Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Running on Empty: How Stress Impacts the Nervous System

One of our key focuses as a pediatric clinic is supporting the developing nervous system. As most parents, teachers, and health providers can attest there has been a drastic increase in the number of chronic pediatric conditions within in the past decade. Whether it be autism, ADHD, anxiety and depression, asthma, ear infections, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Most of our patients have been diagnosed with one of these conditions when they come to the clinic. As chiropractors, we focus less on the "labels" and more so on the neurological adaptations their bodies have undergone due to chronic stress. 

Our first step is to determine the unique stressors that trigger neurological change. We typically encounter three main categories of stress:
  1. Traumas/Physical 
    • Birth 
    • Trips and falls
    • Posture
  2. Toxins/Chemical
    • Pollution (air, soil, and water)
    • Nutritional deficiencies and food choices
    • Vaccines 
  3. Thoughts/Emotional
    • Stressful pregnancy and birth
    • Anxiety about school, sports, work
    • Stress at home, school, friends
Each of these stressors may create an imbalance in the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). The ANS controls the body's automatic responses in the organs, glands, and blood vessels. There are two branches of the ANS:
  1. Sympathetic Nervous System: Fight or Flight/ Gas Pedal
  2. Parasympathetic Nervous System: Rest and Digest/ Brake Pedal
Both systems are integral to our survival, but they cannot be active at the same time. We should spend the most time in a Brake Pedal state (80%) and less time in the Gas Pedal state (20%). However, the stressors (stressful birth and delivery, constant worrying, skipping meals, not getting enough sleep, rushing to activities, etc.) we encounter tend to send our systems into sympathetic overdrive/always stepping on the gas pedal. This sympathetic shift occurs anytime our body perceives a threat and needs to enter protection mode (fight or flight), which causes our an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration, as well as a decrease in blood sent to our brain and digestive organs. In these "stressful" events our body is shunting blood away from areas that promote growth and development. It is especially important for our mamas-to-be and kids to be in the Brake Pedal state as much as possible to promote a healthy functioning nervous, immune, and digestive systems. 

Ways to Step on the Brakes:

  1. Getting adjusted - Resets the nervous system and promotes a Brake Pedal state. 
  2. Belly breathing - Placing one hand on your chest and the other on your tummy. Close your eyes and take a deep breath in. Focus on which hand raises first. It should be the tummy hand. If it isn't, try again. With every belly breath, you are increasing the amount of oxygen circulating throughout your body, which promotes relaxation.
  3. Bach's Rescue Remedy - Gentle homeopathic remedy that helps reduce stress and anxiety (kid, adult, and pet friendly options) http://www.bachflower.com/rescue-remedy-information
  4. Get outside - Play at the park, walk, or jog. Getting out into nature helps improve breathing and circulation. Spending time with family and friends is a bonus. 
  5. Hugs - Giving a loved one a 30 second hug releases oxytocin. This hormone is released when the body is a in safe, relaxed place. Simply hugging your child or partner will create a calming effect for both of you. 

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