The Stress Response

I imagine everyone can identify that feeling of edginess, maybe butterflies in the stomach, fast shallow breathing, racing mind. It occurs when we face a threat, when we are experiencing fear. This is the autonomic nervous system kicking in to prepare us to face the dragon, the danger.

What is your Nervous System doing?

Your nervous system, technically the sympathetic nervous system, prepares you for fight or flight. This body reaction is automatic: you don't say to your heart "beat faster". No, your brainstem activates reactions that are designed to keep you alive. Within microseconds, the adrenals have released the hormone adrenaline into the bloodstream to trigger a whole series of changes. Adrenaline surges through your limbs, heart and breath move faster, eyesight sharpens, digestion shuts down. And you may not be consciously aware of these body sensations - your whole focus is on the source of the threat!

What if this reaction continues?

If you are facing a series of threats or perceived threats throughout the day at your workplace for example, or if you live in a domestic violence situation, or if as a child you didn't feel safe from a parent or sibling - the body learns to stay in high alert. Chronic pain can cause this high alert too - like a smoke alarm that won't turn off. In the longer term, your adrenals release cortisol, a more long-lasting stress hormone than adrenaline. It's like having a foot on the accelerator all the time. It's very hard on your body.

How safe are you?

First thing I want to ask, what is making you feel unsafe? My years of work in family violence taught me that even the person who appears to have it all together may be hiding a situation that warrants being on high alert. Reach out for help if this is the case. Most companies and group insurance plans have counselling services that are confidential, and free or subsidized. Workplace bullying, family violence, addictions, debts - identify the threats you face and get yourself safe.

What do you do to take your foot off the accelerator?

If you think your immediate situation is safe, then let's look at what else might be going on. You may not be sleeping well and you crave a way to relax. This state of high alert might be a leftover from a previously unsafe situation that just became the new norm for you. Likely you've taken up practices to get relief that is at least temporary. What is your go-to to get your body out of the stress reaction? If you are like me you have one strategy you prefer and then a couple of back-ups. I've used baths, a glass or two of wine, exercise, distractions like TV or reading novels or Suduko. I'm in the process of switching over to healthier practices like journaling, meditation, chi kung, and yoga. How well have your strategies worked for you and for how long? Sometimes they can turn into an addiction where they cause even more stress.

How Craniosacral Therapy Helps

Craniosacral therapy enables your body to adjust its nervous response. If your body is functioning in high alert fight-flight mode, I will feel a trembling, a buzz, or a vibration when I place my hands on your ankles and tune in to your system. As the session progresses, your attention and mine to the sympathetic nervous system allows it to down-regulate, and your digestion begins to gurgle. This is a good sign! It is a sign that the 'rest-digest' parasympathetic mode of your nervous system is activated. It is like moving your foot to the brake. By the end of the session, you may feel deeply relaxed, your head a bit spacey, or your body limp. Knowing and experiencing this state may feel new or even uncomfortable for you. In this mode, the body does its repair and regeneration work. The ability of your body to regulate your nervous system is a sign of the health in your body. If you are having trouble taking your foot off the accelerator, try craniosacral therapy! It works!