We are now nearly eight months into the response to COVID-19.  Dr. Vera Etches, Medical Officer of Health, told Ottawa City Council in June that a recent EKOS Research Survey found that 38% of Ottawa residents said their mental health was fair or poor, compared to 9% reporting the same in 2017.  As we continue to navigate the waves of COVID, I imagine these numbers are increasing and it is becoming ever more important to understand and acknowledge the significant impact that chronic stress has on the functioning of the brain and on our physical and mental health.

Signs of chronic stress are

Signs of chronic stress are:

  • Irritability or agitation
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty focusing and making decisions
  • Fatigue
  • Fast, disorganized, or repetitive thoughts that often have a negative focus
  • Heart palpitations

Effects of chronic stress on the brain

When we are stressed, the brain releases a hormone called cortisol.  This hormone is helpful in the short term, however, when cortisol levels remain high over long periods of time, this can result in the prefrontal cortex (responsible for memory, attention, decision making) actually shrinking and the amygdala, (responsible for emotional responses), getting larger.  What that means is that our stress response may increase even more!  As Christopher Bergland wrote in Psychology Today, “Neural pathways start to build, and for some people, that can result in being stuck in a stress loop where they are responding to situations, that normally wouldn’t cause stress, from a place of fear.” 

Effects of chronic stress on physical health

When we are stressed, our heart rate increases, and we breathe faster and less deeply.  When these symptoms are prolonged, they can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.  The risk of headaches, gastrointestinal issues, lowered immune system, muscle tension and fatigue also increase. 

Effects of chronic stress on mental health

Chronic stress intensifies the risk of anxiety, depression, substance abuse and persistent sleep issues. 

How can NeurOptimal® Neurofeedback help?

If stress is starting to, or has become chronic, it is very important to attend to it.  What NeurOptimal® Neurofeedback does is repeatedly interrupt what has become a habitual stress response in the central nervous system.  It is interrupting that response at an unconscious, electrical level, not at a thinking level.  Many people feel that they are supposed to focus on positive thoughts during sessions or that thinking a negative thought is what triggers the feedback.  Neuroscience tells us, however, that at least 95% of our thoughts and behaviours are generated at the subconscious level of the mind, not in our immediate awareness.  Like an iceberg, there is a lot more iceberg under the water than above it!

After a series of NeurOptimal® sessions, clients find that the frequency, intensity or duration of the symptoms of stress they were experiencing decrease so that they sleep better, are less agitated, they can focus and problem solve issues more easily, repetitive thoughts decrease and heart palpitations and muscle tension eases as well.  Then, the ongoing work becomes incorporating practices that keep the nervous system in balance on a regular basis.

During COVID, many clients are renting a NeurOptimal® system rather than coming into the office. Call me at 613-327-8840 or email me at chris@2beinflow.com for more information.

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