We are living ever more demanding lives and expect to perform faster, better and longer, without getting sick. What is the result of this relentless modern living? Stress. Stress is accepted to either cause, and/or contribute to most modern day illness. In 2016, stress accounted for almost half of all the sick days taken in the UK. Addressing stress should improve health, prevent illness and enhance the quality of life.
So what happens when we get stressed?
The stress "fight or flight" response to events causes the body to produce adrenaline. While stressed, the body increases blood circulation, diverting flow away from the peripheral organs to provide muscles with additional resources. This causes inflammation so the body then produces cortisol to reduce this effect. In small doses this is healthy, but excessive levels of adrenaline and cortisol disturb basic functions like heart rate, sleep, breathing and digestion. This can make us sweat, cause muscles to tense up, and encourage everyday ailments from weak immunity, poor sleep and the inability to lose weight, to premature ageing, skin disorders and pain.
Prolonged stress is further associated with a range of clinical conditions ranging from heart disease and cancer to autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.
What is chronic stress?
Prolonged stress leads to chronic (long-term) stress, potentially resulting in chronic inflammation. While the stress hormone cortisol plays a positive role in regulating the inflammatory response, chronic stress can dampen the hormone's ability to do so, leaving the inflammation unchecked*. In parallel, chronic stress also seems to increase the production of certain inflammatory white blood cells, which the body sends to sites of threatened infection. When the trigger is stress rather than an actual infection, these are either distributed around the body or focussed on old areas of historical trauma, causing muscle tension and pain.
An unbalanced immune system responding to unabated inflammation can stimulate or make worse most chronic conditions including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, autism, dementia, depression, allergy, and asthma and especially autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, thyroid disease, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Scientists continue to highlight the links between stress, inflammation and disease. Researchers at Harvard University, for example, recently found a link between stress and heart disease that starts in the brain. Heightened activity in the amygdala (the part of the brain that prepares the fight or flight response and is activated by strong emotional reactions) appears to increase bone marrow activity and inflammation in the arteries.
In addition to environmental stress, our modern day diet exacerbates the stress response internally. When the glucose levels in our diet rise too high (which can be as little as half a bar of chocolate) insulin is produced by the pancreas to lower it. Once we have low blood sugar, the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline are released to provide sugar stores from the liver to bring glucose levels back up into balance. Your blood sugar rises again, the stress hormones are released again, and so on. Prolonged stress can lead to insulin resistance, weight gain and eventually to type 2 diabetes.
Both acute and chronic stress increase levels of toxicity and heat (inflammation) inside the body, disrupting circulation. Chinese Medicine recognises that the body has in-built systems to help us de-stress and will attempt to restore balance either through excretion through orifices and skin or by depositing the toxicity in joints and tissues. This is how stress ages the skin and creates tension in the body resulting in symptoms such as stiff neck, aching shoulders and backache. It leaves us feeling tired, appearing aged and with the early symptoms of stress such as disrupted sleep and digestive issues. These are the warning signs that the body is overloaded and urgently diverting stress away from the organs and unable to maintain balance.
Tackling Stress At Source
Hans Selye (who coined the term ‘stress’ in 1936) explained that, “it’s not stress that kills us – it’s our reaction to it”. The solution lies in developing techniques that allow us to deal with stress easily when it happens.
The good news is that our bodies have in-built systems to help us de-stress. We just need to know how to access them. The vagus nerve is an important element of these systems as it ends the body’s fight-or-flight response once the trigger for the stress has passed. Crucially, there is also evidence that the vagus nerve combats inflammation. The vagus cannot be controlled on demand, but can be indirectly stimulated with certain breath, exercise and massage techniques abundant in Chinese Medicine and central to the Hayo'u Method.
Undoing The Damage Caused By Stress
Hayo'u immediately addresses stress by tackling its damaging effects in daily rituals distilled and translated from ancient Chinese Medicine healing techniques.
The three techniques that form our rituals are the most effective in protecting the body from daily stress: leading with Gua Sha self-massage and supported by Qi Gong and conscious bathing. It’s time to take action and let Hayo’u help you bring your body back into balance. Our one-minute rituals are pleasurable to do and as easy as brushing your teeth.
Taoism is an ancient tradition of philosophy and religious belief that is deeply rooted in Chinese customs. According to Taoist theories, stress and tension are the most corrosive enemies of health. Thus, over the past 5000 years in China, Taoist science has accumulated vast swathes of evidence linking the powers of body and mind, neurology and immunology and has developed relevant techniques to counterbalance stress.
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*2012 study from Rockefeller University, USA - http://www.pnas.org/content/109/16/5995.full