I recently posted a question on my fb page, asking people to share what happens to them when they are stressed. Quite correctly responses said – ‘It depends on what the cause of the stress is.’
Typical responses included –
– craving carbohydrates – sugar, chocolate, crisps, bread, biscuits and so on
– feeling really tired and needing to sleep more
– finding it hard to think straight and to keep a clear head
– being oversensitive to sensory stimulation
– common sense goes out the window
If the stress is motivated by having to meet a deadline, you can be incredibly focussed and you can be really productive. However, what if the stress is emotionally related? What happens then? This type of stress tends to shut down brain function, far more.
What is the difference between stress and anxiety?
Stress tends to be short term, whereas anxiety can be really long term, and have a crippling impact on your life. Causing all types of issues, including behavioural challenges. Fear will be at the root of behavioural difficulties.
Interestingly, when researching the topic, for this article, whilst there are explanations about what is actually going on in the brain, under these circumstances, there’s no mention of what could be at the root of why our brains are struggling in the first place.
Standard advise for dealing with the anxiety, is to learn to cope with it. Do activities like:
* listening to calming music
* establishing personal rituals to help you cope
What is at the root?
Scientists know that the relationship between two parts of the brain – the amygdala and the hippocampus, are important in our responses to stress and anxiety. They are part of a complex network of areas in the brain, known as the Limbic System. This is the area of the brain that helps us to mature our emotional responses, and what makes us mammals.
We need to be able to tell when things are really dangerous, and to determine what the best response is, in order to survive. Typical survival responses are:
Freeze – Fear Paralysis Reflex – FPR
Flight – Moro Reflex
Submit – ”
Fight – ”
These responses, are in fact, triggered by reflexes – an inbuilt survival program in all of us.
When someone is experiencing heightened anxiety, it can be hard to calm them down again. In this instance, the Moro Reflex has probably triggered in the system. The Moro Reflex excites a response, whereas, if the Fear Paralysis is at the root, the anxiety will be exhibited in a withdrawn, ‘shut down’ type behaviour. You can use the stimulation of these reflexes to bring things back into balance.
The amygdala plays a really important role in managing incoming information from our senses. It then works with the hippocampus to store memories from the senses. We are supposed to learn from mistakes and learn what is dangerous, so we don’t repeat it. Episodic memory is stored in the hippocampus. When the brain senses we are in danger, a range of hormones are released. In particular, Norepinephrine (noradrenaline), and Cortisol. They are neurotransmitters. They are there to help us to survive – triggering increased heart rate, boosting your reflex responses – ready to run away, etc, This should only be momentary. However, when this is switched on all the time, that is where anxiety kicks in. Then your brain gets ‘stuck’ in a constant cycle of Fight or Flight.
The amygdala plays a role in processing incoming sensory information. It’s not the only part of the brain involved in this. But – what if it isn’t working properly? What if it can’t process sensory information efficiently? This is where either sensory overwhelm or underwhelm, can occur. (Too sensitive to light sound, taste, touch, or movement). We know that retained FPR and Moro, are implicated in our inability to develop our sensory processing efficiently.
Many of my clients who have anxiety, also have sensory processing issues, as well. They don’t always realise that they do, but, I’d be surprised if the the sensory overwhelm isn’t a significant contributing factor to the anxiety.
Neurotransmitters, stimulated by the release of these hormones, are also about giving us an energy boost when we need it. If they are struggling to work properly, we seek that boost from other sources – such as sugar. Hence the cravings for carbohydrates. However, these are short term gains, with long term consequences.
The hippocampus, which is the seat of episodic memory, is also the only part of the brain to actually generates new brain cells. An over production of cortisol in the body, kills these cells, and suppresses the possibility of new ones being made. So, a stressed brain system struggles to heal and regenerate. Hence the brain fog, the fatigue, and memory loss.
The hippocampus is associated with memory, emotions and motivation. It also plays an important role in long-term memory, and spatial awareness. So, many people with anxiety, will struggle to motivate themselves to stick to a program of change, and have spatial awareness issues. They also struggle to convert learning from the short term, into the long term.
Reflexes at the root of our brain’s response to stress:
There are two main reflexes at the root of our brain learning to process stress and anxiety appropriately.
The Fear Paralysis Reflex = our FREEZE response
The Moro Reflex = Fight, Submit, Flight responses
Common symptoms of these reflexes still governing our system, include:
* craving carbohydrates (quick energy kicks)
* tired and fatigued – (too hard for our brain to process things effortlessly)
* emotional challenges/instability
* hyper and hypo sensitivity to sensory input
* motion sickness
* brain fog – (the neural pathways struggle to reach the prefrontal cortex).
* poor balance and coordination
* weak immune system
* dislike of change
* struggle with reading, writing and vision
* shallow breathing
* poor sleep
What can reflex integration do to help?
Reflex integration can actually help you to work on getting these two key reflexes to calm down, finish doing their job (integrate) and ensure that the brain is able to mature its response to stress, to the Adult Startle Reflex or Strauss Response. This would then enable a person to react to a genuinely stressful situation, appropriately, and recover afterwards. This can resolve the problem of the brain having been stuck in the fight or flight response, all the time. Can you imagine, always being on alert? Always scanning the world around you for danger, always feeling tired, and having to fight to try and concentrate and think clearly? Craving that quick fix – sugar, struggling all the time? Is it any wonder that the busy, noisy school environment can be such a trigger for so many individuals?
I have been working with people from a variety of backgrounds and ages, over the past five years, and incorporating reflex integration into their multi-disciplinary approach to returning to wellness, has been really important in turning things around, for them. I find that for many, once these reflexes are integrated into their body pattern, all other functions improve. The FPR and Moro Reflexes are foundational reflexes, on which all other reflexes develop and are able to mature. Anxiety disappears, sensory overwhelm disappears, emotions stabilise.
I teach my clients how to use Rhythmic Movement Training to stimulate all areas of the brain naturally, as well as promote reflex integration, using innate baby movement patterns. It is simple and easy to adopt, into a daily movement program,
* Find a qualified reflex integration therapist to help you.
* Do slow, movements, in a symmetrical way – such as lying on your back and rotating bent legs, slowly from side to side. (3 x) (When you pay attention to movement it is calming for the brain – this is why Pilates, Tai-Chi and Yoga are so effective.)
* Massage your ears
* Deep breathing – breath in for a count of 4 and out for a count of 6. (Why meditation is so helpful).
* Lie down, cross your arms over your chest – right arm, over your left ribcage, and your left arm, over your right arm. Then cross your ankles. Do this in a quiet place, and breath deeply.
* Eat protein rich foods, to give you more slow release energy boosts.
* Consult with a qualified nutrition expert to identify whether food intolerances could be adding to the anxiety issues.
* If you can’t find a therapist, try the following from Youtube, as a starting point/trial:
The best Moro Reflex integration exercise – by Pyramid of Potential Inc
I highly recommend that you find a qualified therapist to assess and guide you – so that you know you are on the road to recovery.
If you want lasting change, you need to get to the root. Your starting point should be reflex integration.
If you’d like to know more, please call me on: + 44 7863223287, or email me at: