Do you remember the very first time you could perceive stress? Chances are you can look back on your childhood and remember a time you were impacted by stress around you. Perhaps you can marvel at how you were not impacted the presence of stress. But do you remember when you could first feel it in your body? When you noticed its presence in your mind? Are there any illnesses now that you can attribute to stress in your life? Lets deconstruct stress together and figure out if we can find the line where stress can be good but before it weighs you down.
What makes us physiologically “stressed”?
Humans have two predominant nervous systems, the parasympathetic known for its power to “rest and digest” and the sympathetic known for its power to promote “fight or flight”. We are “wired” to experience both stress and relaxation. This was important and adaptive when we were running from bears and hunting for food. Stress on an organism in nature is typically helpful when it is experienced in moderation. For example, you have heard that “weight bearing exercise” can build bone density. This is because the stress of exercise with impact actually promotes bone growth. A little stress is good, but how did we get to a place where stress is the norm and relaxation is the rare exception?
When I studied traditional herbalism prior to medical school, I was amazed by the herbs we consider “adaptogens”. These herbs can boost you up if stress is leaving you depleted and anxious or they can calm you down if stress is winding you up. In a similar way, Osteopathic treatments can interact with the nervous system to calm down the overstimulation that has become the norm. At the end of a treatment the most common experience is that people feel more relaxed. When in fact, neurologically you are! How does this work? In Osteopathic medical school we spend hours studying how the body is wired for these two nervous systems. We can access the parasympathetic nervous system through the cranium and the sacrum, which is why the term “craniosacral” was developed. There are also techniques we use can stimulate the sympathetics along the ribs when we need to open the airways (something we can thank our fight or flight system for).
How can we access and control these nervous systems?
Some of my favorite ways of modifying the nervous system:
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