While the term “stress” may be recent, the affect has been with us throughout the history of evolution. The mind/body response to an immediate threat or stress results in a cascade of physiological, biochemical and hormonal events, which prepares us for the danger – turning on our sympathetic nervous system (or our ‘fight or flight’ response). The adrenal gland produces the stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline), which affects the body in many ways, but three which I will focus on.

The first system to be affected is when the blood is diverted away from the digestive tract and towards the arms and legs, to give the energy the body needs to deal with the danger and physically get away from the situation. So while you may be eating the most nutritionally dense food, if you are stressed your digestive tract is not fully equipped with the blood it needs to absorb all those amazing nutrients let alone digest it. This in turn interferes with growth/regeneration processes compromising the body’s long-term survival as it focuses on the short-term danger.

The second affect of the stress hormones is on our immune system itself. With so much of the bodies energy going towards coping with the stressed state the body cannot focus on long-term protection. When faced with an immediate perceived danger/stress the body must make a decision as to how best to allocate the energy. The priority moves from protecting and fighting bacteria, viruses or environmental toxins and diverts its energy to the immediate perceived danger. The immune system is compromised as a result.

The third affect is on our ability to think clearly. Our ability to process information, reasoning and logic occurs in the forebrain and is significantly slower than the reflex activity in the hindbrain. Adrenal hormones divert blood flow from the forebrain, therefore reducing its ability to function optimally.

So the digestive system, immune system and our ability to use reasoning and logic is effected during periods of stress.

If stress lasts for a few minutes or an hour, our bodies can deal with it. The problem is if stress lasts for weeks, months or years. The stress we confront today isn’t about being chased by a tiger or bear or fighting with another tribe. Stress today is about money, work and relationships. The question is how long-term stress impacts on our body.

When most people think of stress they think of this aspect – emotional stress. The solution of course is simple, clam down. Of course it’s not that simple. I feel its far more constructive to break stress down into various components or stressors which, once we understand them and how they can impact on us, forms a foundation for building resilience and strength back into our minds and body’s and ultimately forms a framework for good health.

For over 30 years Sydney Holistic Dental Centre have been working with a model of stress that has informed our approach to good health. The model is based on five areas of stress that include;

  • Emotional stress: What most people identify as stress. This includes the social, family, community and individual
  • Environmental stress: In hunter-gatherer times, this meant a threat from predators such as lions or bears, or the shortage of food and water. Today, environmental stress comes from chemical exposure, of which there are thousands. Chemicals are found in personal care products, food, in our homes. Electromagnetic radiation in the form of mobile phones, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, air travel, x-ray/CAT scans/MRI
  • Nutritional stress: Comes from the food we eat and the fluids we drink
  • Postural stress: Including how we sit, move (or don’t move), work, sleep and stand which can compromise our body both physically and emotionally
  • Dental stress: The eyes may be windows to the soul but the mouth is the gateway to the body and has much to reveal in our search for good health. The oral cavity is the gateway to the digestive tract and the respiratory tract. Literally the shape and health of the mouth directly impacts on eating and breathing well. The mouth is the site of two of the most common infections in men – tooth decay and gum disease. Because of tooth decay, dentists implant more foreign materials into people’s bodies than all other health professions put together. On top of that, 30-40 per cent of the body’s sensory and motor import occurs in this Oro-facial region. The way it interacts with a part of our nervous system called the autonomic nervous system, has a significant impact and is often overlooked.

In order to understand and deal with stress we need to define it and recognise how it impacts on our daily life.