Our society places high regard on productivity whether it be over-achievers, workaholics, overly scheduled children or their parents who are expected to juggle the subsequent carpools and participation. By and large we have become a caffeinated society and the ability to relax has become a challenge for many individuals. Many people report a constant feeling of “I should be doing something” even over the weekend, guilt for taking their allotted two-week vacation from work or remorse for taking a vacation without their children. Others experience the catch up work as so stressful that they bring their Blackberry’s or laptops with them essentially never really getting away at all.
There is no definition of stress that everyone agrees on. What is stressful for one person may be pleasurable or have little effect on another, and we all react differently to stress. The term “stress”, as it is currently used was introduced by Hans Selye in 1936, who defined it as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change”. Selye observed in numerous experiments that laboratory animals subjected to noxious physical and emotional stimuli (blaring light, deafening noise, extremes of heat or cold, perpetual frustration) all exhibited the same pathologic changes of stomach ulcerations, shrinkage of lymphoid tissue and enlargement of the adrenals. He later demonstrated that persistent stress could cause these animals to develop various diseases similar to those seen in humans, such as heart attacks, stroke, kidney disease and rheumatoid arthritis. It is for this reason that stress is generally considered as being synonymous with distress and dictionaries define it as “physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension”. Thus, stress has been put in a negative light and its positive effects ignored.
Stress can be helpful and good when it motivates people to accomplish more. With neurotherapy we use the term “arousal level” based on the idea that different individuals perform better at different levels of arousal and that each individual seeks to find his or her optimum level. Many individuals use external stimuli to regulate their brain’s level of arousal:
- To increase their brain’s arousal levels a person may use caffeine, adventure, danger, a jammed schedule, or drama in their relationships.
- To decrease their brain’s arousal levels a person may use alcohol, pharmaceuticals, avoid crowds or isolate themselves for long periods of downtime.
- Some individuals need a combination of both to balance their levels of arousal.
Sometimes these external stimuli work to correct small or temporary brain imbalances of arousal levels, while other times these temporary fixes can, of itself, become a problem. Ideally, an individual’s brain would regulate the appropriate level of arousal depending on the time of day or task at hand.
Most people have come to accept the burden of constant stress as an inescapable part of modern life, and when that stress becomes more than we can bear sometimes our brain gets into inappropriate states and it doesn’t direct our emotions or actions efficiently. We start to break down and develop symptoms, the nature of which depends on our particular physiological fault lines. The result might be addiction, panic attacks, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, ADHD, insomnia, or any of the other problems that seem to originate at the interface between mind and body. Another source of stress is when people have experienced sustained or repetitive traumas – their brain’s can get stuck in a fearful and overly cautious state.
Neurotherapy is often a very effective tool for stress management. It teaches the brain control over its states of arousal, and increases our threshold for what we perceive as stressful.