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Dealing with stress for yourself or your pet. We offer the solution!
November 18, 2021 by Inge Pauwels
17 tips on how to manage stress (for your pet and/or yourself) and thus preventing strain and chronic stress.
Stress and the autonomic nervous system
Dealing with stress throughout the ages…
brains – autonomic nervous system – hormones
• Adrenaline response = crucial
• Survival instinct when there is danger
• Seldom life threatening
• But the adrenaline response is built in to our system
• It will kick in at the slightest stress
Dealing with stress is important, and stress has been around for as long as humanity itself. Our ancestors had to deal with stress although the causes have evolved! Our animals have also had to learn to cope with different types of stress, for them it is no longer just about survival.
If you handle stress well, your autonomic nervous system is in balance. Our autonomic nervous system consists of a sympathetic part and a parasympathetic part. The sympathetic part regulates processes related to effort and action. The parasympathetic part is about relaxation, recovery and rest. The heart rate drops, muscles relax, breathing becomes calm and food is well digested. The entire autonomic nervous system is organized around the theme of security. The only function of this nervous system is to ensure your safety as best as possible.
Under the influence of our brains (sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems), we freeze, fight or flee in the event of a threat that causes stress. Adrenaline and noradrenaline are released from the adrenal medulla. Adrenaline prepares the body for fight or flight. The heart rate and breathing go up, the pupils dilate, and muscle tension and even the digestive system reacts to this. Thanks to our neocortex, we can question this reflex and therefore react more calmly but the neocortex must then be ‘reachable’. I.e. there should be no chronic stress or excessive stress, because then we will no longer be able to ‘think logically’.
Unfortunately, our body has not always understood that things can change. It often responds to the slightest stress powerfully as if we were in mortal danger. Our brains are not yet sufficiently adapted to modern times. Everyone wants to feel safe and secure, both humans and animals.
The importance of the reptilian brain and limbic system in coping with stress.
Human brain (neocortex)
Self-awareness of thoughts and emotions
Ability to choose appropriate behaviour
Learning, doing homework and planning
Problem solving ability
Mammalian brain (limbic system)
Reptilian brain (brain stem)
Regulation of hormones and temperature
Feelings of hunger and thirst
Regulation of breathing and heart rate
Dealing with stress: importance of the reptilian brain.
Your reptilian brain and your limbic system are like alarm bells. They react very quickly to stimuli that evoke stress. We used to be prepared to immediately go into battle or we fled (with a chance to survive), or we froze (with a chance that the tiger was no longer interested). The same stimulus also ends up in your neocortex where a real analysis of the danger is made. But in the meantime, the stress hormones have already been released and your muscles are already tensed for action. When this happens too often or takes too long, we become overwrought.
Window of tolerance in dealing with stress.
Fight, flight, irritation, anger, panic
Optimal relaxation zone:
Calm, relaxed, connected, thoughtful
Under stimulated responses:
Frozen, dull, listless, dissociated, absent
Our senses are constantly scanning our environment to keep us safe. There is normally a correct balance between reaction and rest. You lose this balance when you see danger everywhere. You are far too stressed for too long a time and as a result, your body becomes exhausted.
With prolonged stress, cortisol levels and sugar levels in the blood become elevated for too long. With chronic stress, an overdose of cortisol is produced in the adrenal cortex, which has a toxic effect on the brain, more precisely the prefrontal cortex, which normally ensures that you can rationally put stress stimuli into perspective.
The adrenal glands then become exhausted and the immune system weakens. The intestinal flora can be disturbed and stomach ulcers and increased risk of inflammation can occur. Nerve damage can even occur. The high blood sugar levels cause a disturbance in the metabolism. Possible consequences of this are an increased risk of cramped muscles or overweight due to too much storage of fats.
Reserves are exhausted and so are we!
Constricts the pupils
Stimulates salivary secretion
Lowers the heat rate
Decreases the respiratory rate and narrows the branches of the bronchi
Stimulates bile and pancreatic juice secretion
Inhibits glucose release by the liver, stimulates gallbladder contraction
Stimulates intestinal juice secretion and bowel movement
Stimulates the contraction of the urinary bladder
Stimulates the genital function
= Wandering nerve
(Ortho) sympathetic part
Dilates the pupils
Raises the heart rate
Increases respiratory rate and dilates the branches of the bronchi
Inhibits bile and pancreatic juice secretion
Stimulates release of glucose by the liver, stimulates relaxation of the gallbladder
Inhibits intestinal juice secretion and bowl movement
Stimulates relaxation of the urinary bladder
Inhibits the genital function
= borderline ganglia
Anatomy of coping with stress
We can keep going for a long time on our reserve energy, but in the long run we will have no physical energy left. If we don’t sleep well, we can’t recuperate well. Here we see a vicious circle, which requires a long period of relaxation, rest and patience.
How well you can handle stress is determined by your genetics and environmental factors. As is displayed in a window of tolerance. This was designed in 1999 by Dan Siegel.
As you can see, this has an impact on your entire body. Also the digestion, sex drive, heartbeat…
Excess cortisol ensures that energy is released to enable us to react quickly when danger threatens. This is fine when saving your life but not if it is constant and reacting to anything and everything.
Sympathetic and Parasympathetic: The Basics – YouTube
The vagus nerve
The counterpart is the parasympathetic nervous system and in it the ‘tenth cranial nerve’, the wandering or vagus nerve, is the important cranial nerve regarding the task of relaxing and recovering. It is also abbreviated as N. X.
The Vagus Nervus in turn consists of two bundles that, from an evolutionary point of view, were not developed at the same time. There is a more primitively organized bundle (the Dorsal Vagus) and a smarter more modern organized bundle (the Ventral Vagus).
Hence the name Polyvagal (poly means several). The dorsal vagus mainly branches to your lower organs (e.g. stomach, intestines) and the ventral vagus goes to your face and the organs more at the top of your torso.
The vagus nerve branches from the brain stem to the chest and abdominal cavity and branches into our organs (such as the intestines, stomach, heart and lungs) and sends signals to the various organs of the body and also provides information about the state of the organs to the central nervous system. So it communicates both ways.
The importance of the vagus nerve in stress management
The vagus nerve plays a very important role in the parasympathetic nervous system. It affects your breathing, digestion and heart rate and also affects your mental well-being. The nerve also spurs the production of inhibitory neurotransmitters, including GABA and oxitocyte. It is the nerve that helps you relax, calm down… and fight stress and anxiety. The Vagus Nerve is the nerve that causes us to calm down and gives us the oppportunity to connect with others.
Neurolgical defense mechanism
Arousal – panic, flight, fear, depression, worry/fight,rage, anger, irritation, frustration/frozen, immobile, numb, dissociation, I can’t do it, I can do it/
Parasympatisch – dorsal vagus nerve
Social involvement – ventral vagus nerve
An increase in activity in your vagus nerve means that the body can relax and unwind faster and better and that you are more relaxed in your personal contacts.
When we feel safe, we can connect with others. This is when, the evolutionarily youngest part of the vagus nerve, the ventral vagus, is active.
When we are threatened, the switch is made from the sympathetic nervous system to the dorsal vagal. It then responds with a total shutdown. This is the freeze that people experience in a traumatic event.
The functioning of the vagal nerve is in turn affected by stress, e.g. by worrying, problems in your relationship or at work, alcohol, smoking, bad food, lack of sleep etc….
When the vagal nerve is not sufficiently active, you can suffer from all kinds of complaints:
Dysfunctional nervus vagus:
• Intestinal problems such as irritable bowel syndrome and chronic intestinal upset
• Conditions involving an inflammatory response such as rheumatoid arthritis
• Obesity and weight problems, the vagus nerve regulates insulin release and the release of the ‘hunger’ signal
• Depression, directly stimulating the vagus nerve is a remedy for depression where antidepressants no longer work
• Deregulation of the HPA –axis (hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenal gland. These three, along with the vagus nerve play an important role in stress regulation (flight – fight mechanism)
• Anxiety- related complaints when the sympathetic nervous system is overactive
• Fatigue, brain fog, fibromyalgia
• Autism, ADHD, OCD
• Various cardiac arrhythmias
• Tinnitus – ringing in the ears
• Sleep disorders
• Reduced production of oxytocin
• Throat, problems with swallowing, coughing
• GERD, acid reflux
• Food intolerance and allergies
• Migraine, tension or cluster headaches
• Cold hands and feet
• B12 deficiencies due to reduced uptake
• Epilepsy, direct stimulation of the vagus nerve can reduce some forms of epilepsy
• Problems with stomach acid, with the brain- gut axis, bile production
• Problems with the regulation of histamines (hay fever, rashes, unrest, headaches, intestinal problems, sneezing, blocked nose etc…)
• The vagus nerve tracks inflammatory reactions and when resilient passes this on to the brain
• Chronic inflammation
• Blood sugar imbalance
• Fertility issues
• It is involved in our ability to learn and to remember what we have learnt
• It plays an important role in cases of asthma and eczema
• It plays an important role in cases of hormone imbalance, e.g. thyroid
• And then, another one, it stops the hiccups
Inge – The diagram of the vagus nerve is in english
The Effect of Trauma and Chronic Stress on the Nervous System according to the Polyvagal Theory – YouTube
Tip number 1 to boost your vagus nerve!
Breathing exercises and heart coherence: Breathing is a special function, controlled from the Autonomic Nervous System. It is continuous; you don’t have to even think about it. However you can also choose to inhale more deeply, to exhale longer etc… First of all, we use breathing exercises that ensure a coherent heart rhythm pattern, or heart coherence for short. The measure is based on heart rate variability (HRV). This ensures a recurring balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Read our blog with more information about heart coherence.
You can also teach dogs to breathe in and out more slowly. Read our blog.
Dealing with stress effectively: even more tips to boost your vagus nerve and get stress under control.
Dietary supplements such as ashwaghanda, rhodiola rosea, vitamin B, magnesium and omega 3;
Bathe in alternating cold and warm water.
Massages, cuddling, intimacy and making love. All of these release endorphins and oxitocytes. Endorphins work perfectly against stress, for example, preventing the production of cortisol.
Taking long walks, connecting to the natural energy of the earth.
Meditation, Mindfulness and Trance Travel.
Laughing, singing, humming and whistling.
Sports especially Yoga or Pilates or Tai Chi and walking. The movements harmonize the two sides of your brain and you work on your breathing. You can also do yoga or even just take your dog for a walk!
Sleeping; especially at night, the recovery weeks are carried out by the parasympathetic nervous system.
Work on your negative thoughts, learn to focus your attention on that which gives you zest for life, satisfaction and gratitude. If necessary, call on a coach for this.
Good and positive social contact.
Trauma processing e.g. EMDR.
Sunlight and Vitamin D.
Eating dark chocolate.
Craniosacral therapy is a type of osteopathy. This therapy works on the cranial nerves, including the vagus nerve.
Take care of your gut: digestive system.
Listen to synctuition music: You hear different sound frequencies (3D sound technology) on both sides and your brain is able to harmonize this and helps to put you in a state of deep meditation.
We wish you a lot of happiness, peace and an active vagus nerve.
For personal guidance for you, your child or your cat or dog, contact us for an appointment.
It can be about foot reflexology, personal coaching, career coaching, children’s coaching with animals, nutritional advice for humans and animals, stress and burnout coaching, heart coherence, … firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interesting webinars related to dealing with stress.
Recognize and prevent burnout: https://toscanzahoeve.webinargeek.com/on-demand-burn-out
Who are you and what suits you? https://toscanzahoeve.webinargeek.com/wie-ben-je-en-wat-past-bij-jou-ondemand
Stress in humans and animals: https://toscanzahoeve.webinargeek.com/on-demand-stress-bij-mens-en-dier-v2
Help my dog is stressed! https://toscanzahoeve.webinargeek.com/help-mijn-hond-has-stress-ondemand
Short webinar: healthy intestines in cats and dogs: https://toscanzahoeve.webinargeek.com/kort-webinar-gezonde-darmen-bij-katten-en-honden-1
Short webinar: healthy intestines in humans: https://toscanzahoeve.webinargeek.com/kort-webinar-gezonde-darmen-bij-mens-1
High sensitivity in humans and animals: explanations and exercises