By: George Martinez
Stress is a word that has recently been thrown around and it seems to have become a staple of our modern world. Everyone is either experiencing stress themselves or at least knows someone who is. It seems to be an inevitable part of life. But, what is stress and what does it do to our bodies? According to the World Health Organization, stress is a significant problem of our times and affects both physical and mental health. Stress is defined as a situation where an organism’s homeostasis is threatened or the organism perceives a situation as threatening.
The National Scientific Council on The Developing Child claims that there are three types of stress that affect us. The first one is positive stress, which results from adverse experiences that are short lived. People may experience this when meeting new people, starting a new job, or having a deadline at work. This stress elicits minor physiological changes including an increase in heart rate and altered hormone levels. This type of stress is considered normal and being able to cope with it is an important part of development. Most children who experience this type of stress can easily overcome it by having the support of caring adults.
Next we have tolerable stress, which refers to experiences that are more intense but still relatively short lived. For example, a natural disaster, the death of a loved one, or a frightening accident. These stressful events can and are usually overcome by children and adults who have the support of at least one caring adult in their lives. If untreated or managed, these tolerable stressors can become toxic and chronic, which leads us to the third type of stress.
Toxic stress results from intense, adverse experiences that may be sustained over a long period of time (weeks, months or even years). An example of this type of stress is child maltreatment, including abuse and neglect. A child affected by toxic stress and not having supporting adults to cope with the stress can lead the child’s incapability of managing the stress independently. This can have very negative long term effects on the child, adversely affecting them into adulthood. Appropriate support and intervention can help in returning the stress response system back to its normal baseline.
Everyone has a built in stress response system that gets activated based on the person’s perceived level of stress. We can affect our stress response system by actively working on self care practices — like the ones we teach at Fitsom. Stress is going to be a part of our daily lives whether we like it or not. We may not have the power to change that, but we can change our perception of stress and thus, how our body reacts. We can do this by practicing simple techniques such as breathing and self myofascial release (SMR). In a study on yogic breathing and its effects on stress, anxiety and depression from 2005, Richard Brown, M.D, and Patricia Gerbarg, M.D. found that mind-body interventions (yogic breathing in this example) are beneficial in stress-related mental and physical disorders. During the study, they taught volunteers different yogic breathing techniques and found that a sequence of specific breathing techniques can alleviate anxiety, depression, everyday stress, post-traumatic stress, and stress-related medical illnesses.
Mechanisms contributing to a state of calm alertness include increased parasympathetic drive, calming of stress response systems, neuroendocrine release of hormones, and thalamic generators. Stress can also negatively affect the physical body, specifically the fascia. According to the article “Myofascial Release: The ‘Missing Link’ in Your Treatment” by John F. Barnes, P.T, “fascia is a tough connective tissue which spreads throughout the body in a three dimensional web from head to foot without interruption. The fascia surrounds every muscle, bone, nerve, blood vessel and organ of the body, all the way down to the cellular level. Therefore, malfunction of the fascial system due to trauma, posture, or inflammation can create a binding down of the fascia, resulting in abnormal pressure on nerves, muscles, bones, or organs.”
If you experience pain or malfunction throughout your body, sometimes with bizarre side effects and seemingly unrelated symptoms, it could absolutely be due to fascial restrictions. Barnes notes that every time we experience trauma or inflammation (which are all effects of stress), it can negatively affect the fascia over time by limiting mobility. Functioning with restricted fascia feels like a loss of range of motion, increased stiffness, increased pain, and decreased quality of life.
As Barnes states in his article, “the goal of myofascial release is to help return the individual’s physiological adaptive capacity by increasing space and mobility and restoring three-dimensional balance and returning the structure to as close as potentially possible to its vertical orientation with gravity. This equilibrium allows the individual’s self-correcting mechanisms to come into play and alleviate symptoms and restore proper function.” By implementing SMR customs on a regular basis like we promote at the studio, we are helping individuals stay in homeostasis and decrease their stress response system.
Unmanaged stress can easily lead to negative physiological and mental disorders. Fortunately, we can be proactive and combat stress by forming healthy habits like daily breathing techniques and SMR. The stress of everyday life will persist, but we can control how we are able to cope and react to that stress. It’s crucial to have a healthy coping mechanism and to utilize it whenever any level of stressor occurs. If we can move past positive, tolerable, and toxic stress, we can teach our children to do the same.
Here at Fitsom, we believe in fostering an environment to help you cope and manage your daily stress. We teach our clients the benefits of different breathing techniques, like Wim Hof, to the benefits of SMR, Z-health and even nutrition. We are constantly empowering our clients to live fuller lives while feeling straight up good. Let us give you the tools to be able to cope with whatever life throws at you.