications and vagus nerve
You may have heard us talk about the vagus nerve before. It’s a special nerve that runs throughout the body, affecting many systems. It plays a large part in making us feel good and relaxed and helps us move from a fight or flight state back to rest and digest quickly.
The best part about working with the vagus nerve is it has some fun ways to stimulate and strengthen it.
- Spending time in nature
- Gargling water
- Cold showers (the fun part is debatable on this one!)
We have lots of tools to help manage stress and it’s a large part of many treatment plans as it plays such a major role in the healing journey. Book an appointment here to get personalised plan made just for you.