Osteopathy and the fight/flight response

How many colds have you endured this winter? Are you suffering with allergies such as eczema or asthma? Do you get indigestion or reflux? Or irritable bowel?

Often these ailments can be traced back to stress and the body’s flight or flight response. When we are stressed, the hypothalamus, which is a tiny structure in the brain, orchestrates a whole raft of changes in the body, which are designed to enable us to escape from the danger or to fight back if necessary. This includes things like raised heart rate and breathing, and increased sweating, but also it diverts energy away from less important functions such as digestion. There is also a massive increase in the output of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is protective in the short term, but harmful in the long term.

sleeping woman with dogProlonged elevated cortisol can lead to:

  • Disturbed sleep
  • Impaired cognitive performance
  • Dampening of the thyroid gland
  • Blood sugar imbalances, such as hyperglycemia
  • Decreases in bone density and muscle mass
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Reduced immunity and slower healing of wounds
  • Increased abdominal fat, which is more likely to cause certain health problems than fat deposited in other areas of the body. These health problems include heart attacks, strokes, and poor cholesterol regulation.

As you can imagine, long-term stress is very destructive. So if you are constantly anxious and on red alert, your immune system and your digestive system may be the first to suffer. In more serious cases, the heart may suffer, there may be hormonal imbalances and in some people the stress leads to chronic fatigue syndrome (M.E.) or fibromyalgia. However I want to talk about those ailments which result from less severe stress.

If you are finding that you stagger from one cold to another, or that you are experiencing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, or you are unable to fall asleep quickly, it is worth asking yourself whether this is because you are stressed. There are things you can do to support your health, by helping to manage how your body responds to stress – even if you can’t actually get rid of the stress itself:

  1. take some exercise daily. This should be little and often if you are not yet very fit (please note exercise is not the answer if you have CFS/ME*)
  2. eat as healthily as you can – lots of colourful veg in particular for their anti-oxidants. You may not realise this, but the immune system resides largely in the gut so it is affected by gut disturbances
  3. meditation and mindfulness – this helps to dampen the flight/flight response and increase the activity of your parasympathetic nervous system, which calms your heart rate and regulates house-keeping activities in your body such as digestion.
  4. good sleep hygiene – ban all screens from your bedroom, and establish a calming bedtime routine so that you are relaxed when you turn the light out.

As an osteopath, I take a holistic approach and will take account of all these things whatever you come to see me about. When someone is stressed, there are techniques I can use to help calm down that fight/flight response, and I also have a few tricks up my sleeve to help support your immune system if you have “the flu”. The treatment works by activating your lymphatic system and getting the diaphragm moving so that your immune system is better supported by other body systems.

So if you feel like you are merely treading water and unable to find your way to better health, take a step back and think about what changes you can make in your life that would support your health and bring you a better quality if life.

As an osteopath, I take a holistic approach and will take account of all these things whatever you come to see me about. When someone is stressed, there are techniques I can use to help calm down that fight/flight response, and I also have a few tricks up my sleeve to help support your immune system if you have “the flu”. The treatment works by activating your lymphatic system and getting the diaphragm moving so that your immune system is better supported by other body systems.

* Sorrel specialises in the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome using the Perrin Technique.

Categories: Chronic Fatigue and Osteopathy.