The Power in the way we Think

Posts tagged ‘relax’

Stress, alpha and beta

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With only 4 days left of November, we’re on the downhill sprint of this NaBloPoMo challenge and our focus on stress. It’s been an exciting ride!

I want to finish off the month with a few posts that will help you all to integrate everything we’ve discussed over the month, and our final post will celebrate it all.

So as we bring things to a close I want to talk with you all about brainwaves. If we hooked our brains up to an EEG machine and measured the waves during the various states we experience, we’d probably be quite surprised.

There are 4 or 5 different types of brain waves (depending on who you’re talking with), of which I’d like to concentrate on 2, as these are the ones most associated with stress.

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The first of these is the beta waves. These occur when we are awake, alert and learning. Beta waves are associated with stress, anger, irritability, moodiness, anxiety and depression. When we are in this state our thoughts often feel chaotic and we could generally feel out of control. Next time you feel like you’re running around like a headless chicken, you’re probably in the beta state.

Alpha waves on the other hand, occur when we are relaxed and in a meditative state. We feel peaceful and calm, our habits and fears seem to melt away, and we are in a prime state to learn new things. It is in this state that our creativity is at its best. Have you ever been in a state where everything seems to go right for you and things flow effortlessly? This is when you’re brain reflects the alpha state. This also reflects the relaxation response, which we have discussed previously.

The other two states, theta and delta, most often occur during sleep. Theta is light sleep, like when you’re in that place between wakefulness and proper sleep, while you’re still aware of what’s happening around you. Delta occurs during deep, restorative sleep, which Linda talked about during her series of posts on stress and sleep.

Since the beta and alpha states are the waves we want to focus on here, let’s do that.

As we’ve already established, beta waves occur during times of stress and are associated with anxiety, depression, moodiness and anger. We’ve all been there, right? And I’m sure you can recognise from some of our early posts this month that this is what stress often feels like.

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If the alpha state is one of relaxation, creativity and flow, wouldn’t this be much more preferable to being in the beta state? It would be for me, that’s for sure!

So how do we get ourselves from beta to alpha?

By breathing. Using the deep belly breaths we’ve spoken about before, where we concentrate on using our diaphragm to fill up the lungs and allowing them to empty naturally before we take the next breath.

When we become nice and relaxed by using this method, things become easier to achieve. And when we then engage in activities that fill our hearts with passion, it brings forth our creativity and promotes an environment that supports us living our dreams.

And isn’t that what we all ultimately want on some level?

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The relaxation response

In this series you’ve heard a lot about the stress response. We’ve talked about it so much that you’re all probably sick of hearing about it! It’s incredibly important that you understand how it works because this knowledge will assist you in managing your stress in a way that works for you. If you’ve been hiding under a rock these past 19 days and haven’t read anything about it, you can find it in this post and this one. The impacts of stress on our systems are so huge and it’s really important that we are able to combat them. Our health and wellbeing depend on it.

So how do we begin that process?

I’m glad you asked!

The body being the incredible machine it is, created a system that can naturally support us to tackle all this stress. And it’s all part of the autonomic nervous system. Since I’m slightly lazy, I’m just going to call it the nervous system.

A little technical information for you on the nervous system. It’s divided into 2 parts – the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).

The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for getting the body ready for action. So when the amygdala does its job by making the assessment that you’re at risk, the signals that get sent to the brain stem to raise your heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar and so on, engage the SNS to make those things happen.

The parasympathetic nervous system does the opposite. It calms everything down. It returns your heart rate to normal. It lowers your blood pressure and blood sugar. So when you’re in the stress response, the PNS helps to bring you out of it.

As a demonstration of how these systems work together, think about body temperature. When it gets hot or cold outside our body temperature will either rise or lower. This is the role of the SNS. And the PNS will jump in to try to balance things out. It will make us sweat when we get too hot and will give us goosebumps when we’re too cold. You see, our body likes balance. Being out of balance is not our natural state of being. We function optimally when everything is balanced and this is called homeostasis. And we thrive on it.

So, when we’re stressed, the PNS will do everything in its power to reinstate homeostasis. And we can help it along. If we can regularly put ourselves into what is called the relaxation response, we support the PNS to bring our body and mind back into homeostasis.

Essentially, the relaxation response is the opposite of the stress response. When we are stressed, everything is activated, or switched on. We are ready for action. Alert. Aware. Vigilant. And our body is jumping and ready to hit the ground running.

On the other hand, the relaxation response is just that; relaxed. This is kind of like when you are laying in bed on the way to sleep. You’re still aware of the things happening around you, but your mind and body are at rest.

So, how do we switch off the stress response and switch on the relaxation response?

We’re probably talking about this part a lot too, so brace yourself…

Breathing.

Yep. You got it. Breathing.

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Linda talked about belly breathing in her post on stress and the role of breathing. She talked about practising by placing your hands on your chest and belly, and working on making the hand on your belly rise and fall as you breathe, pretending that you’re inflating a balloon. You may like to re-read her article to refresh your memory.

I found another article about activating the relaxation response. It talks about closing your eyes and taking deep breaths for 10 minutes while you focus on a chosen word, such as “peace” or “calm”.

If I were practicing this I would look at combining the two techniques – breathing for 10 minutes while I focused on the deep belly breaths Linda talks about. I’d love for you to give it a try and see how you go. Share your experiences in the comments below!

Remember what I said before about homeostasis? When we are chronically stressed our system gets used to it and the highly stressed state becomes our new “balance” point. So when we then try to counteract that by practicing these breathing techniques, our mind will kick in and try to stop us. It perceives this new state of calm as being out of balance, so it will do whatever it can to prevent you from focusing. You’ll have some pretty random thoughts pop into your head, you’ll find it difficult to concentrate, you’ll feel like you want to get up and run away because you’re so used to being in that “action” state.

So, here is my tip to work with this… persist. Practice. Be kind to yourself. Your brain is simply doing its job by trying to stay balanced. Gently refocus on your objective (the focus word of your choice or your hand rising and falling on your belly). Say to yourself something like, “thanks mind for doing your job, I’ll give you a chance to play soon, but for right now I’m focusing on this breathing”.

And if you do find yourself continually distracted, that’s fine. Go with it. Just start with the breathing for 30 seconds. For some people this is enough to begin with. And then gradually build it up in 30 second increments. Pretty soon you’ll be able to focus for 10 minutes like a pro!

If 10 minutes seems like forever (which it will if you’re just starting out), try using an alarm so you don’t have to think about how long you’ve been practicing. However, a loud ringing at the end of the time will likely put you right back into the stress response! So try a gentle sound such as a soft tinkle or wind chime effect.

Finding the Calm

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I found the following article whilst trawling my Facebook newsfeed this morning so I thought I would share it with you all. The link to the full article is below, which has the original source (and links) and information on the author. The tips are great! I have used many of them myself, have recommended them to my clients and their feedback has been positive. They work well 🙂

Number 2 is the only one that presents any kind of issue to me. Not because it doesn’t work. It does! My issue is a professional one. Sometimes it can be really difficult to get some perspective if you are personally involved in the situation. You might sometimes end up going around in circles in your head. So I would suggest that if you find yourself in that spot, consider firstly taking some space and time away from the situation before coming back to it. If it is still an issue, consider talking with a professional (counsellor or psychologist). They may be able to help you gain some clarity and break things down into manageable chunks.

Enjoy the article 🙂

http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-11359/15-ways-to-find-calm-in-less-than-5-minutes.html

1. Spray some lavender

Studies have shown that this popular flowering herb can be applied topically to relax your muscles or it can be inhaled for calming effects. It’s an effective remedy for anxiety, depression, irritability, panic, stress and sleep problems.

2. Find a new perspective.

Change your perspective on the situation; ask yourself why you’re feeling overwhelmed. Is this really worth stressing over? Can you solve this problem? Do you have a roof over your head and food on the table? Are things really as bad as your mind is making it out to be? Gain a positive attitude and be sure to laugh along the way.

walk cartoon3. Go for a walk.

To reap the calming effects of walking, you don’t need to pound the pavement for hours on end. A comfortable stroll can be just as effective as a power walk. The secret is to use your mind, focus on the present moment and connect with nature.

4. Play soothing music.

Pick music that is soothing with a slow tempo and light instruments. Music is my anchor to calm. Every time stress sneaks in, I can play this song by Paul Fogarty, and I’m instantly peaceful.

5. Meditate.

Meditate in short intervals throughout your day. Relax, relax, relax.

6. Smile! smile cartoon

When you smile, a sense of peace and well-being develops; simply put, you just feel happy. Try smiling, even when you’re stuck in traffic.

7. Breathe deeply.

When you feel agitated, you tend to breathe rapidly or shallow. Pay attention to your breath and you will experience quick and instant relaxation. Slow down your breath, and in particular slow down your exhalation.

8. Water the plants.

Gardening and spending time in nature can help restore your attention and relax your body and mind. If you don’t have time to get dirty in the garden, simply watering your plants can induce the same results.

9. Write down everything. journals

Journalling will allow you to clarify your thoughts and feelings, and will help you gain valuable self-knowledge and reassurance. It can also be a great problem-solving tool; sometimes it’s easier to come up with a solution on paper. You can also release powerful emotions, gain clarity and let go. Let go of what you don’t need and stop worrying about what you can’t change.

10. Stretch.

We all know the stress-relieving benefits of yoga, but if you don’t have time to attend a daily yoga class you can still reap the benefits by incorporating a stretching routine into your day.

visualisation11. Visualize a more peaceful scenario.

The mind is very powerful; when you visualize peaceful, serene scenes, it invokes calming feelings, as if you were really there. Though visualization our bodies can relax and the stress will melt away. Close your eyes and imagine rhythmic waves on a long, white sand beach.

12. Call a friend.

If you’re chronically stressed, you probably haven’t figured out how to change your perspective. Friends who make you happy will help you bounce back and regain your inner peace.

13. Ring a mindfulness bell.

This might seem silly, but it’s actually an effective way to bring you into the present moment. Yes, there are mindfulness bell apps. Set an alarm as a reminder; when this bell or alarm goes off, it bring you into a different frame of mind. Tell yourself to breathe and relax.

14. Don’t turn on the TV (or turn it off!).

Don’t watch the evening news while eating, and every now and then take a break from stressful, fear-based media.

15. Put your phone away. keep calm and put your phone away

Take a break from the outside world and connect with your inner world — after you’ve talked to a friend, of course!

Tell yourself peace is in this very moment. Peace is not in tomorrow’s moments, or yesterday’s; it’s right now. So go on and relax. You deserve it!

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