Stress is North Americas #1 silent killer contributing to heart disease, diabetes, and cognitive decline.
The stress response is primarily governed by the interaction between the hypothalamus and pituitary in your brain and your adrenal glands that sit on top of your kidneys. Stress activates the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal axis otherwise known as the HPA axis and sets off a cascade of signals that ultimately leads to the release of hormones and neurotransmitters like cortisol, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. Chronic long term elevation of these stress hormones causes your brain to shrink.
Your heart sends more signals to your brain than your brain sends to your heart! In fact, your heart has such a significant cluster of nerve tissue that it’s basically a mini brain. Researchers have discovered that the “heart brain” can learn, remember, and make functional decisions independent of the brain’s cerebral cortex. Some experiments have demonstrated that the signals the heart continuously sends to the brain influence the function of higher brain centers involved in perception, cognition, and emotional processing. It’s conceivable that the heart is the true seat of emotion after all.
In addition to the extensive neural communication network linking the heart with the brain and body, the heart can also communicate information throughout the body via electromagnetic field interactions. The heart generates the body’s most powerful and most extensive rhythmic electromagnetic field.
Negative emotions and stress are associated with an erratic, disordered, incoherent pattern in your heart rhythm.
Positive emotions – and a state of relaxation on the other hand – is associated with a smooth, ordered, coherent pattern in the heart’s rhythmic activity.
One of the most powerful implications of this information is that by optimizing your heart rhythm, you can positively influence your state of mind. One of the most effective ways to do this is a proven breathing technique.
Your nose, believe it or not, also sends signals to your brain. Maybe the smell of a pine tree forest brings you back to family time at the cottage, or the smell of fresh sheets hung outdoors on a spring day reminds you of your mother tucking you into bed as a child, or perhaps folding open the first pages of a new book brings you back to a beach side vacation. Or how about the memories that come with fresh pot of coffee on a Sunday morning? Whatever the feel-good memory is, it is often associated with a scent.
Why are memories so easily recalled by smell? It has everything to do with a very rich nervous system connection between the olfactory bulb and your limbic system in your brain. Sensory receptors in that region are part of the brain which send messages directly to our most primitive brain centers where they influence emotions and memories as well as “higher” brain centers where they modify conscious thought. This is referred to as the “neurocircuitry of olfaction”.
Olfaction is a nerve cells’ interpretation of a chemical – chemoreception – that forms the sense of smell. It has many purposes, such as the detection of hazards, food, and even pheromones which we don’t consciously register as smell. Olfaction even integrates with taste to form the sense of flavour.
Your olfactory bulb only has about 400 unique types of receptors but depending on the smell in question, multiple neurons can fire simultaneously to form a complex code representing the smell.
What’s amazing is that olfactory neurons can also carry signals to areas in the brain responsible for memory, instinct, and mood. What’s more is that certain plants have unique scents that work through the olfactory bulb to enhance these mental faculties.
Capturing the natural essences of plants and preserving them in oils to create a number of sweet-smelling, health inducing properties are known as essential oils. Essential oils have been used in aromatherapy for thousands of years and just by smelling these, you can improve your brain health and induce a deep sense of calm.
The catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene resides on the long arm of human chromosome 22 and expresses COMT, one of several enzymes that inactivates a class of hormones called catecholamines, produced by the adrenal glands and in the nervous system. Catecholamines such as dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine have several roles in the body but in the brain they function as neurotransmitters, transferring signals from neuron to neuron.
The faster the COMT enzyme inactivates these neurotransmitters, the more quickly they are uncoupled and return to the presynaptic neuron – in effect, they get to go home. In this way, COMT determines how long we hold onto thoughts and emotions. The longer it takes to release a neurotransmitter, the longer that neurotransmitter will transmit the thought, emotion, or action in question. Typically, those who’s COMT activity is slow hold onto thoughts longer. They tend to ruminate. For this reason, the COMT gene is often referred to as the “warrior/worrier” gene. As you would have guessed, warriors have very fast COMT activity. If its expression is modified by experience, the effects on our learning and behavious could be profound. For more about this and your unique DNA, visit www.thednacompany.com
A team at Harvard found that mindfulness meditation can actually change the structure of the brain. Eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction was found to increase cortical thickness in the hippocampus, which governs learning and memory.
So, let’s combine breathing, optimizing electromagnetic field interactions, olfaction, and mindfulness into one powerful brain calming technique.
First, lie down in a comfortable spot – preferably on a technology designed to help optimize the health of electromagnetic field interactions in your body. One of my favourite devices to help optimize the health of electromagnetic field interactions in my body is called BEMER which stands for Bio-Electro-Magnetic-Energy-Regulation. This technology uses pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (or PEMF) to deliver a patented therapeutic signal and has been shown to enhance nutrient and oxygen delivery, local blood flow, waste removal, stress reduction, and sleep management. I personally love and use the BEMER “B. Body” daily. This is a large, thin mat the shape of a yoga mat that I lie on for about 8 minutes once or twice daily while I do this. It is worth mentioning that PEMF is also extremely safe and the BEMER device is cleared by the FDA and registered and licensed by Health Canada.
Next, choose an essential oil with calming effects and simply take a few deep sniffs of it or add it to your diffuser to engage your olfactory bulb. My two favorite are lavender and bergamot. Lavender’s claim to fame is its ability to calm and aid in depression, anger and irritability. Like lavender, bergamot can be used to relive anxiety, agitation, mild depression and stress.
Then, touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Keep it there and exhale completely through your mouth, making a loud whoosh sound. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 7. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of 8. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of 4. Repeat this for 8 minutes while on your BEMER. Become aware of sounds, sensations, and ideas. Embrace and consider each thought or sensation without judging it good or bad. If your mind starts to race, re-turn your focus to your breathing. Then expand your awareness again.
Enjoy less stress and better health!