How To Reduce Stress
To understand how to reduce stress, it is helpful to know what stress is. This is discussed in greater detail on the Why Is Stress A Problem? page but here is a summary of some of the information that is relevant to stress reduction. First, the fight or flight, or stressed, nervous system state can be triggered by the following:
- 1. Extreme physiological danger or its immediate potential (ex: presence of a predator, sustaining a severe wound, surgery, etc.)
- 2. The presence of high amounts of stress hormones in the bloodstream, for example adrenalin and cortisol (which may be left over from a previous stress response activation and not yet burned off through movement)
- 3. The presence of fight or flight motor patterns, which can become our dominant motor patterns when we are in fight or flight for extended periods of time (ex: shortened Achilles tendon and other examples discussed in the nervous system section)
- 4. Certain thought patterns or perceptions
The stress response is a set of instructions, many transmitted through hormone release, that cause a series of changes in the body that protect the body from physical harm. When sustained over time, these lead to poor functioning of the body and trigger, or contribute to, disease and illness. The fight or flight nervous system is often overactive in modern culture. For detailed information on this, I recommend reading the Why Is Stress A Problem? page.
Based on this understanding about stress, stress relief techniques practiced in the Fajardo Method of Holistic Biomechanics® have two main components:
- 1. Interruption of the physiological stress mechanisms when activated inappropriately (not in response to a true fight or flight situation, or investigation of the potential for one).
- 2. Strengthening the body’s ability to be in, and flip back to, a parasympathetic state. (This is the body’s complimentary nervous system state that counter-balances the fight or flight state and allows the body to rest and repair itself).
Interruption of the physiological stress mechanisms is accomplished by increasing the flow of sensory information to the brain, particularly at first from the exteroceptors, which receive and send signals about our external environment. When our brain is able to receive and process signals that our external environment is free of physical safety issues, it is able to cease the initiation of the stress response. In cases of chronic stress, the body’s ability to send and process sensory information typically decreases from a combination of factors including nerve compression, dulling of nerve signals by endorphins, and deconstruction of nerve cells. So even though we may be consciously aware that we are frequently physically safe (if we are), it’s still possible that the sensorimotor cortex of the brain, which is responsible for taking action, is not getting all the information it needs.
Techniques for increasing sensory information involve focusing of attention (awareness) on the surrounding environment (simple observations of texture, temperature, etc. of objects help with this), as well as on body structure. Attention to a specific body structure during movement is often the focus of a lesson, both for the purpose of increasing sensory information, as well as for the motor repatterning intervention discussed more below. Another effective technique is Compression™, which is a stimulation of the sensory nerves utilized in private lessons. These techniques also encourage the re-growth and repair of nerve cells and neural networks over time.
Once the stress response has been interrupted, then the challenge becomes the ability to remain in a parasympathetic state; all the triggers mentioned above (stress hormones in the bloodstream, fight or flight motor patterns, perceptions and beliefs) can cause us to flip immediately back to a fight or flight state, so the Fajardo Method® addresses other stress triggers as well.
Movement becomes necessary both as a way to burn off the stress hormones in the bloodstream, as well as to work on repatterning fight-or-flight-based movements. Motor repatterning also uses the technique of focused attention to increase sensory nerve signals that allow the brain to send out new motor signals, thus allowing the body to create sustainable, appropriate, lasting changes over time. See the page on Motor Repatterning for more detailed information on how this occurs.
Results of stress reduction are gaged by structure and function. Body structure is, in fact, the most effective way to know which nervous system state we are in because there is a predictable series of structural changes that the body goes through in the different stages of fight or flight, as a result of the initial stress hormone release discussed above. (For example, the tendon guard reflex engages at the heel and elbows, shifting the ankle bone back and up and the elbow cap higher than the eye of the elbow). Emotional or mental state is not an effective measure, since emotional calm and stressed are different from the nervous system states of calm (parasympathetic) and stressed (sympathetic). (These categories can overlap, but there is substantial territory where they diverge). This is discussed in greater detail in the section on Understanding the Difference Between Physical and Emotional Stress.
Lessons on How to Reduce Stress
Many of these stress relief techniques are best understood through experience and instruction. I offer private lessons in San Francisco and Oakland in which clients can gain an understanding of these stress relief techniques and learn how to incorporate them into their daily lives.