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Stress - The Silent Killer

What’s all the fuss about?

We all get stressed from time to time don’t we?

But with stress being labeled the silent killer, should we be more worried?

Put simply, yes. However, It is worth mentioning that not all stress is harmful. Some of us work better under stress, and sometimes, stressful situations can help improve our performance. This is called eustress. If the stress is persistent and cannot be resolved through adaptations or other coping mechanisms, the stress then becomes distress, which is damaging. This type of stress can lead to anxiety, depression, weight gain, high blood pressure, lowered immunity and increased inflammation.

What is stress?

Stress is the body’s response to being challenged. The body likes to keep things operating within certain limits, and any deviation from the threshold can be viewed as a stressor. The body will then do everything it can to return the system to some sort of equilibrium, a process known as homeostasis.

Generally speaking, there are three main types of stress, and all three types overlap and interact with one another.

We have mental stress, physical stress and chemical stress, however at the end of the day, on a cellular level, it all really boils down to chemical stress.

Physical stress may result from overexertion or repetitive movements.

Mental stress may come from things at home or work, which feel like they are beyond your control.

The one thing all stressors have in common is that they cause the release of stress hormones in the body.

These adrenal hormones “rev up” the body systems, giving the body what is required to either fight or flee the situation. To put it another way, the stress response gears the body for action. Increases breathing and heart rate and diverts blood to the muscles. All other processes such as repair, digestion and elimination are suspended, until the threat is removed.

This works well in physical situations, but unfortunately the majority of todays stressors fall under the mental or chemical category.

Deadlines, mortgages, arduous commutes all add to mental stresses.

Diets high in sugar, refined carbohydrates and caffeine all add to the chemical stress.

When you burn any type of fuel there is always a waste product left behind. In the body the waste products tend to be acidic, and are irritating to the blood vessels. The body operates optimally in slightly alkaline conditions, and has measures in place to neutralise acidic waste products. However, in times of prolonged stress, these resources get depleted and acid waste can no longer be effectively neutralised. Acids then build up in the system and stored in the tissues until it can be neutralised effectively.

Today, our diets are the main contributors of acid waste build up in the body

This is why people get ill on holiday or after taking time off work. The stress is removed, so the body sees the opportunity and rids itself of the accumulated waste. And this is why we feel ill. It’s the flood of waste products leaving the tissues for elimination.

It may come out through the lungs as a cough, your nose as a cold or through your bowels as sickness and diarrhea.

The best thing here is to let nature take its course. If you medicate to alleviate the symptoms, you are not allowing the body to clean itself, and the waste will be pushed back deep into the tissues. After a few cycles of suppression, the body has to come up with strategies to deal with all the waste. It stores it far from the blood stream in the joints and you may develop arthritis, or cysts and tumours. The immune system may get sensitised and autoimmune conditions develop. It may even make repeated attempts to eliminate through the skin and you may develop eczema or psoriasis.

As aforementioned, the majority of acid wastes today will come from mental and chemical stress, especially from highly processed diets. However, accumulation may also be due to the fact you are simply not eliminating effectively. The kidneys play an important role in neutralising and eliminating acid waste. They actually produce sodium bicarbonate and help to eliminate the neutralised waste by filtering the blood.

The nerves that supply the kidneys, exit the spinal chord between T10-L2. If there is dysfunction in this area of the spine, it can have knock on effects to the kidneys performance. So, from an osteopathic perspective, this is one of the areas we would assess and treat, to ensure adequate elimination.

Our kidneys help to neutralise and eliminate acid waste.

In these situations, there is a large psychological component. When faced with a threat, we will back reference our memory banks and call on past experiences as a way of determining how threatening the situation is. Should we have faced a similar stressful situation in the past, the likelihood is your body will prepare for another stressful event, and if you fail to cope, it will be distressing.

Another feature of the stress response is that muscles become tight. The increased muscle tone primes you for a physical situation; ready to help you escape the threat. However, if muscles remain in this state for prolonged periods, they become fatigued and ache or burn. Not only that, but increased muscle tone also means increased load on your joints, which can lead to joint dysfunction and pain. As osteopaths, we use the musculoskeletal system as an interface to help reduce the effects of stress. Soft tissue techniques alleviate muscle tension and reducing undue burden joints. Manipulations and articulations of specific spinal segments, help reduced neurological “noise” in the spinal chord, allowing eliminatory organs to function unhindered. We may even work on your diaphragm, as dysfunctional breathing patterns can alter how you deal with a stress response. Osteopathy helps the body heal itself and achieve balance internally via external input. By working with the musculoskeletal system , we can remove any barriers to recovery in the digestive and respiratory systems, as well as working on the more symptomatic areas of soreness and restriction.

Osteopathy can help alleviate build up of muscle tension.

There are many ways we can work together with the body, in ways which all go towards reducing the stress response. But his is only dealing with the physical aspect of stress.

Stress is multifaceted, and to if you are suffering from stress it needs to be tackled from all angles.

If you would like more information on how you can cope with stress through other avenues such as diet, mindfulness or acupuncture, then please our see other articles on the topic

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Annie Nunn

Sports Masseuse & Personal Trainer

3 years ago

A very informative read Richard.

I see on a daily basis the effects of stress on my personal training clients. I confidently refer them out to Osteopaths for acupuncture especially during periods of high stress. The feedback from them is always overwhelmingly positive.

Matthew Mott


3 years ago

Great article Richard, a very interesting read!

I will be sure to put these in place with my new challenge as a new dad and also apply this information to my own patient.