Why You Can’t Sleep At Night And What You Can Do About It

It’s harder to sleep in these times. Articles are written every day about the subject. Your reason for tossing and turning at night may be different from mine. But the result is the same. We’re foggy and tired the next day. We keep ourselves alert with coffee, sugar or other stimulants. Then we crash and drag and can’t remember where we left our car keys. Up and down we go. We stay up late to get things done, like “just one-more-email” which stimulates one more. We watch TV to chill before bed but then the theme of the last show we watched takes over our brain and creates restless sleep – if we’re lucky. For many of us, worries and concerns we’ve been pushing aside finally get their time to play out on the stage of our minds without distraction. Where’s that sleeping pill to shut it all off? But that sleeping pill just leaves us dragging again the next day.

We all know the statistics. Not enough sleep affects our emotional well-being, our cognitive clarity, our relationship communications, our performance on the job or elsewhere, our sense of connection to spirit or self, and ultimately our long-term health. (Anything we’ve left out?) We get anxious about not sleeping, which only makes it harder to sleep. Anxiety releases adrenaline which prompts body and mind into action–the opposite of what we need for sleeping. It’s a catch-22. Many of us have tried a lot of the recommended common sense remedies and still often find ourselves lying awake a good part of the night. What are we to do?

If this describes you or someone you care about, there is one place you may not have looked for help that’s about one to two feet under your nose, depending on how tall you are. That place is your heart.

Three Ways Your Heart Can Help You Sleep Better

Your heart beats in a rhythm. Research at the Institute of HeartMath shows that when you are worried, anxious, frustrated – stressed – that rhythm becomes irregular. The more stressed you are, the more chaotic your heart rhythm pattern becomes. So what makes the heart rhythm smooth out quickly? Research shows it’s positive feelings, like love, care, gratitude, appreciation, compassion or joy. These feelings not only feel good but are good for you. They order your heart rhythms, reduce cortisol and increase DHEA (the vitality hormone) to help you sleep more soundly and wake up more energized and refreshed.

When your heart rhythm pattern becomes smooth and ordered, it’s called a coherent rhythm. Below is a picture. You can see how jagged and incoherent the heart rhythm pattern is when you’re anxious or frustrated and how smooth and sine-wave like (coherent) it becomes when you’re feeling appreciation.

sleep-graph

What’s cool is that both graphs are of the same person feeling one way then the other within a period of a couple minutes. What’s even cooler is that scientists have found that the smooth, coherent rhythm is the pattern your heart rhythm naturally goes into during deep sleep. So why not give it some help? Here’s how you can:

When you close your eyes at night, tell yourself you aren’t going to overdramatize your concerns about sleeping. Here’s a heart-focused technique we call Attitude Breathing® to help create the coherent rhythmic pattern that can facilitate deeper and more effective sleep:

* Gently breathe an attitude of calm, ease and relaxation for a minute or two. * When relaxed, then breathe an attitude of appreciation, gratitude or love for someone or something–a pet, a time in nature, etc.

* Do this for a few minutes or so to activate the heart rhythms that help release beneficial hormones which reduce stress and restore your system.

If you go to bed with that stressed, jagged heart rhythm pattern, it can disrupt your sleeping rhythms. During deep sleep your breathing and heart rhythms are quieter, your metabolic rate slows and hormonal rhythms change. The stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline) decrease. However, when these rhythms are disrupted, then sleeping restfully or waking up refreshed is hard to come by.

Have you ever noticed what happens when you go to bed without resolving a real or imagined conflict with someone? Your mind won’t stop rehashing what you could have or should have said. Your heart can help.

Respect yourself and the other person. If you can, communicate with her before you go to bed and with open-heartedness and latitude, try to work it out. Check to see if there’s something you need to correct within yourself to help the situation. Apologize if you need to and listen from your heart with an attitude of genuine care. Ask questions to sincerely understand where she is coming from, even if you think you know. If you can’t reach the person, talk about the problem with someone who won’t just agree with you but may provide another point of view. Then talk to the person as soon as you can. Don’t chicken out. Even if the situation doesn’t resolve right away, you can release yourself more knowing that you tried. Breathing the attitude of self-compassion has helped many people in “hard-to-resolve” situations.

Realize that what you do during the day also affects how you sleep at night. When you allow stress to build-up during the day, it throws off your body’s rhythms and can lead to overload, headaches, backaches, indigestion, energy drain and more. Your heart generates the strongest rhythm in the body, and your brain and nervous system entrain to your heart’s rhythm, whether coherent or incoherent. This exciting research is available if you want to learn more.

Getting your heart into a coherent rhythm a couple times during the day helps release stress as you go and helps reset your body’s rhythms for better sleep at night. Here’s how.

Take a coherence break in-between activities, at your desk, on a break, or anywhere. Shift focus to your heart (look at picture of a loved one, remember a favorite pet, or recall a time in nature) and feel appreciation or gratitude. It’s important that the appreciation be heartfelt (not just from the mind) to activate heart coherence and hormones that help bring harmony and stability to your mental and emotional processes. Breathe the true feeling or attitude of appreciation through the area of your heart for a minute or two (without mentally multi-tasking as you do this). Taking coherence breaks also increases balance and resilience and helps you listen to your heart’s intuitive guidance on what else you need to do to release stress or prevent stress build-up.

It can take a little time to reset your natural rhythms if they’ve been out of whack for awhile. To help speed up the process we developed a heart rhythm coherence feedback technology called the emWave Personal Stress Reliever, which recently won the Last Gadget Standing People’s Choice Award at the 2009 International Consumer Electronics Show. You can use the emWave mobile device with the emWave Solution for Better Sleep Guide. This guide provides you with helpful heart-focused practices. Even if you don’t sleep like a baby on the first night, you will start to accrue benefits from the practice.

If you think this is important information for the sleep-deprived but not readily accessible yet, what would you suggest to get the word out? Send us your comments, suggestions, and thoughts on this. Put them in the comments section below or send us an email at [email protected] ***

To learn more or to download HeartMath’s free booklet Solving Sleeplessness click here. You can find out more about Doc Childre, Deborah Rozman and HeartMath at www.heartmath.com. Doc is founder of the non-profit Institute of HeartMath and the co-author of The HeartMath Solution and From Chaos to Coherence.

Deborah is a psychologist and business executive, and co-author with Doc of the Transformation book series including Transforming Stress, Transforming Anger, Transforming Anxiety, and Transforming Depression.

We invite you to join our Facebook and Twitter pages and our YouTube channel where the latest stress relief resources are often announced and made available. We also offer a Stress & Well-Being Survey™, the most comprehensive and accurate assessment tool that’s available free over the Internet. The survey takes five to ten minutes to complete, and will provide you with a comprehensive picture of how much stress you are experiencing, your energy level and what areas are most stressful in your life. Results are followed by tips for improving your scores.

Follow Deborah Rozman Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/heartmath

Doc Childre is an internationally renowned stress expert, creator of the HeartMath System, considered by many hospitals, organizations and health care professionals to be a best practice in stress management, and Chairman and co-CEO of Quantum Intech, Inc the parent company of HeartMath LLC. He is also founder of the non-profit research and education organization, the Institute of HeartMath and author of a dozen books on stress, wellness and heart-based living including The HeartMath Solution, From Chaos to Coherence, The HeartMath Approach to Reducing Hypertension, and the Transforming Series of books with co-author Dr. Deborah Rozman. Doc is the creator of the emWave Personal Stress Reliever technology, which won the Last Gadget Standing People’s Choice Award at the 2009 International Consumer Electronics Show.

Deborah Rozman Ph.D., is a psychologist, business executive and co-author with Doc Childre of Transforming Stress, Transforming Anger, Transforming Anxiety, Transforming Depression and Stopping Emotional Eating: The emWave Stress and Weight Management Program. She is President and co-CEO of Quantum Intech, Inc. and serves on the scientific advisory board of the Institute of HeartMath. She is a key spokesperson for HeartMath on stress management and the role of heart intelligence and heart-based living.

Heart and hand

Practical Intuition – More than Just a Hunch

Intuition was once considered a mysterious gift bestowed on only a few. More recently, scientists are recognizing it as a skill that anyone can develop.

Most of us have had some experience with what we call a hunch, a heart feeling, gut feeling or just a sense of “inner knowing” in making decisions in business, or having a strong sense about something with our children or someone we care about, or even in everyday activities like an inner prompting to drive defensively.

At the center of this intuitive ability is the human heart. Once thought to be no more than a pump, the heart is now being recognized as a sophisticated intelligence whose power is only beginning to be scientifically understood.

Surprising new research is showing that the human heart is involved in accessing what is called non-local intuition. This research reveals that the heart receives intuitive information before the brain by a second or slightly more, according to published research conducted by the HeartMath Institute.

This unconscious perception can be seen in subtle changes in our emotions and body. For example, changes in our heart’s rhythm can occur with an intuitive feeling.

While the degree of access to the heart’s intuition varies from person to person, we all have access to it – and this intelligence can be cultivated.

Practical intuition is something we can use daily for moment-to-moment choices and decisions in life; in helping increase our sensitivity and care towards others – and in deepening our connections with ourselves and those we care about.

Researchers have found a significant relationship between increased heart rhythm coherence and becoming more sensitive to our intuitive signals. As we slow down our minds and attune to our deeper heart feelings, our natural intuitive connection begins to flow.

Listening to our intuitive signals unfolds more understanding of ourselves, others, and issues in life. This practical intuition is something we can access daily for making more effective choices and decisions.

Man starting day with coffee

The Right Start for Your Day

Your alarm doesn’t go off, you over sleep and you PANIC. You’re running late, can’t find your car keys and you’re FRUSTRATED. You get stuck in traffic, miss your exit and you’re ANGRY. You reach to change the radio station, spill your latte and you’re ANNOYED. You have 3 urgent messages from a client, an ‘I need to talk to you’ message from your boss and you’re ANXIOUS. You’re late for the staff meeting, the only empty chair is next to the guy you can’t stand and you’re IRRITATED. Hey, cheer up! It’s only 9:15!

Sound familiar? And even though a lot of us ignore these ‘little stresses’ and our emotional reactions to them (Hey, this is life!), our bodies don’t: adrenaline soars, extra cortisol is pumped into your body, the heart races, muscles tense up. Over time, our bodies adapt and eventually forget how to rest. It’s the reason why we don’t sleep as well as we used to, we’re on edge more often than not and when we finally get that week-long vacation on Maui, we need three days just to feel relaxed!

There will always be traffic, urgent messages and staff meetings. But we can change how we respond to these every day hassles and in the process, reduce wear and tear on our bodies.

First, don’t ignore how you feel throughout the day. When you feel angry, irritated, anxious, etc. bring your system back to balance, quickly, on demand, with the free Quick Coherence® technique. Heart focus. Heart breathing. Heart feeling.

Second, take 5-15 minutes a few times every week to practice sustaining the heart feeling. Over time you can retrain your system how to rest. Just like stress accumulates in our bodies, so does emotional resilience. You’ll find the little stuff doesn’t bother you as much and you’ll have more energy to handle the big things when they come along.


Take care,
Kim Allen

Stressed Woman

Justified

What are your excuses for not doing something about your stress?

What IF you don’t have the time? We’re all busy and as long as we believe stress reduction requires time, we continue to reserve it for Saturday morning in the garden or 9:00 pm in the bath tub or late August in Maui! The truth is stress doesn’t wait until you have time to ‘manage’ it. You need something that works 24/7, QUICK! It takes less than a minute to stop the stressful feeling with HeartMath’s basic Quick Coherence® technique: Heart-focused breathing; heart feeling. Five times a day takes less than five minutes!

AND nothing’s going to change anyway. Don’t expect life to suddenly transform around you every time you shift into coherence. Do it for your own sake. Don’t ignore the impact you can have on others when you are more balanced or calm.

YEAH BUT it’s not working. Be patient. Like learning any new skill, this takes practice. And simply thinking about it won’t have the same benefit. You need to focus on and engage the heart; shift how you feel.

Anytime you learn something new, the least line of resistance has the tendency to win out. The time it takes to find an excuse can be better spent to:

Recharge your batteries. Make a shift before you feel stressed. Pause for 15-30 seconds and find something in your life to appreciate. Each time you do this, you boost your whole system.

Have fun with your practice. If you approach your practice too seriously, it will feel like a chore and create even more stress. Find ways to build coherence into your daily routines.

Finally, recognize your stressful feelings one more time today than you did yesterday and then do something about it. Just one extra shift to coherence a day can save wear and tear on your body.

It’s time to get a handle on your stress, once and for all.



Take care,
Kim Allen

Dove

Altruism: A Remedy for Stress

Will acts of kindness and generosity enhance our health, increase our longevity and make us happier? Can genuine altruism be a remedy for stress? When we act on behalf of other people, research shows we feel better and more secure and experience less stress.

Does altruism have a physiological basis? Using MRI scans, scientists have identified specific regions of the brain that are very active during deeply and compassionate emotions. Stephen Post, Ph.D., head of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, told WebMD: “This is the care-and-connection part of the brain. States of joy and delight come from giving to others. It doesn’t come from any dry action – where the act is out of duty in the narrowest sense.” What Post is describing is heartfelt giving. Neurochemicals also enter into this picture of altruism. A recent study has identified high levels of the hormone oxytocin in people who are very charitable toward others. But what about the heart?

The Institute of HeartMath, a nonprofit research and education organization in California, has studied the physiology of and relationship between the heart, stress, and emotions for 17 years. Dr. J. Andrew Armour, a leading neurocardiologist on the Institute of HeartMath’s Scientific Advisory Board, has found the heart contains cells that synthesize and release hormones such as epinephrine (adrenaline) and dopamine, among others. More recently it was discovered that the heart also secretes oxytocin, commonly referred to as the “love” or “bonding” hormone. Remarkably, concentrations of oxytocin produced in the heart are as high as those found in the brain. When you are altruistic – lending a helping hand – your oxytocin level goes up, which helps relieve your stress. Altruistic behavior also may trigger the brain’s reward circuitry – the feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins. However, the hormonal benefits of the good deed depend on the genuine intent of the act of altruism.

Research shows that altruistic people are healthier and live longer. In one study that followed over 400 women for 30 years, researchers found that 52% of those who did not engage in volunteer work experienced a major illness – compared with only 36% of those who did volunteer. In a British poll of volunteers, half of those surveyed said their health had improved over the course of volunteering. One in five even said that volunteering had helped them lose weight. Another large research study found a 44% reduction in early death among those who volunteered – a greater effect than exercising four times a week. And a recent investigation conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research found that older people who are helpful to others reduce their risk of dying by nearly 60% compared to peers who provide neither practical help nor emotional support to relatives, neighbors or friends.

You can learn to cultivate altruism using the HeartMath® System. HeartMath experts say that giving to others should be balanced with self-care so you don’t burn yourself out. Giving is most effective when it comes from a genuine sense of heartfelt care rather than a feeling of duty or “I should.” The heart-focused techniques of the HeartMath System help people to align themselves more fully with their core values and to actualize more care and compassion in their daily lives. Practice of these techniques has also been linked to beneficial changes in hormones that profoundly affect our health, happiness and longevity. Integrating HeartMath practices into your life helps you reduce stress while increasing your generosity from the heart.

Benefits of Altruism:

  • Promotes emotional, physical, mental and spiritual health.
  • Boosts your self-esteem and confidence.
  • Increases your longevity.
  • Givers are more open to receiving gifts and experiencing appreciation.
  • Provides a way to express your feelings about someone or an issue.
  • Builds connections and relationships with others.
  • People gain knowledge about the cause and issue they give to.
  • Giving to a community or globally is caring that uplifts consciousness.

For more scientific information go to: www.heartmath.org.

Checking Blood Pressure

Reduce the Taxes of Financial Stress: Nine Tips for Relieving Money Worries

For millions of people, financial stress is eating away at their basic sense of security and well-being. And it’s not just bank accounts that are being drained, but also physical and emotional ressenting the people or issues you care about.ources, which in turn impact health, relationships, productivity and happiness.


Note: This article may be reprinted in its entirety. Permission to reprint is contingent on the inclusion of the attribution statement found at the end of this article. The content herein may not be modified or altered without written permission from HeartMath. Please send permission requests to [email protected]

Reduce the Taxes of Financial Stress
Nine Tips for Relieving Money Worries

Do you get a knot in your stomach when you sit down to pay the bills each month? Wake up in the middle of the night wondering how you’re ever going to get out of debt? Get a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness when you read headlines about the housing crisis, oil prices, soaring healthcare costs, inflation, recession and unemployment?

If you’re feeling worried and anxious about money, you’re not alone. For millions of people, financial stress is eating away at their basic sense of security and well-being. And it’s not just bank accounts that are being drained, but also physical and emotional resources, which in turn impact health, relationships, productivity and happiness.

Most of us believe if we just work harder, think harder and try harder, we can resolve our financial issues. But what if focusing more brainpower and effort in these problems actually gets us even further away from finding solutions? Instead of trying even harder to think our way through these problems, here’s an alternative approach to consider.

A different method for resolving your challenges involves releasing stress and allowing your intuition to help guide your thoughts and actions. By using tools to stop the continual loop of anxiety and fear, we actually free up energy to find new answers to old problems. Even when we can’t control our external situation, creating a balanced connection between the heart and brain helps reduce the internal taxes of scarcity and insecurity and opens new pathways in the problem-solving process.

Here are nine practical and affordable tips for relieving financial stress:

  • Take advantage of new technology. You may already use a sophisticated computer program to manage your personal and professional finances, but did you know there’s innovative stress reduction software available, too? Much like cell phones, PDA’s and mp3 players make life easier and more enjoyable, there are handheld devices that help you relieve stress. Why not use the latest digital tools to improve your quality of life?
  • Sit down and make a list of what you’re grateful for. It’s hard to feel anxious or scared while focusing on feelings of gratitude. Think about someone you appreciate, then, take a moment in your heart to feel appreciation for them. If you choose to, tell him or her. You’ll be surprised by the new energy you bring back to solving money issues by cultivating gratitude and expressing appreciation.
  • Approach your financial problems more objectively. If you were going to give advice to a person who was in a similar situation, what would it be? Stepping outside yourself enables you to see things more dispassionately, without being as invested in the outcome.
  • Shift your focus. Stop and remember the basic conveniences and luxuries you may take for granted. Much of the world lives in poverty and while it may sound simplistic, when we stop to think about someone much less fortunate, it puts our financial situations in a larger wholeness perspective.
  • Get to the heart of the matter. If you feel like you’re in an endless cycle of worry and angst, try the Cut-Thru® technique to help gradually release the accumulated anxiety caused by financial stress. To gain some immediate relief, you don’t need to sort through all the details of the issues you’re facing; simply address the perceptions, feelings and thoughts that come up while using this technique.
  • Don’t over-saturate yourself with bad news about the economy. While staying informed is important, taking in so much disturbing news day after day can lead to a growing sense of pessimism. Try to watch or read the financial news without getting lost in a negative mindset and look for stories that help stimulate more creative, optimistic thinking about money.
  • Don’t keep everything to yourself. Reach out to a friend who can help you gain a clearer perspective, but not necessarily one who will simply sympathize with your pain. Or find an expert you can talk to about your money issues who is knowledgeable and unbiased. Financial advisors and credit counselors can help take off some of the pressure and there are many free resources for financial advice.
  • Give some money away. It doesn’t matter how much. Whatever the amount, giving to someone in need or to a cause or charity you feel aligned with takes you out of self-centeredness and focuses compassion and caring on someone else. Knowing you have enough to share builds your own sense of personal empowerment.
  • Don’t punish yourself with blame or shame. Having financial difficulties does not equate to failure. Many times the circumstances are beyond your control. Freeing yourself from these disapproving feelings enhances your perception and intuition, allowing you to think better and more clearly. Despite a sense that things may always be this way, your current condition is not permanent. Change is constant and that includes your finances.

While money issues are real, they don’t have to destroy you. Letting go of stress, even for just a few minutes, can lead towards fresh ideas and new solutions. If you’re looking for greater prosperity and peace of mind, reducing stress is a risk-free financial strategy.

Copyright © 2008 HeartMath. Since 1991 HeartMath has been dedicated to decoding the underlying mechanics of stress. HeartMath is internationally recognized for their solutions to transform the stress of change and uncertainty, and bring coherence and renewed energy into people’s lives. Research and clinical studies conducted by HeartMath have examined emotional physiology, heart-brain interactions, and the physiology of learning and performance. Through their research they have demonstrated the critical link between emotions, heart function, and cognitive performance. HeartMath’s work has been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals such as American Journal of Cardiology, Stress Medicine, and Preventive Cardiology, as well as business journals such as Harvard Business Review and Leadership Excellence. HeartMath’s organizational clients include NASA, BP, Duke University Health System, Stanford Business School, Redken, Kaiser Permanente, Boeing, and Cisco Systems, as well as dozens of school systems and thousands of health professionals around the world. To learn more about HeartMath, go to www.heartmath.com.

Stone stack at sunset

What You Need to Know About Stress

Five Uncommonly Know Facts

Fact: Your body doesn’t care if it’s a big stress or a little one.

The human body doesn’t discriminate between a BIG stress or a little one. Regardless of the significance, stress affects the body in predictable ways. A typical stress reaction, which most of us experience dozens of times each day, begins with a cascade of 1,400 biochemical events in your body. If these reactions are left unchecked we age prematurely, our cognitive function is impaired, our energy is drained, and we are robbed of our effectiveness and clarity.

Fact: Stress can make smart people do stupid things.

Stress causes what brain researchers call “cortical inhibition.” The phenomenon of cortical inhibition helps to explain why smart people do dumb things. Simply said, stress inhibits a small part of your brain and you can’t function at your best.

Fact: Many people are oblivious to their stress.

We can be physiologically experiencing stress yet mentally oblivious to it because we’ve become so accustomed to it. Some have become so adapted to stress that it can seem to be our normal state. Small stresses accumulate quickly and impair our mental and emotional clarity and our overall health. Eventually it shows up as a bad decision, an overreaction or an unwanted diagnosis at the doctor’s office.

Fact: We can control how we respond to stress.

We don’t need to be victims to our own emotions, thoughts and attitudes. We can control how we respond to stress and we can become more sensitive to stressful situations and how they are affecting us before it manifests as a physical, mental or emotional complaint. There are simple, scientifically validated solutions to stress that empower people to rewire their own stress response.

Fact: The best strategy is to handle stress in the moment.

The best way to manage stress is to deal with it the very moment you feel it come up. Millions of Americans unsuccessfully use the binge-and-purge approach when it comes to stress. They stress out all day, believing that they can wait until later to recover when they go to an evening yoga class, go to the gym or take the weekend off. Unfortunately, when we put off going for our own inner balance our bodies have already activated the stress response and it’s our health that suffers.

Take this survey to see how stress affects your quality of life, and what strategies work best for handling stress in the moment.

Stressed Woman

Secondary Traumatic Stress Could Be Impacting More People Than We Know

Just a few weeks ago at the War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, Arkansas there were loud noises that led to a panic at a high school football game. The immediate assumption was that the noise was gunfire. Thousands of scared fans flooded the stadium exits. It turned out that the noises were due to a fight, falling barricades and the firing of a stun gun which prompted the crowd of more than 38,000 fans to run.

Due to the continuity of mass shootings, people are on high alert. Our sense of security has been threatened and people are much quicker to assume that something dangerous is happening. There are numerous examples of the flight or fight stress response kicking in as a result of a loud noise in public places.

After so much graphic coverage on social media and the news following each real shooting event, it’s easy to understand why people are feeling anxious, fearful and generally more on edge.

This is called “secondary traumatic stress” and it’s a growing issue that we need to pay close attention to.

Jorina Elbers, MD is the program director for the Trauma Relief Project at the HeatMath Institute. She explains what secondary traumatic stress is and what signs we should look for.

“Secondary traumatic stress can occur when events undermine our sense of safety and security, and activate the body’s stress response over and over again.

“By definition, it does not require direct exposure to the event, just the perceived threat that it could happen again, at any time. Similar to post-traumatic stress disorder, although not as intense, secondary traumatic stress takes a toll on our emotional and physical health. In my clinic I have observed how chronic stress and trauma lead not only to mental health issues, but also to physical health issues. Chronic pain, dizziness, and digestive problems can occur.”

It’s important not to ignore the signs of secondary traumatic stress as it can increase the risk of future physical and mental health problems or substance abuse.


These may include persistent symptoms of hyperarousal or hypoarousal:

Hyperarousal

Intrusive thoughts
Hypervigilance
Anxiety
Fearfulness
Exaggerated startle response
Irritability
Anger/rage
Panic attacks
Difficulty falling asleep

Hypoarousal

Poor concentration
Depression
Emotional detachment
Chronic fatigue
Avoidance
Social disconnection

What should you do if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of secondary traumatic stress?

Dr. Elbers offers a few suggestions that may provide some relief:

  1. Minimize your exposure to news stories, social media, video and images that provoke fear and anxiety.
  2. Get regular physical activity. A stressed body carries a lot of extra energy that needs to be discharged. Exertional exercise can help to release excess energy, improve sleep, and release endorphins in the body that help you feel good.
  3. Practice breathing a little slower and deeper than you’re used to breathing. Slow deep breathing calms the fear center in the brain that activates the stress response. This is a simple, yet powerful tool – the more you do it, the more it can help.
  4. Stay connected to family and friends. We are a tribal species, and naturally feel safer around people whom we are close to. Secure attachment releases oxytocin which makes us feel good and activates the vagus nerve which helps to keep us healthy.
  5. Make time every morning and/or evening to meditate and focus on things you are grateful for. This helps to deactivate the body’s stress response and reduce stress hormones that can negatively affect the brain and body.
  6. If symptoms are interfering with your daily activities, seek professional advice. Working with a counselor or therapist can help you or a loved one develop effective coping strategies.

While we cannot always control what happens in our lives, we can control our response to stressful events and how much we allow worry and fearful thoughts to occupy our mind. Transforming Anxiety: The HeartMath Solution for Overcoming Fear and Worry and Creating Serenity can be a helpful resource and starting point for learning techniques that can help to calm a worried and overactive mind.

Dr. Jorina Elbers is a pediatric neurologist who trained at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada, and was an assistant professor at Stanford University for the last 6 years. She now works for the HeartMath Institute and in private practice in Central California.