The American Institute of Stress (AIS) (www.stress.org/stress-effects) lists 50 common signs and symptoms of stress. What I find, and what I have experienced myself, is that many of us struggle to connect how stress affects both the body and the mind. Because of this, we often neglect physical treatments for what we consider to be mental issues.
For example, one of the symptoms of stress is forgetfulness, or brain fog. I have personal experience with this due to my time in the restaurant industry, an industry that many would agree is extremely stressful. When I owned a restaurant, many times, I would go into the store room for a particular ingredient. However, when I got there, I would forget what I was looking for.
The reason for this cognitive impairment was not due to any inherent brain deficiency, but instead due to cortisol, which is recognized as the stress hormone. Elevated cortisol levels activate our “fight, flight, freeze” response and inhibit the thinking, planning and reasoning part of the brain. Because I was stressed about the day-to-day operations of my restaurant, my cortisol levels were elevated, thus the higher function part of my brain was inhibited, leading me to forget why I entered the store room in the first place.
While such forgetfulness is an immediate consequence of stress, chronic elevated cortisol levels can lead to further problems with the body’s various systems and organs. The Mayo clinic’s website (www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyles/stress-management) mentions that chronic stress can manifest in many ways ranging from anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, and memory and concentration impairment.
Here is a list of specific conditions that chronic stress can cause:
- Cardiovascular –
- High Blood Pressure
- Heart Attack
- Adrenal Fatigue
- Autoimmune Reactions
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Crohn’s Disease
- Muscle Tension
- Tension Headaches
- Migraine Headaches
- Erectile Dysfunction
For many of the above diseases/disorders, massage therapy could be an appropriate treatment and, therefore, I believe should be incorporated into every patient’s wellness program, a stance that is supported by the American Massage Therapy Association.
In my next post I will dive into more details about how chronic stress affects the immune system.