Stress – The Surprising Silent Killer

Stress - the Silent Killer

We all know at a deep human level that prolonged stress is not at all good for us. In this article we will dive down on the physiologic why and discuss an exciting new approach to assist our nervous system in combatting the many detrimental effects of this silent killer.

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What is Stress?

The human stress response is natural and necessary. It releases critical hormones that rapidly increase our heart rate, quickens our breathing, raises our blood pressure, and tightens our muscles. All things necessary to run away or to fight. A stress reaction is the body’s natural mechanism to protect us from harm.

What Happens When You Have Prolonged, Misplaced or Chronically Up Regulated Stress?

But what if this stress response is prolonged, misplaced, and chronically up regulated. The well-researched effects of prolonged stress are far reaching and include but are in no way limited to poor sleep, decreased digestion, compromised immunity, increased muscle tension, chronic pain, decreased circulation, increased blood pressure, poor sexual function, fatigue, an overall increase in cortisol levels and decreased vagal tone.

I am certain you are familiar with the list above. But what does it mean to have poor vagal tone? As our 10th cranial nerve, the vagus nerve is extensive and complex as it transmits information from the brain to tissues and organs throughout the body. The vagus nerve plays the critical role of down regulating the body’s stress response by slowing heart rate, decreasing blood pressure, stimulating digestion, and decreasing systemic inflammatory response. The key to optimal health is to have high vagal tone, but prolonged stress decreases vagal tone.

Effects Of Stress

All stress increases disease and all disease increase stress on the body. The Covid-19 virus appears to be a specifically stressful disease for many, especially those who have high sympathetic stress, inflammation, and immune compromise prior to infection. Covid-19 can create a severe inflammatory cytokine storm that drives sympathetic nervous system overactivity and can result in long-haul symptoms well after the infection has cleared.

We can see the relationship between disease and stress is a circular one. Disease of any kind causes stress to the system, and a system under prolonged stress causes disease.

How to Manage Stress

We know that engaging in routine exercise, eating healthy, meditation, connecting with others, and getting enough sleep all help us manage stress in our lives. But what can we do for a nervous system that seems suck in overdrive and resultant low vagus nerve tone?

At CHARM, where we see many suffering with chronic pain, sympathetic nervous system upregulation and symptoms associated with low vagus nerve tone, we are now providing exciting ways to directly stimulate the vagus nerve. The Dolphin Microcurrent Point Stimulator (MPS) vagal nerve protocols and the Master Reset direct current protocol using the Neubie in complement with prescriptive movement therapies are ways we are successfully addressing this complex and pervasive issue in our patients.

There is no easy answer to chronic pain, prolonged stress, or a nervous system stuck in a state of overactivity, but there are new and exciting therapies on the horizon.

Michele M. Harris 1

Michele Zink Harris


Department of Physical Therapy
Center For Healing & Regenerative Medicine

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