By Jeff Donahue
Excessive stress--this is the cause of most problems in your body. We all experience stress on a daily basis, as stress is merely a change from your present state. When we move, think, laugh, cry, cough, change positions, eat--these are all examples of stress, because we are changing our current state--our thoughts, bodies or biochemistry.
We tend to think of stress as always bad, but these changes can be good. We need stress to grow, survive and thrive. Exercise, for example, is a "eustress" (a good stress), but even difficult situations (distress) are often needed for us to learn, and do things differently and for the better.
It's the excessive or prolonged stress which causes problems. Our systems are set up to handle a certain amount of stress, and as long as we stay within the boundaries of those limits, we stay healthy. In my line of work, we call that your "adaptive capacity." If we stay within those boundaries, but push at the limits, we actually expand our ability to handle more stress. Think exercise; when we first start, it might be hard, but with a little time, we gain strength and/or endurance, and can easily do what previously was difficult.
However, if we exceed our "adaptive capacity" going beyond our current limits of handling stress, we shrink our resources for managing our stress loads. Have you ever had a day where a lot of distress is happening to you? These mini episodes are cumulative, and a few choice incidents during the day (on top of your "normal stresses") can exceed your capacity, so that a minor remark from a friend in the evening can cause you to blow your top. By this point, your ability to handle that little bit of stress has been greatly reduced.
Our wonderful bodies are capable of healing from these "over stressed" days. Sleep, good food and exercise are great ways to increase the adaptive capacity. But severe overloads, such as trauma or prolonged excessive stress, don't allow our bodies to recover. Psychology experts believe excessive stress occurs in three stages:
1.Alarm--where you are first exposed to the excessive stress
2.Resistance--where the stress continues, and the body uses its resources to cope
3.Exhaustion--where the body no longer has the resources to deal with it, and starts to break down.
Stress, and even excessive stress, is very present in these times. The key to wellness, and lasting good health, is to not only avoid situations that will overload your ability to deal with stress, but to constantly expand your "adaptive capacity."
Dr. Jeff Donahue is a Valley chiropractor, acupuncturist and nutritionist who has practiced lifestyle medicine for more than 20 years.