Denver Biofeedback ClinicDo you have an over-active nervous system?

Many of us suffer from various stress symptoms without even realizing that our body’s way of coping with stress can be changed to improve our health!

Common Symptoms of Stress

Stress can cause or worsen many conditions.

In this article I am going to focus on some of the more common problems I see when some has an over-active nervous system including:

  • Tension headache
  • Migraine headaches
  • Raynaud’s
  • Asthma
  • GI issues
  • Immune disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep troubles

When any of these nervous system stress symptoms are building, you can often see the big three habits of handling stress come into play:

  • The breath gets short or shallow
  • The mood of the mind turns scared or aggressive
  • And the muscles tense

One of the primary goals of biofeedback training is to build awareness of those first signs of stress…and then to use self-regulation to restore the balance in your body.

Warm Up to Stress Relief Techniques

When stress builds in your body, for example; when you feel your shoulders tense up this is part of the first phase that your nervous system tension is building as well.

(This is a great time to use some of the stress relief activities you have been learning like your Brief Recovery Exercise (BRE) to get you out of trouble.)

Without some of these ways to reduce stress, the nervous system can get involved.

Want to tell if your over-active nervous system is getting ready for a fight/flight/freeze response?

The telltale sign is that your fingertips cool!

This seemingly innocent little reaction is the signal that more is to come…

Let’s look at some additional ways stress transforms itself into stress symptoms in your body.

#1: Stress Related Headaches

First, let’s take a look at the tension headaches.

This way of dealing with stress is quite common.

(Many people with stress-related headaches are helped with the self-regulation tools you have been learning.)

Here’s what happens:  

When tension has built up in the first three systems (breath/mind/muscle) and the fingers are now cooling (signaling involvement in the nervous system) there is often a tension headache,

But wait no migraine headache yet…but the problem is building.

The finger tips will be getting cooler and cooler.

#2: Migraine Headaches and the Over-Active Nervous System

Migraine headaches can be very sneaky…and often happen when you least expect them!

Here’s what happens…

Once the stress is over, the body relaxes.

But in the case of folks with migraines, it will often relax TOO FAR because the stress went TOO FAR.

This is part of the “rest of the story” with migraine headaches.

  • The fingers get very, very cold during the stress.

And when the stress is over they move into balance by moving to the other extreme.

  • The blood vessels get very, very BIG before the blood vessels come back to the normal size again.

This stress symptom of an over-active nervous system comes into play as the opening of the blood vessels too far is generally the start of the migraine headache phase.

Does this sound familiar?

  • Your fingertips will probably feel very warm now.

Often these headaches will show up during recovery, like AFTER a big stress or in the night or the first day of a vacation or a weekend off.

Our bodies (when they aren’t led by self-regulation) will shift into re-balancing on their own and can trigger a migraine headache.

But you can change this pattern!

With the stress reduction techniques you are learning, you can learn to sense this early on and shift back into balance using self-awareness and self-regulation before the fingers get that cold in the first place!

You will be aware and notice the slight cooling to jump into action to prevent the deep stress and they the painful recovery phase!

#3: Negative Effects of Stress: Asthma

As I mentioned, the negative effects of stress can be seen through many different stress symptoms.

One of those signs of stress with an over-active nervous system is to trigger or worsen asthma symptoms.

Think of it this way…

Much like a migraine headache is an over-reaction to stress, asthma is very similar.

Except in the case of asthma, the airway opens a bunch during the stress response to allow more breath for the perceived need to “fight.”

Then the overactive airway tends to spasm when it closes down to move into a dramatic recovery period.

Like migraines, the stress symptoms show up during the RECOVERY phase.

Also like migraines the goal is to use self-regulations techniques to reduce stress and reduce the over-active nervous system response.

#4: Other Negative Effects of Stress: Raynaud’s

In the last two examples, we looked at how signs of stress show up on the body’s recovery phase.

Now let’s hear about when the body’s way of coping with stress is to “freeze.”

People with Raynaud’s experience have fingers and toes that just are stuck in the closed position when it comes to blood flow.

The fingertips stay in a cold state ready for the flight/fight/freeze stress response.

The good news is that biofeedback training can be used to over-ride this pattern and essentially re-set this nervous system problem.

#5: Consequences of Stress: GI Issues

Another one of the signs of stress in your life can be GI issues.

Folks with GI issues tend to react with a slowing of waste through the bowel.

This happens during the stress phase mentioned earlier when the fingers cool and the blood flow to the lining of the bowel can be decreasing at this time too.

This is just one more way the body shifts blood to more important areas in battle-preparation mode getting ready for the fight.

This way of dealing with stress can trigger constipation, diarrhea, bloating and irritation to the lining of the bowel itself.

#6: More Consequences of Stress: Immune System Issues

The immune system can also be one of the casualties of the consequences of stress.

Like other parts of the body involved in the stress response, the immune system can signal a decrease in the building of defense cells to divert the energy into battle readiness.

This can leave you in a position to become more vulnerable to virus or heal more poorly in general.

Have you noticed those times when you seem to get sick more often during times of higher stress?

It may sound strange, but in a tricky sort of way the immune system can go rogue!

With an over-active nervous system and response to stress, some folk’s immune system turns on the body itself and contributes to what we call auto-immune problems.

#7 What About Dealing with Stress and Anxiety?

As we prepare for battle the body releases stress chemicals which include adrenalin, there are a couple reasons why anxiety can become an issue.

First, some bodies may release more of this because there is a history of coping with danger.

Next, sometimes bodies release adrenalin and other stress chemicals, but don’t reabsorb them efficiently so they build up to higher levels.

It’s like this…

With anxiety, the body is readying for battle.

Unless there is truly a battle, your body begins to sense this early…perhaps with the slight change in breathing!

This can be long before the nervous system gets wind of it and begins to cool your fingers.

But there is another option besides reacting anxiously!

Option #2 is to come to the rescue A.S.A.P. and simply wait through the quieting of the chemicals as your body re-balances.

#8 More Sleepppppppppp…

Restful sleep has a huge part in having reserves in the “tank” for dealing with stress.

Now imagine your inner three year-old has been frightened quite a bit during the day.

Next imagine asking that three year-old to quiet down and fall to sleep quickly and easily.

Well, it’s not very likely is it?

We all know that when it is dark out the “bad guys” show up and so getting to sleep and even staying asleep are a lot less likely.

The subconscious mind left to its own choices, can make going to sleep much more difficult.

Techniques to Reduce Stress

Well I bet you are getting the idea…

When our bodies are operating on automatic pilot and readying for battle, it comes at a pretty big cost to health when it stays around too long or happens too often.

In past articles, I have shared more on techniques to manage stress.

I’ve included the nervous system piece and finger temperature awareness as a starting point for ways to reduce stress and improve your health.

Here’s a BONUS tip:

When you greet someone, shake their hands.

If you notice cold fingers, they are battle-ready.

This may indicate that you want to be very non-threatening and also focus on keeping your own self feeling calm and feeling safe so they will sense you are not a threat.

Keep practicing the stress management exercises I’m showing you!

Your body can learn and build new stress relieving habits!!!

Want to learn more about stress reduction?

Take the first step!

Click here for my Special Report: Biofeedback Training- Discover the Power of Your Mind to Control Your Body

Author: Jinny Joy LaRock, RN, BCB Sr. Fellow

Denver Biofeedback Clinic, Inc.