Emotional stress and spinal health
Emotional stress can come from many sources: loss of a loved one, divorce, job loss, overworking or overscheduling, financial problems, health problems, problems with spouse or children, aging parents, loneliness, moving, etc. While these stressors may not impact our spinal health immediately, prolonged emotional stress can overwhelm our ability to cope. Over time, these stressors can affect our bodies physically – both structurally and chemically.
Our society, as a whole, often frowns upon the healthy expression of emotion. Often we are told to “get over it;” “move on;” “when the going gets tough, the tough get going,” etc. Unfortunately, when we follow this advice, we tend to bury our emotions. These stored emotions over time will impact our skeletal health and posture. We might be “punched in the gut” by our emotions and find ourselves contracting our stomach muscles. “Heartbroken” individuals might feel chest tightness or demonstrate slumped posture. Financial or work stressors might cause us to hunch our shoulders or clench our jaws, leading to neck and jaw pain. We might be “carrying an elephant on our back” with too much responsibility, causing chronic back pain.
Emotional stressors can also affect us chemically. Extra adrenaline will be produced and serotonin levels will decrease. These chemical changes – known as the “fight or flight” response – were designed to help us in an emergency. Unfortunately, if prolonged, these chemicals will impact our spinal health. It is more common for our spinal vertebrae to shift out of alignment during times of prolonged stress; additionally, soft tissue injuries take much longer to heal. If we find ourselves requiring too frequent visits to the chiropractor, massage therapist, physical therapist or bodyworker, we may be avoiding facing our emotional stressors.
While it is impossible to avoid stress in our lives, we can take action to minimize the toll stress takes upon us. Exercise (cardio, weights, yoga, etc.), healthy diet, spending time in nature (at the beach or in the mountains), meditation, prayer, rest, quiet time, sleep, talking to a trusted friend or family member, journaling, counseling and personal growth work may help us to release the stranglehold our emotions have on us.
If we can learn to release our emotions as they occur, they will be less likely to remain stored in the body; ultimately allowing for healthier minds, bodies, spines and posture.
With over 20 years of experience as a specialist in the upper cervical spine, Upper Cervical Chiropractor Dr. Erin Elster, D.C., has been working with individuals with spinal injuries for the past four years on Maui. For more information on upper cervical care and trauma-induced injuries, contact Dr. Elster in Kahului at (808) 866-6551 or www.erinelster.com.