Stress: Health Connection (Part One)

This past week Dr. Hebdon gave a special talk at the Dickson County Chamber. For those of you who missed that event, you can get a glimpse of the special talk here on Dr. Hebdon’s blog.

What is stress? A brief crash course in neurology (Part 1 of 3)

In our bodies we have many different systems. This includes our digestive system, our cardiovascular system, our nervous system, our skeletal system etc. They all are interconnected and influence each other to maintain balance or homeostasis. It is important when thinking about health to always remember that nothing is ever isolated, and each system influences all the others. For the purpose of this blog, we will be chiefly talking about the nervous system and how its effect plays on the rest of the body especially when in a state of stress.

As a Chiropractor I am especially interested in the nervous system and how spinal manipulation and rehabilitation plays a direct influence on this system which then has a cascading affect into the body. However, spinal manipulation is not the only way that it can be influenced. I am hoping by the end of this three-part blog you can have some more insight into what stress is, how the body reacts to stress, and what you can do to change its affects.

So, what exactly is stress?

Stress originates from a division of the nervous system. In our nervous system we have a few divisions. One of them is the autonomic nervous system, and the other is the somatic nervous system. The somatic nervous system controls voluntary movement. For example, you are reading this blog, or you moving your mouse on your computer! These are both voluntary movements. These are things that can be easily controlled and require a decision for that to occur.

The autonomic nervous system does “automatic” functions in our body. For example, breathing, your heart beating, or pushing food digesting through your intestines, these are all controlled by the autonomic functions. Let’s focus on this part of the nervous system right now.

The autonomic nervous system also has two divisions the parasympathetic and the sympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is our “rest and digest” part of the nervous system. It, as suggested, allows us to digest food, to decrease heart rate and breathing so we can sleep, etc. The other division is the sympathetic nervous system, and this is called the “fight or flight” division.

In most cases “fight or flight” is useful to us when we are put into a situation that we need to escape without being harmed. This could be a case of walking in the woods and then a bear pops out of a bush and tries to eat us. In that situation it is healthy for us to feel the need to go into “fight or flight”. However, now a days there are not too many of us that encounter a bear or panther attack at our office or home, yet we still feel the action of the sympathetic nervous system without an extreme event such as these.

Imagine, you are heading to work. Someone behind you blasts their horn and then cuts you off. You feel your heart race, you get flustered and fearful. Another instance is working late at night trying to meet a deadline, and you know you may not finish or have time fear, ensues and you have a hard time sleeping after finishing. Or say you can’t bear to look at your credit score or your student loan balance without your fear skyrocketing. These are all engaging the sympathetic nervous system. This is where stress originates in our nervous system. When we engage the sympathetic nervous system, we are creating stress.

Continue next week to hear more about what stress is and what it does to our health.


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Everly, G.S., Lating, J.M. (2013). The Anatomy and Physiology of the Human Stress Response. In: A Clinical Guide to the Treatment of the Human Stress Response. Springer, New York, NY.
Vingerhoets, A. J. (1985). The role of the parasympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system in stress and the emotions. International Journal of Psychosomatics.
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Cannon, W. B. (1953). Bodily changes in pain, hunger, fear, and rage. Boston, MA: Branford.
Everly, G. S., Jr. (1979a). Strategies for coping with stress: An assessment scale. Washington, DC: Office of Health Promotion, Department of Health and Human Services.

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