Tag Archives: Stress

Exercise reorganizes the brain to be more resilient to stress

Physical activity reorganizes the brain so that its response to stress is reduced and anxiety is less likely to interfere with normal brain function, according to a research team based at Princeton University.

 

The researchers report in the Journal of Neuroscience that when mice allowed to exercise regularly experienced a stressor — exposure to cold water — their brains exhibited a spike in the activity of neurons that shut off excitement in the ventral hippocampus, a brain region shown to regulate anxiety.

These findings potentially resolve a discrepancy in research related to the effect of exercise on the brain — namely that exercise reduces anxiety while also promoting the growth of new neurons in the ventral hippocampus. Because these young neurons are typically more excitable than their more mature counterparts, exercise should result in more anxiety, not less. The Princeton-led researchers, however, found that exercise also strengthens the mechanisms that prevent these brain cells from firing.

 

Relaxation & stressless

Stress is one reason people report relapsing and using substances/intoxicants. I’ve been teaching a stress less/relaxation class for years and below is one the handouts that participants report is most helpful.:

Change the situation: Avoid – Alter. Change your reaction: Adapt – Accept

1. Avoid unnecessary stress

Not all stress can be avoided, and it’s not healthy to avoid a situation that needs to be addressed.

Learn how to say “no” – Know your limits and stick to them.

Avoid people who stress you out –Limit the amount of time you spend with people that cause you stress.

Take control of your environment – If the evening news makes you anxious, turn the TV off.

Avoid hot-button topics –If you repeatedly argue about the same subject with the same people, stop bringing it up or excuse yourself when it’s the topic of discussion.

Pare down your to-do list –If you’ve got too much on your plate, distinguish between the “shoulds” and the “musts.”

2. Alter the situation

If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, try to alter it. Figure out what you can do to change things so the problem doesn’t present itself in the future.

Express your feelings instead of bottling them up. If something or someone is bothering you, communicate your concerns in an open and respectful way.
Be willing to compromise. When you ask someone to change their behavior, be willing to do the same.

Be more assertive. Deal with problems head on, doing your best to anticipate and prevent them.

Manage your time better. Plan ahead and make sure you don’t overextend yourself.

3. Adapt to the stressor

If you can’t change the stressor, change yourself. You can adapt to stressful situations and regain your sense of control by changing your expectations and attitude.

Reframe problems. Try to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective.

Look at the big picture. Will it matter in a month, or a year?

Adjust your standards. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, and learn to be okay with “good enough.”

Focus on the positive. When stress is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, including your own positive qualities and gifts.

4. Accept what you can’t change

Some sources of stress are unavoidable, in such cases; the best way to cope with stress is to accept things as they are. Acceptance may be difficult, but in the long run, it’s easier than railing against a situation you can’t change.

Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems.

Look for the upside. As the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” When facing major challenges, try to look at them as opportunities for personal growth.

Share your feelings. Talk to a trusted friend or make an appointment with a therapist.

Learn to forgive. Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and that people make mistakes.

Stress and movement

Stress can be indicated when a person becomes stuck/frozen or stopped in a bodily movement that can be described as either gestural, ( movements isolated to parts or part of the body) or postural ( movements carried constantly through the whole body). When  there is a continuous flow of movement from gesture to posture and vice versa than the person is considered moving in balance and not not indicated to be in stress. one example of this is something that has come up in the last 20 years of leading stress reduction exercises with groups. I ask the participants how they know they are stressed out and the top answers are:

I notice I am gripping the steering wheel- I notice I am making a fist- I am clenching my teeth-I am clenching my butt.

Each one of these actions is a frozen gesture and they generally use the most “force”, muscle, blood flow of any other component of the body while they are active.  Think about it, if you clench your fist the blood flow increases due to the sudden contraction of the muscles, a part of your attention is brought to the area because its being engaged, the rest of the body begins to respond to the clenched fist starting with the arm, shoulders, spine, abdominal muscles and so on ad so on. Suddenly your attention increases to the area dramatically and you realize; “oh I’m clenching my fist….”

The first step to releasing this body stress is the breath. When stressed we tend to hold our breath and/or it becomes shallow breathing. Taking a big breath in and a big breath out begins to increase the oxygen to the brain (and the rest if the body). That big breath also automatically signals to the body on a primal level that the stressor is less and the body begins to relax its muscular contractions. Also when we consciously are taking in a big breath we are exerting voluntary control over our bodies which is the opposite of the stress response which is a involuntary response. This voluntary and controlled breath also signals to the brain on a primal level that the stressor is lessen, resulting in the muscles lessening their contradiction.

Of course simply breathing does not seem like much of an answer for someone who experiences chronic stress/anxiety. But it is one more tool that one can use. Like mindfulness, visualizations, and other techniques, breathing is something that needs to be practiced and the more you practice the more effective it becomes.