But First… the “COVID Concussion”
It comes as no surprise that the fall-out of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a nervous system health crisis of overwhelming proportions never seen before. The ramification of this fall-out is being experienced across the globe. Billions throughout the planet seem to be experiencing a “COVID concussion”.
There are three different types of concussion:
- Physical (ie. TBI, mTBI, CTE)
- Chemical (ie. excess drugs or alcohol and imbalanced neurochemistry)
- Mental and Emotional (ie. war, excess stress, emotional trauma, PTSD)
The Centre of Disease Control defines a physical concussion as a type of traumatic brain injury — or TBI — caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. This has been well established by the global medical community and continues to be studied.
Alcohol, illicit drugs, and neurotoxins can magnify the cognitive problems often caused by a physical concussion, but on their own and in excess they can manifest similar symptoms of a physical concussion. A chemical concussion can result in pathophysiologic changes to the brain similar to a physical concussion.
An emotional concussion may result from severe emotional trauma that causes lasting changes in the various region of the brain responsible for regulating emotional responses. This is triggered by the amygdala which regulates negative emotions – such as fear – that occur when confronted with specific stimuli such as uncertainty, chronic anxiety, and social isolation. All of these emotions have been identified as occurring as a result of the pandemic.
We acknowledge that the shell shock resulting from the pandemic isn’t as a result of physical trauma, but the proverbial blow to our psyche can result in very similar symptoms. Although different from a physical concussion, a chemical and/or emotional concussion can manifest as some or all of the following symptoms:
- Mood swings
- Temper outbursts
- Sleep difficulties / interruption
- Energy deficiency
- GI Distress
Your brain governs your entire body, each of your organs, and is responsible for mood, energy, sleep-wake cycles, and immune function among other things.
Emotions that include stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness all start in the brain and when left unchecked each of these states – separately and together – can depress your immune system and have long lasting harmful consequences on your psychology.
How It Works
The autonomic nervous system regulates involuntary, “automatic” processes including heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, digestion, and sexual arousal. The two main divisions are sympathetic and parasympathetic. Sympathetic is in charge of the “fight or flight” response which activates under stress and danger, and parasympathetic manages the “rest and digest” when we are relaxed.
In response to acute stress, the body’s sympathetic nervous system is activated by the sudden release of hormones. The sympathetic nervous system then stimulates the adrenal glands, triggering the release of adrenaline. The fight-or-flight response can be triggered by both real and imaginary threats.
This chain of reactions results in an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. After the threat is gone, it takes between 20 to 60 minutes for the body to return to its pre-arousal levels.
It is the job of the parasympathetic nervous system to conserve the body’s natural activity, and relax the individual once an real or perceived emergency has passed. The parasympathetic nervous system leads to decreased arousal including a decreased heart rate, especially when at rest after completing physical exercise or after stressful situations, where the heart would have been increased. The response also constricts bronchi in the lungs so that breathing is slowed to a resting pace.
Dysautonomia happens when the nerves in your autonomic nervous system don’t communicate as they should and/or messages sent or received aren’t clear. When this happens there may be including irregularities in blood pressure, breathing, digestion, heart rate, kidney function, pupil dilation and constriction in the eyes, sexual function, and body and skin temperature control among others.
These “mixed messages” within the autonomic nervous system can contribute to a very long list of symptoms that may include:
Shortness of breath
Light-headedness or vertigo
Changes in body and skin temperature
Chronic fatigue and weakness
Visual disturbances / blurred vision
Nausea and vomiting
Fast or slow heart rate, heart palpitations
Brain “fog” and forgetfulness
Problems with focus and concentration
Large swings in heart rate and blood pressure
Significant shifts in blood pressure or heart rate when standing after sitting or lying down (orthostatic hypotension and/or postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome)
Fainting, loss of consciousness
Sweat less than normal or not at all
Migraines or frequent headaches
Frequent urination, incontinence
Low blood sugar
Exercise intolerance (heart rate doesn’t adjust to changes in activity level)
Three Proven Ways to Push the Big Red Reset Button
These are plants and mushrooms that help your body respond to stress, anxiety, fatigue and overall wellbeing. You can take adaptogens by adding them to food or beverages or take them as tinctures. They can help bring your body back to a steady balance by managing both physical and mental stressors and rebalancing the autonomic nervous system.
Ashwagandha is my favourite adaptogen. It has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, improve measures of physical performance in athletes and healthy adults, including VO2 max and strength, improves memory, reaction time, and the ability to perform tasks; improves sleep, helps manage inflammation, it may reduce blood sugar levels through its effects on insulin secretion, may help reduce symptoms of depression and benefit people with some mental health conditions, and may even help increase testosterone levels in men. Look for the ingredient “KSM-66®” on your supplement bottle made by Ixoreal Biomed, which owns and controls its entire supply chain of Ashwagandha (many professional brands found on FullScript)
I’ve been using the BEMER device in clinical practice and at home for many years. BEMER stands for Bio-Electro-Magnetic-Energy-Regulation. BEMER is an FDA Class II cleared consumer medical device also registered and licensed by Health Canada
that, during an 8-minute session, sends a low intensity pulsed electromagnetic field to the body in order to safely stimulate healthy muscles which temporarily enhances local blood flow, resulting in better disbursement of oxygen within the target tissues while supporting the elimination of CO2. Additional benefits from regular use of BEMER may include reduced stress improved relaxation, optimized physical performance, enhanced muscle conditioning and physical fitness, optimization of the autonomic nervous system and blood flow, and a better overall feeling of wellbeing.
The Cold Shower
Feel free to start your shower as hot as you like it while doing your business to soap your body and shampoo your hair. But, make it a habit to end on cold! Cold showers are tough at first, but they can help balance the autonomic nervous system. When you have a cold shower, the initial shock of the cold will make you take an immediate sharp breath in and cause you to tense your muscles. But, when you deliberately take a long slow exhale, and focus on relaxing your muscles, you will start to adjust to the cold (breathing technique below). It’s like weight lifting for your autonomic nervous system – the sympathetic nervous system slows down, and the parasympathetic system takes over. It’s important to keep your breath steady when being exposed to the cold water to keep the parasympathetic system working. This isn’t so easy to do but with practice you will notice it becomes easier over time. Select neurochemicals such as endorphins will naturally release and have a lasting positive impact on your mood. The good news is that just one minute of a cold shower is enough time for this to work. Alternating between hot and cold (while ending on cold) for a total of 4 minutes is even better!
The Breathing Technique:
Take in a strong inhalation through the nose.
Let out a relaxed exhalation through the mouth (this typically lasts twice as long as the inhalation). Repeat for 30 breaths. On the 30th breath, exhale to 90 percent and hold for as long as you can. When you feel your body really needs to take a breath, inhale fully and hold for 15 seconds before releasing. Do three consecutive rounds.