As interest rates and inflation continue to put pressure on Aussie households with skyrocketing cost of living, it is no surprise that stress is high.
Clinical Nurse Consultant in Pain Management, Claire Dunkley knows this all too well. In the past months she's been treating an increasing amount of clients at her Cluzie Clinic, who are experiencing pain and injury and, when she speaks to them, a lot of their stresses can be traced back to financial woes.
Speaking to 9Honey Coach, Dunkley unpacks the 'alarming' link between stress and 'hidden inflammation' in the body – a condition she has been a leading practitioner in treating for 20 years.
"Hidden inflammation is the inflammation in your body that does not show up on blood test or scans such as Xray or MRI. It is termed the 'silent killer' and can have significant impact on health parameters of an individual, without them having any idea of the cause," Dunkely tells us.
"In fact, people suffering from this type of inflammation are often ridiculed and made to feel like they are making it all up. It silently continues to harm the body for years, even decades, until the symptoms of disease present themselves. By then there is a lot of damage to the body, sometimes irreversible.
If you had have known the drip was there you could have fixed it before major damage was done.
"I liken it to having a slow leak in your water pipes in the upstairs bathroom; it silently drips away until such time as the ceiling collapses or mould presents. If you had have known the drip was there you could have fixed it before major damage was done."
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How does stress impact the body
Claire reveals that financial stress is the number one cause of disease in our modern world and is directly linked to the six biggest killers: cancer, heart disease, liver disease, lung disease accidents and suicide.
"Some people thrive on stress and even need it to get things done. But when stress becomes consistent and chronic, it becomes an issue," she says.
Physically speaking, stress raises the heart rate, initiates the release of stress hormones (including cortisol), increases blood sugar and keeps us in a constant fight – flight state.
"This results in our digestion slowing down, our body struggles to heal or repair, cholesterol and blood sugar rises and hormones are disrupted. The body can begin to show all the signs and symptoms of diabetes, without the actual disease of diabetes.
Research has shown that consistent and ongoing increases in heart rate caused by stress, and elevated levels of stress hormones and blood pressure, all take a toll on the body.
It's been several years since the World Health Organization (WHO) classified stress as 'the health epidemic of the 21st century' but Dunkley says the pandemic shined an even brighter light on the issue and the many related problems that arise from years of unrelenting stress.
"Left unchecked, high stress levels can be extremely detrimental to a person's wellbeing, affecting sleep, nutrition, concentration, frequency of illness, injury, gut health and propensity towards consumption of alcohol and tobacco products. Research and medical data also shows that long-term ongoing stress can increase the risk for hypertension, heart attack and stroke," she explains.
"Repeated acute stress and persistent chronic stress may also contribute to inflammation in the circulatory system, particularly in the coronary arteries, and this is one pathway that is thought to tie stress to heart attack. It also appears that how a person responds to stress can affect cholesterol levels."
Signs of hidden inflammation
From poor sleep, acne and dark circles under the eyes to bloating, aching muscles and swollen hands and feet, Dunkley explains how to notice even the most subtle signs of hidden inflammation before it gets serious.
"Many people don't recognise the inflammation they are dealing with before it becomes a medical condition. They don't see the warning signs the body is using to signal that something is off and causing an interference in function," she says.
"Hidden inflammation is really not hidden; people just ignore these symptoms and think it is normal and part of their everyday life."
It is NOT normal to experience symptoms like:
- Brain fog
- Difficulty losing or gaining weight
- Chronic aches and pains
- Dark circles under the eyes
- Sinus issues
- Low immune function – you catch every cold and flu
- Mood swings
- Hot flushes
- Gastrointestinal issues like bloating, reflux, diarrhoea or constipation
"The list could go on and on. The number of symptoms and their severity depends on each person and their unique body, as well as their capacity to adapt and function with inflammation," Dunkley says.
What can help
While many of us are suffering the negative effects of stress, Dunkley points out surprisingly few people are taking advantage of the many wellbeing tools and resources available to help reduce stress.
"At some point, as stress levels reach sweeping proportions, you should reassess all aspects of your life, including the role that work plays and how much of yourself you are willing to give up for a paycheck," she says.
Apart from achieving a good work-life balance, here she suggests some simple (and free) tips to put in practice in everyday life to reduce inflammation and stop further damage:
1. Meditate daily
Meditation is something anyone can do, anytime, anywhere – even someplace loud. It's easy to learn and involves some pretty basic techniques. Like anything new, the more we meditate, the more comfortable we'll get spending time with our mind. It doesn't take long to feel the benefits of a regular meditation practice. Research shows meditation can significantly reduce stress in just 10 days. In addition, thousands of studies have shown mindfulness and meditation can positively impact mental and physical health. Try to meditate on a daily basis, even if it is just for 5-10 minutes.
2. Walk barefoot on the grass
Find a nice patch of lush grass, be it in your backyard or a local park. Then just take your shoes off and enjoy! Perhaps sit near a tree and breathe. Enjoy the feeling of the grass against your skin, the fresh air in your lungs, and the sense of grounding the sun, earth and air provide you.
3. Walk barefoot on the beach
If you are lucky enough to live by the beach, head there as often as possible throughout the week. Sit on the sand and breathe in time with the waves. Don't live along the Coast? No problem, just try to find a body of water, such as a lake, creek, river, waterfall or even a water feature.
4. Box breathing
Box breathing, also referred to as square breathing, is a deep breathing technique that can help you slow down your breathing. It works by distracting your mind as you count, calming your nervous system and decreasing stress in your body. At the clinic, we recommend that every hour you take a big breath in to the count of five, hold for five, then breath out for five. If you can, try to repeat this five times.
5. Sit with an animal
Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. Other studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support and boost your mood. So take the time each day to spend some time with your pets, patting and playing with them to absorb all the beautiful energy and stress-reducing hormones from your loving animal.
6. Play Solfeggio Tunes
Solfeggio frequencies are a set of nine electromagnetic tones that are reputed to have the power to heal and raise consciousness. They form the basis of many ancient sacred music traditions dating back as far as the 8th century, such as the Gregorian chants and Indian Sanskrit chants. If you can, play Solfeggio Tunes (find tunes on YouTube) in the background when at home and work, especially 528Hz and 432Hz.
7. See your doctor
Often, a person suffering from acute stress and these inflammatory conditions can benefit from a reset of the frequencies functioning throughout the body's systems. Termed Amino Neuro Frequency (ANF) Therapy, for example, involves non-invasive medical devices placed on the skin to directly repair the nervous system and to begin reducing inflammation throughout the body's vital systems, including the lymphatic and parasympathetic nervous system.
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