Stop Stress – 4 Keys to Keeping Your Cool
Living in Alexandria, VA and the DC metro area provides for access to great food, tons of different culture, and unfortunately lots of stressors (beltway traffic, long work hours, etc.). Too many stressors in our lives can create negative physical responses so it’s important to have tools to utilize to control your stress response. The body has three parts of it’s autonomic nervous system: the social branch, sympathetic branch, and parasympathetic branch. This is a newer concept – the Polyvagal theory by Stephen Porges! (It was previously thought that stress response was a either/or relationship between the sympathetic and parasympathetic.) Current research is suggesting that the body’s response to stress is actually sequential. We start by trying to use our most highly evolved response, the social branch. This is directed by a secondary portion of the Vagus nerve which partially controls the muscles of the face. If this fails, we then move onto our sympathetic response or our “fight/flight” mechanisms. This is the most common response associated with stress. We feel our heart rate increase, we get hot, our pupils dilate, we get ready to run or try to take on the world. If this fails, we use our most primitive response, the parasympathetic. This is our “freeze” response. We do not want to get to freeze!
So what can we do to utilize our most advanced form of stress response?
Mammals, especially humans were meant to be social. Listening to the human voice is a key aspect of social engagement. Guided meditation tracks are a easy way to engage your ear and utilize your social branch. Find a safe space, open up an app like Headspace or Expectful, and let your ears calm you!
Coordination of action can be challenging. Sucking, swallowing, and vocalizing while also breathing is a learned skill regulated by the social branch. Mindful breathing exercises can further engage the social branch. Try this: breath in for a count of 7 seconds, hold the breathe for 7 seconds, breath out for 7 seconds, and repeat 7 times. Bringing focus to the breathe, cuts out the noise and reduces stress.
The social branch also controls the muscles in the face responsible for chewing and swallowing. Savoring a healthy meal either alone or with family (be mindful about what you need), can engage the social branch and bring calmness.
*Please note: this does not mean eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s (insert any other processed/packaged food). Pick something that will nourish your soul AND your body!
Upper Cervical Chiropractic
The control center for the social branch of your nervous system is located in the brainstem. This important center is protected by the skull and upper cervical spine. Accidents and injuries can irritate the brainstem, affecting the social branch and limiting it’s ability to modulate your stress response. Getting checked by an upper cervical chiropractor like the doctors at the Upper Cervical Chiropractic Group for an atlas misalignment can be pivotal in enhancing your ability to handle stress!
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