Understanding and Conquering Chronic Stress
By Dr. Joseph Camilli, D.C.
Your body has an innate capacity to heal. The art of healing manifests from your ability to avoid that which adversely stresses your body, and also your ability to assuage the stimuli that has placed your body in a stress reaction. Many people accept the commonly held belief that they do not possess the capacity to prevent or repair from illness. They are often convinced that their genetic make-up limits these capabilities. Of course, as they say these days, this is not supported by the “science”. In fact, that infection fighting, stress managing machine that we call the “body” is constantly working to do just that and to do it efficiently. Stanford University Professor and foremost authority on the physiology of stress, Robert M. Sapolski stated in his book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers that “genes are really not about inevitability, especially when it comes to humans, the brain, or behavior. They are about vulnerability, propensities and tendencies”.
We can take this concept a bit further to say that understanding your vulnerabilities, propensities and tendencies is a good first step in being able to manage your own health and your response to stressful events. I have cared for countless patients that have said to me “both of my parents had bad backs, so I must have a bad back” or whatever malady they believe they inherited. As it relates to stress, it is important to disregard the suggestion that your response to stress will mimic your parents or siblings responses. You will not have to, nor should you absorb or carry anyone else’s burden.
Much of the scientific research about stress and stress response proves that exposure to stress will not inevitably result in ill health. In fact, we need minor intermittent stress to help us learn and better navigate our environment and our relationships. Some stressors like challenges in sport, education and performance can enrich us and give us joy. The problem comes from chronic, unrelenting and persistent stressors, big and small, that wear down our abilities to cope and can even contribute to a decline in one’s health. In the documentary film, Stress: Portrait of a Killer, Dr. Sapolski stated that “stress is not a state of mind…it’s measurable, and dangerous, and humans can’t seem to find their off switch”. So let us take this opportunity to discuss some pathways to that “off switch”.
A conservative/non-invasive approach is most favorable to both understanding stress and managing stress related illness. One approach that is very helpful is espoused by Cognitive Behavioral Therapists. This approach is the “Four A’s of Stress Management”: Avoid, Alter, Accept, or Adapt.
The Four A’s of Stress Management
Avoid: Avoidance is not simply running away, save that technique for wild animals and political discussions. To avoid in this instance means that you should utilize four primary approaches. It is always important to prioritize your tasks follow an order of what is most important to you. You should also seek to control your environment. This means seek the most comfortable situation for yourself, following the old adage to not paint yourself into a corner. It also important to learn to say “no”. People pleasers are usually the first folks to visit the medicine cabinet. Don’t promise what you don’t wish to provide. And most of all, avoid or minimize exposure to toxic people. No matter how hard you try you will not persuade, improve or rehabilitate them.
Alter: Obviously things have to change if you are constantly stressed. This will likely require changes that you must make. First, communicate your feelings and needs to others in a calm and undemanding manner. Next, identify your limits, both to yourself and to others with whom you interact. Finally, attempt to manage your time, essentially give yourself the time you need.
Accept: This is the essence of wisdom. Practice positivity, forgiveness, modesty and reliance. If you can’t change the circumstances accept it and view it from a different perspective.
Adapt: Remember Darwin did not suggest that species endured because they were the strongest. Rather he espouses “survival” of the most adaptable. It is wise to adopt a habit of adaptability. You must not be bogged down in small details, instead seek the bigger picture. Follow a steady maxim for your own life, but don’t expect that anyone else will live their lives for your aspirations. You are not asked to practice avoidance just to attempt to reframe those perspectives that cause conflict in your mind and in your interactions.
Obviously, we accept that stressors exist, but a strategy to confront the complications of stress related illness is essential. A strategy that takes into consideration the issues we previously identified is a good place to begin your conquest of chronic stress.
Dr. Joseph Camilli, D.C. is a provider and lecturer. He received his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Pennsylvania College of Chiropractic in 1987. He practiced in Philadelphia, PA until 2012. He is currently in private practice at Camilli Chiropractic in Myrtle Beach, SC. You can reach Dr. Camilli via his website at: www.camillichiro.com