Stress Less

According to Psychology today, “Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back at least as strong as before. Rather than letting difficulties or failure overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise.” According to the American Psychological Association, “Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. It means bouncing back.” According to the Oxford Dictionary, resilience is:

  • The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
  • The ability to spring back into shape; elasticity.

Personally, I’ve come to understand resilience to be the body’s innate ability to adapt to and recover from the stressors and demands of life while maintaining optimal performance and stability and doing it all with efficiency and ease. Resilience is our body’s ability to go from a place of rest (what’s known as homeostasis) and adapt physiologically to the stressors of life, recovering quickly from each one; all the while never losing stability (toughness and elasticity) in the midst of the demands life places on us.

Stress is the body’s internal response to the world we experience. Remember, anything that is too much (otherwise known as toxicity) or too little (otherwise known as deficiency) is considered a significant stressor and will activate the stress response in our bodies. This stress response takes us out of homeostasis and into fight/flight/freeze where we are vulnerable to life’s attacks.

Stressors can be chemical. The food we eat, the air we breathe, the things we are exposed to whether we know it or not. It may be the toxins and pollution in the environment that surrounds us, or it could be the lack of nutrients in the processed foods we eat.

Stressors can be physical. Car accidents, falls, whip-lash injuries, sports injuries, or a sedentary lifestyle of sitting at a desk all day or lying on the couch all evening can put the body in a stress state.

Stressors can be emotional. Maybe for you it is life, or relationships, work, abuse, or trauma. Or maybe emotional stress is a lonely life without love, a lack of purpose or destiny, a lack of self-esteem, an underestimation of your worth and value to the world.

Three Stress Pathways

Three distinct pathways exist in the body to help us adapt to and recover from the stressors and demands of life. Each of these pathways has specific responsibilities in making the body more resilient. When one or more of these pathways fails to return the body to balance and rest (homeostasis) it compromises all three pathways and leaves the body vulnerable to disease.

Physical Stress The physical stress pathway is part of the Autonomic Nervous System—more specifically the peripheral nervous system—and consists of the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. Our brain is the master controller of the entire body. It runs and supervises everything! It tells every system in the body what to do and when to do it. The brain and its roughly sixty-five trillion chemical messages per second use the spinal cord as a lifeline for effective communication with the organs, tissues, and the nearly eighty trillion cells that make up the body. Situated between the brain and skull and running along the spinal cord in between the vertebral column is a protective layer called the dura. The dura is the outermost of the three layers of membrane called the meninges that protect the central nervous system. It is the dura that facilitates the “fight/flight” response along this neurological/physical pathway.

A body at rest is said to be in homeostasis—a very specific set point that describes the balance of key physiological markers like pH balance, body temperature, and oxygen levels. When the body is in homeostasis, the dura is relaxed like a rubber band lying comfortably on the table. However, under stress—or any toxicity or deficiency physically, chemically, or emotionally that takes the body away from homeostasis—the dura stretches. Imagine that rubber band being stretched by your hands to maximum tautness. It is this increased tension on the dura that activates the stress response along this neurological stress pathway. This in turn affects the internal balance of the body.

When stressors have accumulated, the neurological stress path is activated. Tension on the dura begins forming callouses due to the increased tension and the friction that results. Physiologically, these callouses are referred to as dural adhesions. If a callous forms along the dura, the dura no longer recovers. This causes the physical stress pathway to get stuck in a stress response. At this point, the body is vulnerable and begins to lose its resilience.

Chemical Stress The second main stress pathway that the body uses to adapt physiologically to the demands and stressors of life is the chemical stress pathway. It consists of what is known as the HPA-axis. This path is responsible for creating and distributing the stress hormone cortisol. In breaking down the role of the HPA-axis when dealing with stress, we see that the (H)ypothalamus is a part of the brain used to gather all the information from the environment we are in. When our external or internal environment becomes toxic or deficient, this fight/flight response is activated. Immediately the hypothalamus sends this information to the (P)ituitary which then relays the information to the (A)drenals. In an instant, the body is thrust into a fight or flight response.

Interestingly, the only thing that has been proven to effectively restore this pathway to homeostasis and rest is adaptogenic herbs. The term, adaptogen was introduced into scientific literature by Russian toxicologist Nikolay Lazarev in 1957 to refer to substances that increase the state of “non-specific resistance” in stress and “decrease sensitivity to stressors.” At first, I simply began exposing my patients to the amazing benefits of adaptogens in creating resilience to the stressors of life. As time went on, I became very diligent in my pursuit of which adaptogens work best together and which ones could be taken consistently for long periods of time.

Emotional Stress The emotional stress pathway is activated directly by the neurological stress pathway and consists of the amygdala, Locus coeruleus, and the limbic system of the brain. Simply put, this pathway is influenced by our thoughts. Negative thoughts push this pathway into a stress response, while positive thoughts restore this pathway to rest and balance. More accurately, anytime we lose hope in our circumstances or future, this pathway is activated. At the same time, if we get our perspective back in alignment with hope and confidence in our future, this pathway can restore itself back to homeostasis. The research is incredibly compelling, especially regarding the changes that occur in our DNA and gene code because of how we think. In fact, when you begin to understand the cortex of the brain which is our “personal library” that logs every experience we have ever been through and its relationship with the Amygdala which attaches an emotion (whether good or bad) with every experience, you begin to clearly see the dynamics of PTSD, anxiety, depression, and mental illness. These imbalanced states are at epidemic proportion right now. Addressing this pathway is a critical component of a Happy and Healthy Life.

Five Main Vulnerabilities to Stress

  1. A body away from homeostasis. Under stress, our bodies move away from the state of physiological balance known as homeostasis.
  2. Inflammation and cellular waste. Stress can lead to inflammation as well as an accumulation of cellular waste. Some evidence suggests that chronic stress increases inflammation and other diseases through production of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
  3. Weakened Immunity. Prolonged stress can weaken the immune system.
  4. Downregulated Digestion. Chronic stress can affect the digestive system by reducing digestive enzymes and beneficial gut bacteria.
  5. Disruption of Neurotransmitters & Circadian Rhythm. Stress can negatively affect sleep by disrupting circadian rhythms.

Chiropractic Care

Chiropractic adjustments focus on aligning the spine to optimize nervous system function, which can alleviate tension and reduce the body’s stress response. By addressing misalignments or subluxations in the spine, chiropractic care helps restore proper nerve flow and communication between the brain and body. Additionally, integrating other techniques such as massage therapy, exercise, and stress management strategies can further enhance the effectiveness of chiropractic care in combating the neurological stress response.

Combatting Stress

Lifestyle Recommendations

  • Diaphragmatic deep breathing exercises (look up videos on YouTube)
  • Regular exercise to improve mood and reduce stress; include Tai Chi or yoga
  • Employ calming techniques such as aromatherapy, massage, or music therapy
  • Optimize sleep hygiene and aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night
  • Aim for at least 30 minutes of outdoor (even overcast) light each day with sunglasses off for some of the time

Nutritional Recommendations

  • Ensure adequate magnesium intake (310-420 mg/day based on age & gender) through rich sources such as kale, spinach, Swiss chard, pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, black beans, dark chocolate or supplementation.
  • Ensure adequate zinc intake (8-11 mg/day based on age & gender) through rich sources such as oysters, liver, beef, pork, crab, lobster, baked beans, & egg yolks.
  • A protein-rich diet with emphasis on foods high in tyrosine and tryptophan: turkey, beef, chicken, salmon, & cheese.
  • Consume probiotic-rich foods such as sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, and pickled vegetables; intake of fermented foods has been associated with reduced anxiety symptoms.
  • Consider adaptogenic teas for their polyphenols and calming effects, such as chamomile, holy basil, or oolong.
  • Anxiety is thought to be correlated with a lowered total antioxidant state, with antioxidants showing promise as novel therapeutics.
    • Spices: clove, allspice, sweet basil, sage, rosemary, turmeric, ginger
    • Fruits: blueberries, blackberries, raspberries
    • Vegetables: artichokes, kale, spinach, beets, broccoli, garlic
    • Beans/legumes: dried small red, Pinto, black, red kidney


Stress MAXX

Link to Dr. Pete’s Stress E-Book