The Stress Response

by Dr. Linda Matteoli, DO

I have found that it is near impossible to treat a patient with chronic disease without addressing stress-related dysfunction.  How the body perceives stress impacts virtually every system in the body, from cardiovascular health to gut health to immune health. Therefore, understanding how you perceive, internalize, and respond to stress dramatically impacts how you cope with chronic disease.

Stress can be defined in many different ways. We oftentimes think of stress as solely a mental health issue, and this can lead to dangerous thinking patterns because there can be internal shame and guilt associated with not being able to handle external stressors.

I like to reframe the impact of stress as a combination of physical, environmental, and psychosocial stresses that exceed the adaptive resources of an individual.   When we think about it this way, we can start to identify and peel away the external layers that could be contributing to the stress on our body, while building up internal resources to appropriately respond to stress. This includes both physical resources as well as mental resources or thought work.

Know thyself. The first step in healing from any chronic condition is to really start to become introspective about the allostatic load in your life.  When I’m evaluating a patient, I help them compartmentalize the three main areas of potential stressors into: environmental, physical, and psychosocial. I encourage people to write them down, unapologetically and without judgement.

Potential environmental stressors with the biggest impact:
a.     Clean water – Do you have a water filtration system or has your water been tested?
b.     Clean air – Have your ducts been cleaned and is your a/c regularly maintained?
c.     Clean food – Do you follow the EWG organic / conventional buying guides to reduce pesticide exposure?
d.     How much time to do you spend inside vs outside.   What is your EMF and screen-time exposure like?

Environmental changes such as these can be relatively easy to do initially. And since these are exposures the body has on a daily basis, if you identify a large stressor in one of these areas and alleviate that load, there is a potential for significant healing.

Potential physical stressors with a large impact:
a.     Daily strenuous exercise
b.     Excess caffeine intake (greater than 200-400 mg per day)
c.     Inadequate sleep
d.     Blood sugar dysregulation – Fasting too long or eating too frequently

Taking inventory of these initial physical stressors and making slight changes to daily routine can dramatically impact hormone, nervous system, and immune health.

Psychosocial stressors typically takes the longest to unravel and really figure out.   But it’s worth it, because how we perceive the world around us, how we interpret actions of others and even our own memories; dramatically impacts our stress response and therefore chronic disease. If you’re interested in diving into this a bit more deeply, here are a few resources that I have personal experience with and may help.

“How To Do The Work” by Dr. Nicole LePera
The Life Coach School Podcast by Brooke Castillo
The Gupta Program

Check out our website for more Resources.

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