Stress: It's NOT in Your Head, it's in Your Nervous System

Stress: It's NOT in Your Head, it's in Your Nervous System

(original article by Melody Walford; excerpt from upliftconnect.com )

Have you ever been told when you’re stressed to stop worrying and just relax? That it’s all in your head? It would be nice if it were that simple. But it’s not…

Physiology research shows that the stress response memory lives in your nervous system. Take for example exposure to a stressful event. One in which you felt helpless, hopeless, and lacked control. In this case your autonomic nervous system (ANS) is engaged. This is the part of the nervous system responsible for controlling unconscious bodily actions like breathing. To be more specific, it was the sympathetic branch (fight or flight) of the ANS that kicked in while you were strained. In addition, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis of the midbrain began firing. A signal from your hypothalamus sends a hormonal message to your pituitary gland that stimulates to your adrenal glands.

To further activate this fight or flight response, stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are released from your adrenal glands. They help our body suddenly mobilize to flee danger. According to Peter A. Levine, trauma expert in the field of psychotherapy, trauma occurs when this biological process is overwhelmed and a person is unable to release and process the stressful event. It is possible to avoid a traumatic response by discharging the energy generated. For example, shaking, crying, and screaming can allow the individual to physically process the stress.

However, if the stress response is not processed, it remains in the tissues of the body. When a subsequent stressful event that does not pose a serious threat occurs, the traumatic memory is recalled. A large amount of stress hormones are released. Blood rushes to extremities, pupils dilate, muscle tone increases presenting as tension, breathing rate increases, the heartbeats faster, and sweating occurs. Hence, the nervous system responds as if this small incident is life threatening.

This biological response is clearly beyond the ability to rationally control. You can’t think your way out of it. Chronic stress leads to dissociation or immobility, a state of sympathetic charge and hormonal release, which is health damaging. The brainstem (the primitive part of the brain) governs emotional experience and biological response. When the brainstem is activated by the fight or flight response, it trumps the more developed front of the brain, the prefrontal cortex. It is therefore not possible to be in the primitive state of fight or flight and also to think rationally and critically (as the prefrontal cortex would have us do).

Unprocessed stress becomes traumatic memory that lies dormant in the body. A present day trigger can cause the stored memory to resurface. Understanding what is happening inside our body and brain, gives us compassion. Learning why our body responds the way it does, leads to awareness and empowerment. It moves us out of being isolated, fearful, victims. By caring for our bodies and understanding their self-protective responses, we can release shame.

When we comprehend the physiologic process that is trying to keep us safe, from an old memory or trauma, we can replace inner judgement with kindness. Self-love becomes possible. It may not be serving us in the present but in the past it did. In fact, this same response helped us survive.

The work is then to re-train the body. This can be done by invoking practices such as felt sense oriented meditation, deep breathing, chiropractic, acupuncture, vocal toning, spontaneous movement and dance, yoga, listening to soothing music, spending time in nature, running, or hiking. Or simply receiving a hug from a loved one, which releases oxytocin, a natural hormone produced by the pituitary gland that promotes bonding and connection.

These are tools to deactivate the sympathetic response and activate the opposing parasympathetic response, called the rest and digest mechanism. The goal is to feel safe. To regulate breathing, slow the heartbeat, and circulate blood back to the vital organs

These powerful practices change our physiology and affect our mood. The next time someone suggests it’s all in your head, you will have a different response. This knowledge empowers us to heal past wounds. Through acknowledging the power trauma plays in your life and understanding the mechanisms by which healing occurs, you can create a more embodied, joyful life.

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Boost Your Immune System this Holiday Season

A study out of the scientific journal Chiropractic and Osteopathy was designed to see if certain blood cells would produce more of an immune substance (Interleukin-2/IL-2, specifically) after chiropractic adjustments. IL-2 is a signaling molecule that is produced by certain blood cells and is instrumental in the body’s natural response to microbial infection and in discriminating between foreign (non-self) and self. In essence, if the blood cells produce enough IL-2, the body can fight infection more readily. This IL-2 molecule is important in helping the body to know what is a foreign threat of infection and what is naturally inside the body.

 

More specifically within the study, 76 individuals had blood samples taken and tested in a culture dish to see if they produced IL-2 when exposed to bacteria. Future, the subjects were separated into three groups. One group was used as a control and received no adjustments. The other two received adjustments, one group receiving an adjustment with a familiar popping sound and the other in which the adjustment made no sound at all.

 

Blood samples were taken from the group just prior to the adjustment, immediately after, and again at twenty minute and two hour intervals post-adjustment. Cells from the blood samples were then again place into culture and infected to see the level of IL-2 that would be produced in response to the introduced infection.

 

And the results…

 

Both groups receiving some form of adjustment showed an increase in IL-2 at both the twenty-minute and two hour times. The group that was tested at those same time intervals but had not received a chiropractic adjustment did not have a rise in IL-2 levels and therefore would not have been as receptive to fighting an infection.

 

In additional support, research performed by Dr. Ronald Petro, PhD (chief of cancer prevention research and New York Preventive Medical Institute) looked at populations of people suffering from cancer as well as those under long-term chiropractic care and those not under care at all. When they looked at the population of people under long-term chiropractic care, their rate of immunity was 200% higher than the average population and 400% higher than those with suppressed immunity suffering from cancer. Dr. Petro stated that, “chiropractic care gives maximum efficiency to whatever genetic abilities you posses so your system can completely endure to the best of your potential.