The biological nature of stress (II)

Transcript of the Feature Health Matters on Radio X  from 07 October 2013 (4)

I’m Tom Meyers, Stress Coach and welcome to another episode of Health Matters here on Radio X. In Health Matters I take a closer look at the S word that has become one of the biggest challenges to our health and wellbeing STRESS.

I hope you’ve been listening to the previous episodes of Health Matters. If you haven’t you can always go to the Health Matters section of the radio’s website

Today I like to take you once again to the biological nature of stress and more specifically into the world of neurons and hormones.

Stress is a response to stressors, a response when triggered for a short time leaves NO negative influence on our health. However when demands outweighs resources problems start and those problems have to do with the disrupted balance of our autonomic nervous system and hormonal levels.

When your stress response is in action mode the sympathetic nervous system is being activated. This nervous system is all about defense and getting yourself to safety with an action also referred to as the fight and flight response.

As soon as it’s activated it will stimulate the release of the hormone adrenaline that in turn will narrow blood vessels your skin, digestive system and in parts that are not immediately contributing to protecting you from danger. It will also contribute to the tensing up of muscles in neck, back and shoulders.

At the same time that this nervous system is being activated other parts of our brain are also being triggered like the amygdala, hypothalamus, and pituitary gland. Those parts are of the brain are responsible for sending a hormonal messenger to the adrenal gland to make even more adrenaline and cortisol.

Cortisol will release stored energy, help break it down to glucose and send it to where it is needed. It will also prevent that energy is being stored by preventing insulin to do its work… hence why stress can lead to diabetes.

In the meanwhile the other part of your autonomic nervous system the parasympathetic part which is responsible for relaxation, regeneration and recuperation and the release of serotonin and dopamine – hormones  that play part in mood regulation and feeling of joy and happiness will be put on hold…

Do you see the picture that is emerging chronic stress leads to overstimulation of one part of our nervous systems that prevents you from relaxing and recuperating, your muscles stay tense, heart rate and blood pressure high, blood flow to stomach and digestive system impaired and you stay on alert all the time which in time creates ware and tare and you get muscle aches and pains, become anxious, short-tempered, sleep deprived, your immunity becomes weaker and your concentration falters …

So what can you do? You need to help your body to reset itself and find balance again. How? By taking a break several times a day and practicing some relaxation exercises like the reaset breathing exercise I shared with you before. You have no time? Well, why not start applying this breathing technique when you have to wait in line at the checkout of the supermarket, for the bus or when stuck in a traffic, wait patiently and use that time to reset.

A few minutes here and there will really make the difference. Your body needs you, It needs attention in this time and age where the demands of our culture outweighs the bodies coping abilities.

I’m Tom Meyers and this was another episode of Health Matters. In the next episode l’ll talk a bit more about cortisol and the influence it has on our memory. I’m sure you’ll like that one.

In the meanwhile I wish you a great week and if you like more information on this feature then visit the website or go to where you’ll also find information on the upcoming conference Understanding and Managing stress at Cook and Book in Woluwe.


Rewiring the Brain

ImageThe automation of new health promoting behavior so you can THRIVE

“True development is about transforming the operating system itself, not just increasing your fund of knowledge or your behavioral repertoire.”
R. Kegan & L. Lahey – Psychologists Harvard

  • I’ve been practicing but not really enough.
  • I like to practice more but somehow I don’t seem to get around to it.
  • The first week I did it every day and then somehow I forgot.
  • I had such a busy week I just didn’t have time…

Do you recognize this behavior, these excuses? The most difficult part for most people whom I ask if they have been practicing their breathing exercises is that they start with determination but loose it after a few days or a week.

Even if it is the easiest thing in the world to do, to spent 9 minutes breathing consciously, it’s a challenge for most. 9 minutes is nothing in 24h, we probably stand on a daily basis longer in front of red traffic lights. Still those 3 x 3 minutes after a week are already long dismissed, forgotten,… and with it, the effort already invested wasted.

Is there a way to have more self-control?  YES!

The first factor for increased self-control is to realize that discipline and determination are rarely sufficient to make enduring change in contrast with what you might think. Just relying on discipline and determination can actually have the opposite effect to what you want as outcome. Just like a muscle that gets tired and stops functioning when put under continuous strain, self-control depletes progressively and falters when you don’t back it up with the needed energy to sustain it.

Second factor is that you are a creature of habit. 95% of your behavior occurs unconsciously and is processed in the primitive parts of your brain (reptilian brain). These processes are learned or are part of your evolutionary heritage. For example, to move towards pleasure and away from pain is one of those primal drives you’ve inherited from your more primitive ancestors. This biological heritage hasn’t really changed over the last 150,000 years. Look at it this way, your biology reacts to today’s life events which involves technological advancement just as it did in the time when humans were living as nomads and when were chased by a lion. So while our software has been evolving in step with the evolution of our culture, the operating system hasn’t nor has the (body) vehicle for that matter. That sets you up with behavioral responses that were once useful but which are now a nuisance.

“We have to be mistrustful of our brains”
David Kessler – FDA Commissioner.

Third factor is that your primitive instinct seeks immediate gratification which makes you impatient when it comes to long-term goals or with activities that only bring minute changes at a time. For example, changing the operating system, which means rewiring the brain can be a very slow process but so is training to be able to run a marathon. I’m sure like me you can visualize running a marathon – and even win it – in an instant in your minds eye but that doesn’t mean your body is up to it in the same amount of time you needed to envisage it.

The next important insight to know is that your cognitive brain situated in the prefrontal cortex is most of the time – especially when stressed – subservient to your primitive reptilian brain and as seen in factor 2 most of our behavior is directed by the latter. You run – so to speak – on old automatic behavioral patterns.

I hope you start to see that you are faced with rather a few challenges when it comes to self-control. However now that you are conscious of the challenges you can start by putting together an efficient and effective plan of action to update the operating system, by rewiring your brain.


Positive conditioning or in other words the automation of new health promoting behavior

Knowledge is power: Understand why you do the exercise and why it helps you
– Set a long-term goal and divide it into intermediate goals
– Create a training schedule or ritual: Describe and plan precisely when you are going to practice and for how long and set that time aside  and commit to it. You can use smart phone apps to help you with this.
Plan ahead. When you know stress full events are coming up like a meeting with the boss take time to exercise before and after
Expect resistance: What do you think will undermine your commitment? Why, why, why…
Involve others: Talk to a friend, partner, colleague have them join you or at least encourage you every day.
Enjoy the process and be inventive

Remember this…

Think back of that first day behind the steering wheel learning to drive or that first note you played on that flute, guitar or piano. Was that easy or a struggle to think about all the different handling’s you had to do simultaneously. However over time and with lots of practice and repetition it became second nature. Isn’t it amazing to play music or isn’t it absolutely a gift that you can drive a car? Now think of the benefits being healthy will bring into your life I think that is worth practicing for.

Be good to you, always.


Be Excellent at Anything by Tony Schwarz this book was recommended to me by Rob Bigge from the Greenhouse Group with whom I’ll be working together in the future for bringing you a cycle of workshops all on the theme ‘Understanding and Managing stress’


Can some of our current health problems be due to an impass between body and mind?

Life goes faster and faster and our mind seems initially very capable of dealing with this speed of change. However at the same time we see an increasing number of people who are ill with 70% of all illnesses related to stress! The body it seems is not coping so well. How come? 
Hopefully the words below will give you food for thought on this matter. 
Beyond health and healing: part 2
The last 40 years has seen a tremendous change in the speed with which we need to adapt ourselves. From black and white TV’s with 1 or 2 channels to flatscreens with hunderds. From a turn the disc to dial phone to mobile phones with the capacity to ring anywhere in the world and access to infinite data. Letters that took a week or more to arrive now arrives the next day or with email in the next second. To name but a few changes in a lifetime or at least my lifetime so far.
Through this ‘change of speed’ – action – we’re faced with an equal increasing response – reaction. Imagine not responding within a matter of hours to an email with a question or a message left on your voicemail?
We are continuously being challenged an stimulated to react. One chalenge isn’t over yet or the next one is already there and then next and the next… it’s action, action, action,… We’re always on the ball, in tension.
What about time to ease?
In 1967 psychiatrists Holmes and Rahe examined 5000 patient records to determine wheter stress might cause illness and found a significant correlation between life changes and their illness. From these results they published the Holmes and Rahe stress scale
Those who score 300+ points within a year are at risk of illness. An example of how you can accumulate 300 points:
50 Marriage
40 Pregnancy
39 Gain anew family member
26 Spouce starts or stops work
20 Change in residence
18 Change in social activities
13 Vacation
12 Christmas
36 Change to different line of work
28 Outstanding personal achievement
37 Death of a close friend
As you can see in the above example of events this is only a fraction of what one person – in our western society – can go through during one year. For some this happens within 3 to 4 months. Also note that some of these changes can be seen as positive: Marriage, pregnancy, outstanidng personal achievement…
Would you associate the above when experienced over a period of one year with becoming ill?
If you think about these changes don’t you feel that you can handle them? Some events are not easy but can you mindfully deal with them?
And still, this fraction of what we’re actually experiencing leads to an increaded risk of illness!
I’ve been working with people’s health for more then 10 years and have had many a person come to see me suffering from back or neck pain, feeling depressed, having a lack of energy and/or suffer from general malaise who three to four months prior had gone through a major change in their lives. These were mostly people that moved to Brussels with their family to take up a new post at the European Comission, Parlement or NATO.
Discovering the Holmes and Rahe’s scale gave me great insight to understanding the correlation of major change and the physical pain that became intollerable 3 months later (onset was probably earlier but we mostly react it will pass). Their life had been turned upside down in a matter of months.
Take the Rahe and Holmes scale a bit further and instead of change see these events as stimuli or stressors in other words stress response provoking elements (fight and flight response). The scale was made in 1967 and as I stated at the start of this chapter there has been a tremendous amount of change over the last 40 years and an increase in speed with which we need to react.
This change is for most people no problem on a mind level as our mind seems to be very capable of adapting itslef to new situations and challenges.
The body however that seems to be another story.
If the mind can be seen as our software and the body the hardware our software has greatly expanded over the last decades. The human software has changed as a consequence of the demands we’ve put on it but what about the hardware, the body with all its components?Have we adapted the hardware to suit the software?
In IT the faster the software the lighter the hardware became. Just look at he phone 40 years ago compared to the mobile phones of today.
Maybe it is presumptuous of me to compare the above comparison with us humans but I’ll do it anyway: The smarter we became the heavier we’ve become. 
We actualy have gone the opposite way.
Time to look at the hardware a bit more to shed a light on my observations.
What I think of when adapting the hardware is the speed with which the body processes information and change. We are bombarded with information, various stimuli and before we even have the chance to integrate those stimuli the next set is already upon us.  Stress is not followed anymore with ease, just more stress. Ease is something that doesn’t seem to be part of normal life anymore.
Our organism has an ancient survival mechanism called the fight and fight (stress) response which realeases amongst other things adrenaline and cortisol. The fight and fight response is there for our survival and must follow a time of ease to reset itself. Just like a muscle if a muscle isn’t relaxed after a time of strain what do you think is going to happen?
The properties of the fight and flight response are such that when activated (sympathetic) it must be followed by deactivation (parasymapthetic). Stress must follow ease.
If triggered chronically the stress response has a adverse affect on our health: Muscles stay tensed, immunity is lowered, certain parts of our body get decreaed blood flow through vasoconstriction (i.e. stomach) which leads to problems etc. Our internal balance is impeded.
Do you start to see the relationship between change, the increase of stimuli and the effect on our health?
I can’t count the amount of people that said but I’m not stressed although they have all the physical signs of being in a stress mode. Yes, the mind might be totally ok with the demands we put on it, it is by nature capable of processing information much quicker. The body however deals with change in a very different matter and the body can over time have an adverse effect on the mind: Chronic stress can make you mindless.
Now to come back to presumtuous and methaphorical statement comparing our increased mental capacity with weight.
(And I’m not saying that overweight people can’t be smart… read on as that is not what I’m implying here)
Have you ever seen a though?
Can you see your body?
If you look at this from a vibrational perspective the mind with its thoughs you can’t see hence has a high vibration (light) and the body which you can has a low vibration (heavy).
Have you ever had a day when you felt down, depressed? How did your body feel then?  Now imagine the day that you were extremely happy or better in love. How did your body feel then?
When I’m down I feel heavy and slow and when I’m happy I feel light and vibrant. You too?
How much are you able to handle in a happy state compared to when you’re in a down state?
Now here is the crunch.
Have you ever seen a happy vibrant person that is stressed?
Happy people are less susceptible for stress. Why is that?
(I’m trying to comprehend what I’m observing in others and myself here.)
Back to an example from my practice: Person comes in with severe back ache, looks a bit off-color, feels down and explain what’s the matter: I’ve been having a little bit of pain for the last few days but this morning I woke up and couldn’t move anymore. Then I go to work. What I notice is that the body is dense, tense, compressed, I lift bot legs at the ankles for a test, they feel heavy and have lost their feel of flow. After the treamtment I feel that the body is less dense, more rleaxed, lighter and free. Lifting the legs is easier and if I pull slightly I feel they have regained their elasticity, springiness. Person stands up again and says wow I feel more grounded, I can move better, it feels I’ve just left a few kilo’s behind and what often happens is that the non physical problems they were experiencing seem to have disolved or have gotten less important, their mood is better etc. Sometimes they even reflect on a situation: Why was that a problem?
I would say they went from a low vibration to a higher vibration they are lighter  and even look more radiant. Put them on the balance scales and what will you see as a difference in weight?
Depression                                                                               Joy
Heavy                                                                                      Light
I’ve never tried this but I’m sure there is no difference. A person of 70 kg will walk out a person of 70 kg but still their experience of those 70 kg will be very different.
I’m sure we all felt this: In the morning we wake up 70 kg and moody and everything is a burden and heavy. Then during the day something magical happens by the evening we are happy, content, fulfilled and weight 70kg but feel lighter… our vibrational state has changed which gives us a total different experience of ourselves and when we are in the latter state we can handle the world better.
This reminds me of the states of water. When water has a low vibration it’s ice = dense state. When it has a high vibration its vapour and inbetween you have the liquid state. Our bodies are 70% water…
The impass
Our mind due to its inherent higher vibrational state is able to deal with change easier and quicker then the body. The body with it’s lower vibrational state has reached it’s limits. The body is not coping with the increase in and the speed of change/demands we put on it.
If it is so is there a way to overcome the impass and create body – mind balance? 
The problems mentioned above were:
  • To much change / stimuli in too short a time.
    • Reduce the amount of change
    • Reduce stimuli
  • When depressed are bodies struggle even more…
    • Be happy
    • Adapt your life so that you can live a more relaxed, joyful life. This can take some time. and sometimes some very difficult decisions have to be made. My own methamprophose took 10 years and is still going on.  Don’t make overhaste decisions.
    • Do you feel stuck? Then maybe you need to find out your purpose in life and crate a new future.
    • If needed get professional help to help you create a new life goal.
Start interacting with your inate wisdom. Maybe you need to change your died and eat more life food (fresh vegetables or sprouted seeds. Maybe you observe that you’re always critical of yourself and others which requires a change of mindset. Maybe you just need to smile a bit more,…
Maybe you just need to love yourself more…
Be creative and enjoy the process.

What is osteopathy?

Osteopathy is a manual facilitated health care approach based on the principle(s) that the body is a dynamic unit in which all parts are interrelated and interdependent and which possesses a self regulatory and self healing mechanism.

An osteopath uses his fine-tuned sense of touch to feel disturbances in motion within the body-matrix. Health is when the body’s motions (skeletal, muscular, facial, organic,…) are in balance.
Hence the word ‘BioMotions’ (name of my website) or life in motion.
The osteopath is there to aid the perturbed self regulatory and self healing mechanism and relieves through the application of different manual techniques the disturbances of motion. The aim is to enhances vitality and overall functioning of the patient.
Osteopathic Manual Technique (OMT) includes amongst others:
  • Soft-Tissue Techniques
  • Spinal corrections
  • Fascia Therapy
  • Muscle Energy Technique
  • Lymphatic Technique
  • Abdominal Technique
Dynamic unit
The current conventional medicine model is based on the basis that body and mind are split (dualism). In osteopathy body and mind are part of an interrelated and interdependent whole.
Self regulatory and self healing mechanism
The human body is always working to maintain a state of balanced function. For example, blood pressure, blood sugar and the heart rate are actively kept within a normal range. When there is a laceration or tear in the tissues, a physician can assist by cleaning the wound and bringing the edges together, but healing occurs by the action of inherent forces and processes within the body. 1
Dr. A.T. Still (The father of osteopathy) stated, “All the remedies necessary to health exist in the human body.” He understood that within the tissues, there is an inherent wisdom, a wise all-knowing restorative force, an intelligence within every cell that keeps the body well. When a state of discord arises, this healing force acts to restore functional balance and harmony. Sometimes the body’s self-healing forces can be impaired or impeded by disease or structural imbalance. The osteopathic physician is trained to augment these intrinsic mechanisms to help the body to better and more quickly heal itself. 1