Flashback 200,000 years to an ancestor of modern man, living as a hunter-gatherer in a world where the threat of becoming prey was a legitimate concern. Just as he had done a hundred times before, he sat near the watering hole, enjoying some of the berries he had recently picked. All of a sudden, he heard a rustle in the brush nearby and looked over to see the unmistakable form of a saber-toothed tiger about to pounce. In order to live to tell the tale, he would have to be able to rapidly switch from a state of “resting and digesting” to one of “fighting or fleeing.” The bodily functions necessary to survive such an encounter, including increased heart rate and breathing, increased blood pressure, increased blood to muscles, and adrenaline release, would kick into high gear to improve chances of escaping death. Bodily functions that were not immediately essential, such as digestion, repair and growth, learning and memory, and reproduction would be put on the back burner. Once the threat was over, he’d revert back to the “rest and digest” state, where he’d remain until the next threat appeared, which may be days or weeks or even months from that moment. The better his nervous system was as initiating this switch, the greater the likelihood of him surviving to pass along his genes to future generations. Hundreds of thousands of years of natural selection reinforced this.
Fast-forward to today, modern humans live in an environment completely different from the one we evolved in. What does that mean? It means that our genetic makeup is not necessarily suited to our modern lifestyle. Instead of spending the majority of our life in a “rest and digest” state as our ancestors did, we are constantly experiencing low level stressors that shift us into “fight or flight.” True, most of us do not have to fear becoming prey but milder threats such as work demands and deadlines, bills, constant rushing, non-stop emails, and strained relationships create the same response in our body as a saber-toothed tiger ready to pounce. Our blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate increase. Digestion, learning and memory, repair and growth, and reproductive function, which aren’t essential for fighting or fleeing, decrease. Although these changes in physiology are essential to survive a rare saber-toothed tiger attack, they become detrimental to our health if we never shift back out of this state. A prolonged increase in blood pressure and heart rate puts stress on the cardiovascular system, leading to atherosclerosis, heart disease, and stroke. An extended decrease in digestive enzyme production and gut motility leads to heartburn, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome. Altered blood flow to the reproductive organs can result in infertility, erectile dysfunction, and a host of other gynecological issues. In fact, many of the leading causes of death in this country can be linked to the effects of constant low-level stress.
So the question becomes how do you know if constant low-level stress is making you sick? And, if so, how do you fix it? To answer the first question, look through the following list and see how many of chronic “fight or flight” symptoms you have:
|q Heartburn||q Belly Fat||q High Blood Pressure||q Infertility|
|q Constipation||q Anxiety||q Atherosclerosis||q Impotence|
|q Insomnia||q Fatigue||q High Cholesterol||q Insulin Resistance|
|q Impaired cognition||q Depression||q IBS||q Heart Disease|
If you have at least one (if not many) of the above symptoms, constant low level stress could be the cause. One of the most effective ways to counteract this is to take control of your breathing, yes, your breathing. The rate and depth of your breath has a profound impact on your brain’s perception of stress. A few minutes a day of conscious breathing can shift your body out of “fight or flight” and into “rest and digest.” The impact this can have on your physical, emotional, and mental health can not be overstated. Here at Nelson Chiropractic and Pilates Center, we recognize that proper breathing is the first and most important step towards wellness. If you’d like to learn more, please check out our website nelsonpilates.com or contact us at 856-767-8800.
Kelli Velez, DC CCSP