Last week, I detailed how too much stress can bombard the brain resulting in forgetfulness, fatigue, fear, anxiety, behavioral changes, mental health issues, and many other seemingly disconnected symptoms.
In this short 11-minute video, I review why it is imperative to pay attention to our self-care and mental health to mitigate the negative physical and emotional ramifications from the excessive stressors of recent events. I also provide solutions on how to calm the brain and body by sharing a few of my favorite naturopathic and functional medicine tools. These include essential oils, deep breathing, mindfulness, and EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique). Finally, I highlight the importance of being compassionate to yourself and others during these challenging times.
In this post, interested practitioners and science geeks will also find additional information on the mechanisms of stress that I mentioned in the video.
I end with a final summary on the importance of toning-down the stressed-out nervous system.
How Stress Hijacks the Brain and Body & Can Result in Poor Mental and Relational Health
The body and mind are intimately related. Specifically, there is a reciprocal feedback loop between our thoughts and our physical symptoms and our bodily functions and mood.
In a recent article published in Townsend Letter, the author explains the complex mechanisms of how constant stress, perceived and real, can strain mental health and emotions. It provides exquisite detail on how when trying to survive a threat, stress hormones hijack the brain and downregulate the body’s repair and rejuvenation processes in favor of survival. This impacts all areas of the body including digestion, hormones, defense, blood sugar balance, and more:
In the modern world, the threat response can compromise the mental health function of “productive and fruitful work” since there are so many possible real and perceived threats, not just tigers. Productive and fruitful work requires higher cortical processing and both long- and short-term memory. If the brain is busy responding to threats like poverty, food shortage, housing or employment insecurity, domestic violence, and internalized world conflict, the same neurological survival strategies operate; and mental health suffers whether the threat is real or perceived.
That’s how the brain helps us survive threat. But surviving trauma in a primitive world is a little more complicated. When threat is identified and stress hormones rise rapidly in the PFC* and limbic system, the connections between the amygdala, hippocampus, and medulla signal the vagus nerve that threat is imminent and turn down vagal tone. The vagal nerve nuclei reside in the medulla and give rise to the longest and, arguably, most crucial nerve in the body, the vagus.
The vagus mediates all basic bodily functions and 80-90% of its fibers are afferent. The vagus notifies the brain directly and immediately about infection and trauma in the periphery when it is stimulated by PAMPs (pathogen associated molecular patterns) and DAMPs (damage associated molecular patterns). Afferent vagal signaling goes to the vagal nuclei in the medulla and from there to the limbic system and the PFC to alert the brain to infection or injury. Efferent signaling from the limbic system to the medulla turn down vagal function to help survive the stress. It is a well-coordinated self-correcting circular feedback system…
The author further explores how the gut-brain connection effects the emotions, mental health, and social integration. As stated in the article:
Social integration and emotional balance depend on the specific neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin all of which depend on branch chain amino acids for their structure.13 When the gut wall thins and branch chain amino acid transport is inhibited,14 synthesis of neurotransmitters that depend on branch chain amino acids is delayed or reduced. Without serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin mental health is elusive or impossible. *
*Notes and Definitions: PFC= Prefrontal cortex, the “executive” function part of the brain, limbic system= primitive area in brain related to survival and emotions, hippocamps= memory center, medulla=part of brainstem relating to automatic functions, afferent nerves=brings nervous system signals to the central nervous system, efferent nerves=brings nerve signals from the central nervous system to the target
Summary & Conclusion: The Importance of Toning-Down the Nervous System
With the current state of the world, the powerful impact of stress is particularly disturbing, because there is little let up in the triggers and emotional upheavals. From everyday stressors, work and school transitions, financial worries, political divisions, racial injustice, health fears, and wildfires, even the most resilient are experiencing excessive strain and overwhelm.
As I noted in the previous article, essential oils are my favorite way to downregulate nervous system overdrive, but other modalities such as mindfulness, emotional freedom technique (EFT), and deep breathing are also effective. I review all of these in the video above.
Naturopathic and functional medicine doctors will use these, and other tools, to develop a personalized protocol to help counteract stress effects for each individual. This will assist in restoring body and brain equilibrium by balancing the inflammatory cascade, healing the gut, restoring neurotransmitters, quieting the limbic system, and increasing secretions and functioning of the vagus nerve. (source)
We all may be a bit more reactionary as our physical and emotional triggers become more challenged. Using our tools to remain calm can help us be more compassionate, tolerant, and understanding of others, building more social cohesion.
So, let’s all use our tools and be kind to ourselves and others.
For more information, see the accompanying article How Too Much Stress Can Make You Fatigued, Forgetful, Frightened, and Self-Critical and What to Do About It.
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Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
According to experts and the World Health Organization (WHO), there is no approved standard of care treatment, cure, or preventative for COVID-19. Supportive measures and containment are in full force as a result. Please see the CDC website and your state’s website for more information and updates. They also state when to contact your physician related to symptoms and travel history, exposures. Please read my more detailed article on this subject here.
This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
Thanks Pixabay and Canva.