If anyone had suggested to me 6 weeks ago that I should go and have a stress test done, that it could be a possible explanation for the high blood pressure that I had been diagnosed with a little over a year ago, I would have said “Nah, it cant be stress. Maybe 7 or 8 or maybe even 10 to 15 years ago, when there were fairly major business, financial and personal stresses going on in my life but not now. Not in recent years”.
And so it was that when I went to see my local chiropractor for the first time, 6 weeks ago, having being directed to her by an energy therapist friend who suggested in a session that my high blood pressure (170/105) was related to a structural issue in my neck, that she suggested that I take a stress test along with her regular chiropractic evaluation.
I was about to get a big shock!
I hadn’t a clue when I was filling out the Client Intake Questionnaire and ticking off a range of symptoms, in addition to the high blood pressure, such as cold hands and feet, poor sleep, lack of concentration, being easily distracted and more recently, constant colds and flus that all of these were pointing a single cause, stress!
When the results came back from the test itself, which consisted if being hooked up to a number of probes on my head, ears, fingers, chest and shoulders and being subjected to some mild mental challenges, it would show that in fact I was, and still am, in a state of chronic stress.
It all made sense when I sat with the Chiropractor, Dr Tammy Verlaan-Ross of Life and Balance Centre, and looked at all of the information together, especially, with the symptoms that I had identified in the Questionnaire, realised that I am in ‘fight or flight’ mode. In fact, it would have been pretty bloody obvious even to a blind man on a galloping horse, but then again I had never had cause or reason to put all of those symptoms together in one place and draw this conclusion.
Going back 12 months, the first sign that I had any kind of problem arose when I went to my GP to get a hernia issue attended to that I had been concerned with for a while. As part of visit he took the usual vitals, including Blood Pressure However even making allowances for the usual ‘white coat’ syndrome causing elevated stress when visiting doctors or dentist surgeries, the reading of 175/115 still wasn’t great.
That was an initial shock!
The reason it was shocking and puzzling for me was that just over 2 years before I had radically changed my diet in response to not feeling great and I have been living a plant-based whole food lifestyle since then. A PBWF Diet is similar to a Vegan Diet meaning no meat, fish, eggs, dairy or any form of animal products but in addition it involves eating as much fresh organic fruit and veg as possible and little or no processed (manufactured) products.
This regime had delivered fantastic results in that all of the symptoms that I had been experiencing went away. I lost 30lbs in weight bringing me to 195lbs which for someone who is 6ft 2in is pretty good and an unexpected benefit was that I had stopped biting my nails, a habit that I had been trying to crack since I was a child. So I was doing well, as I thought, but this blood pressure reading really knocked me for six because as far as I was concerned it is associated with people who are 100+lbs heavier and living a crap lifestyle.
Needless to say the GP wanted to put me on medication and gave me all of the warnings about strokes and heart attacks but I was having none of it. I was determined not to add pharmaceuticals with the usual array of side effects into the mix and told him that I was going to work on my diet to see what I could do about it myself. He was a bit shocked but then again he is not used to an upstart like me not following his instructions to take medication to mask a symptom rather than fix the problem. I was taking full responsibility for my health and getting to the source of the problem.
The next few months were a series of trials and errors, I started on a regime of detoxification using various herbal formulas, in particular those that support the kidneys and adrenal glands because they play such a big part in the upper and lower numbers quoted as the BP level. I also upped my meditation practice and I got back to the gym to try to establish a regular regime. As a result, I began to make progress and monitored it using a home Blood Pressure Monitor and over a 6 month period I moved it from the original 175/115 to 140/90 in early August.
Unfortunately at this time my dad was very ill and in mid August he passed and with that event my motivation and mood went south for a couple of months and I stopped my regime of self care and monitoring the blood pressure. Then, despite a short holiday visit to my son in Greece to recharge the batteries, no sooner was I home when I picked up the first of the colds and flus that have been a constant annoyance since then.
It wasn’t until early January that I restarted on the trail of trying to get to the bottom of the high issue again. When I began monitoring it again it showed that it was back up around 160/100 and whilst lower than the original, it had gone back up, most likely because I wasn’t taking the herbal formulas. This showed me that they too, like pharmaceutical medication, were only addressing the symptoms and not the cause and I needed to get to the root cause.
As part of exploring all possibilities, I had a distance healing session with my friend and energy healer, Veronica Morris, and through that it emerged that the high blood pressure problem was structural, in my neck area, and her recommendation was that I should see a chiropractor. At this point there was still no suggestion of stress as the cause.
So when got the readings and feedback from the chiropractor, it made so much sense. The fact that I was suffering from chronic stress meant that I was constantly in the ‘fight or flight’ mode and hence the cold hands and feet, the hyper vigilance causing poor sleep and low concentration, the high blood pressure and of course, the low immune system allowing all of the colds and flus to invade my system.
The diagnosis was both a relief and a scare. A relief because now I knew what I was dealing with and where my attention needed to focus in terms of putting things right. However it was also scary because even though I know a lot about the effects of stress and the way it impacts our behaviour in individual situations, I had never encountered the concept of chronic stress either personally or in anyone I know.
Having read up on it in recent weeks, it seems that chronic stress describes a situation in which one is continuously stressed or in a state of ‘fight or flight’. It typically arises when you are in a stressful situation or series of situations in which your stress levels are high on such a continuous basis that even when the stressful situation has passed your body is still functioning as if you are.
The biggest culprit responsible for extending the effects of a stressful event is our mind, our thinking and the mulling over and worrying that we do. By continuously thinking about a situation and playing out past events and imagining ‘what-if’ future scenarios in our minds we effectively keep recreating the stress in our bodies over and over again. Then if, as in my case, you do it often enough, the body adapts and decides there is no point in returning to normal operations and instead keeps pumping the adrenaline and cortisol and other hormones around the body, and you then get chronic stress.
And just to say, stress is not actually bad in small doses. It is designed as a survival system so that if you see some form of danger, such as a wild animal that could threaten you, then it kicks into action. It pulls blood from your extremities (hands, feet), shuts down your digestive system, limits the blood flow to the brain, increases your heart rate and blood pressure and increases the production of adrenaline and cortisol in order to create a hyper vigilant state. It then directs blood and energy to the large muscles to facilitate you literally ‘fighting or fleeing’ and a short time later, assuming you escape and survive, your system returns to normal. It’s not supposed to last longer than a few minutes because that is all you need to get away and then when it’s over, it’s over.
Except when we start thinking about it and going under and over the stressful event, replaying and cogitating and extending the whole stress response in your system for hours, days and weeks. And as you might imagine it has the potential to become really destructive on the body and mind and some, including Dr Bruce Lipton (‘Biology of Belief’), suggest that stress is the catalyst for many of the cancers and auto immune diseases that proliferate the modern world.
In my own case, in the stress test that I took, the expected spike in my adrenaline, hormones and brainwaves, that one would normally expect to see when one is stressed by an event weren’t distinguishable on the graph because my levels were already so high. Scary!
The other scary piece is that I didn’t know I had it and it seems that the regular medical examination is not designed to pick it up. The case in point being that my GP wanted to go straight to medication for the blood pressure when in fact it is only a symptom of the problem and if I had followed his advice my blood pressure might have been improved now but all of the other effects of the chronic stress would have been ignored and it would have continued to do its insidious damage.
From what I have seen in my superficial research so far, it is only by taking a test similar to what I took that the issue can be identified. There is a suggestion that blood tests designed to check for high cortisol levels is another but that assumes that you know that there is a stress problem in the first place.
For now I am following an intensive programme of adjustments with my chiropractor and I have upped my use of guided meditations. I have started using brain entrainment recordings which use regular music or nature sounds but also have specially encoded sound frequencies beneath the music and these basically retrain the brain waves to come down from high alert mode to normal operational mode.
After my first 4 weeks of treatment there has certainly been an improvement in my posture and neck area, which was initially diagnosed as part of the issue, but there has also been an improvement in my brain wave readings and consequently the blood pressure which is down to 150/100 at last count.
The reason for laying all of this out is not to over dramatise my situation but to illustrate how this silent, insidious issue called ‘stress’ could also be playing havoc with your body, your mind and putting you into the high risk category for serious illness or a major trauma. It could also be wreaking havoc with your concentration, your decision-making, your effectiveness at work, your mood, your sense of self confidence, general wellbeing, your ability to interact with people and even to engage in meaningful relationships.
I know that from a personal point of view it has impacted in so many negative ways and caused me to make some really odd decisions, some of which have caused me to pass up on good opportunities professionally and others that have caused me to dig my self deeper into the shit in particular situations than I otherwise would have been.
All I can say is that if you think that you are ‘off’ whether it be physically, mentally, emotionally, whether you feel that career, life, relationships are not going your way or that you generally have the feeling of ‘what’s the point?’, it might be worth checking out a stress test. Most are based on a measure called Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and others are based on monitoring Brain Wave Activity and combinations of these, it might just start to give you some answers to things going on in your life that don’t make sense and most importantly it might point you in the direction of the action that you need to take in order to resolve it.
I will keep you posted on my own progress and anything else I discover that might be useful over the coming weeks and months.