Using Brainwaves For Relaxation & Well-being

If you suffer from chronic inflammation, pain or illness, you already know how stress impacts your struggle for wellness. While you can’t eliminate stress, you can lower and mitigate stress by making healthy choices and learning how to manage your body’s response to stress by accessing relaxing brainwave states, such as alpha and theta.geranium-351810_1280

WHAT ARE BRAINWAVES? The brain uses electromagnetic energy to function, forming waves that can be measured in an EEG (electroencephalogram), and expressed in cycles per second, or Hertz (Hz). There are four main ranges of brainwaves: beta, alpha, theta, and delta.

BETA, 13-40 Hz, are produced when we’re awake, attentive, excited, concentrating or conversing.

ALPHA, 7 to 12 Hz, are present when you’re in a relaxed, receptive state, during light meditation or hypnosis, or whenever you close your eyes. Alpha is a mildly euphoric, creative state.

THETA, at 4 to 7 Hz, are associated with deep meditation and hypnosis, daydreaming, intuition, spiritual experiences, dreaming while sleeping, and high levels of creativity. Theta state is the realm of the subconscious mind. It’s known to boost immunity and is more intensely euphoric than alpha. Most people experience theta waves for a few seconds before falling asleep and just before awakening. Theta state is often described as a healing, problem-solving state.

DELTA, the slowest brain waves, range from 0 to 4 Hz. Delta brain waves are experienced only during very deep, dreamless sleep; this is a healing, restorative state.

HOW DO BRAINWAVES AFFECT WELL-BEING? Alpha and theta brainwave states stimulate neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and endorphins in the brain. These neurotransmitters:

  • regulate mood
  • decrease pain
  • improve sleep
  • provide feelings of self-esteem
  • increase relaxation and calm
  • boost the immune system
  • produce euphoria

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Stress 101: An Overview

Stress happens to everyone, every day, in one form or another; it is an inevitable part of living. Stress is defined as our mental and physical response to a stressor – a change, demand or threat – over which we have no control. We do however, have control of how we respond to stress.

In this article, I outline the basics of stress, written in everyday language that the average reader can understand. First I define the three different kinds of stress and how they affects us, then I explain what happens in the body during stress, followed by a summary of several effective stress management tips and techniques that can be easily learned and practiced by the reader.

Change isn’t all bad, and neither is stress. Commuting to school or work is an everyday, mild stressor. The moderate stress of travel, changing jobs or going to a new school may feel invigorating and can spark creativity. If you’re about to run a race or deliver a presentation, the stress you feel will motivate you to focus and do your best. Extreme stress can be good for you, too, when your safety or survival is at stake. This stress activates specific parts of your nervous system very quickly, so you can fight off an attack, run for your life, or swerve to avoid crashing your car.

Psychologists categorize THREE TYPES OF STRESS:

• short-term, or acute stress- may be mild to extreme; generally easy to manage and treat

episodic stress – acute stress that occurs too often for adequate recovery; often challenging to treat due to a person’s entrenched lifestyle, limiting beliefs or resistance to change

chronic stress, a prolonged response to emotional or physical pressure, unresolved trauma, or a disturbing situation which a person believes they cannot control; very challenging to treat, usually requiring several months to two years or more and a combination of health care, behavioral modification and daily stress management

ACUTE STRESS

Acute stress, the most common form, is caused by daily demands and pressures, and it’s not always negative; in fact, it can be enjoyable, even thrilling, and when it’s balanced with prompt recovery, it boosts the immune system. For example, my daughter is learning how to drive, which is exciting and empowering for her. When she gets behind the wheel, she feels focused and energized by the acute stress. However, when she’s tired, during stormy weather or when traffic is heavy, the stress of driving can be too much for her, and she may end up feeling tense and irritable by the time she parks in our driveway.MBehindTheWheel

Because acute stress is short-term and recovery generally happens soon after the stress ends, it usually doesn’t do as much damage as we see with long-term stress. If acute stress is extreme or if it builds up, however, it may cause these problems:

• Emotional distress: anger, anxiety, irritability, acute bouts of depression

• Physical symptoms: tension, headache, pain, upset stomach, gut or bowel disorders, vomiting, dizziness, rapid heartbeat or agitation, shortness of breath, hypertension, sweaty palms, cold hands or feet

Acute stress is normally easy to manage with relaxation techniques, like meditation or yoga. If the acute stress is extreme or traumatic though, professional help may be needed to support healing and recovery.

EPISODIC STRESS

Acute stress that occurs too often is called episodic stress. This type of stress is usually experienced by people with “Type A” personalities; these people are characterized as aggressive, overly competitive, demanding, and intense. They tend to be impatient, abrupt and irritable; they’re always in a hurry in their attempts to meet self-imposed demands, and their relationships tend to suffer. This type of stress isn’t chronic; it stops now and then, but occurs more frequently than acute stress does.

Episodic stress can also stem from constant worry. People who imagine danger around every corner or expect bad things to keep happening tend to be overly aroused and tense. These pessimistic people are often anxious and depressed.

Episodic stress takes a greater toll than acute stress, and symptoms of repeated over-stimulation are:

• Emotional distress: frequent anger, anxiety, irritability, longer bouts of depression, excessive worry

• Physical symptoms: frequent tension headaches, migraines, heart disease, chest pains and high blood pressure, sleep disturbances

Because those who suffer with episodic stress are often strongly resistant to change, effectively treating this type of stress requires interventions on a few levels, usually with professional help, and may take several months.

CHRONIC STRESS

Unlike acute stress, chronic stress is neither enjoyable nor exciting; it’s exhausting, unhealthy and dangerous. Chronic stress robs a person, day after day, month after month and even year after year of wellness, joy and fulfillment in life.

Chronic stress often stems from long-term exposure to stress related to: unhappy marriage or dysfunctional family relationships, unwanted career or job, repeated traumatic experiences, poverty or homelessness, chronic illness, overwork or excessive demands at school, living in a war zone or gang culture, or feeling powerless to change an unwanted, unhappy or dangerous situation.hustle-and-bustle-73400_640

Chronic stress can also result from early childhood adversity and traumatic experiences; see the CDC-Kaiser ACE Study. When certain kinds of adversity occur in a child’s life, the child may internalize painful experiences that can remain present, as if they’re ongoing, and the child’s personality can be dramatically affected. In order to make sense of what’s happened, a distorted world view or set of limiting beliefs gets created; for example, that the world is unsafe, that he’s unworthy or unlovable, or that if she makes a mistake it means that she’s an idiot, so she must be perfect at all times. This keeps the stress active constantly, as the child and later adult lives with the inner limits and distortions.

Post childhood adversity recovery involves replacing deeply embedded, limiting beliefs and personality distortions with life-affirming beliefs and healthy personality affects. This calls for courageous self-assessment and transformation, often with the caring support of a trauma-informed professional.Read More

IT COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE… AND IT CAN GET BETTER

Have you ever said “It wasn’t that bad” or “It could have been worse” when you talk about your childhood? We all know people who’ve had greater challenges than ourselves, and it’s common to compare situations, seeing our position as either better or worse than the other person. If we experienced hard times as a child and then later decide that it wasn’t that bad compared to someone else, we may discount our own pain or trauma, effectively sweeping it under the rug.children-788782_640

It can be scary to deal with a painful past, and there’s often shame for having lived in a dysfunctional family or having been abused or neglected, so many of us choose to keep it buried or hidden away in the closet. We think that all we have to do is leave it behind, like the toys we no longer play with as adults. The problem with that is, when we’ve experienced childhood adversity we’re impacted in ways that can last a lifetime, and if we ignore it, it doesn’t just go away.

What do I mean by “childhood adversity”? I’m talking about chronic, unpredictable, stressful experiences that can harm a child’s developing brain. That harm alters the neural pathways for stress response, increasing a person’s risk of developing serious, chronic illness later in life. According to the groundbreaking CDC-Kaiser Adverse Childhood Experiences Study , or ACE STUDY, these events include physical, sexual or emotional abuse; physical or emotional neglect; losing a parent through divorce, death, incarceration or abandonment;  growing up with a depressed or substance-abusing parent; living with a battered mother; or experiencing chronic humiliation. If you think or know you’ve had childhood adversity, you can take the ten-question ACE QUIZ  yourself to find out where you stand on a scale of zero to ten.

There are other events that can create trauma, too, and the definition of ACEs is expanding to include growing up in extreme poverty or amidst dangerous circumstances – think gang culture or a war zone. I would add having a sibling who was seriously injured and had several surgeries as well as losing a sibling to accidental death. Consider stressful events that go beyond the normal ups and downs of growing and developing, and you’re talking about adversity.

It’s a no-brainer (pun intended) that a child who has experienced chronic, toxic stress or trauma will be at risk for psychological or emotional problems in adulthood. Thanks to the ACE Study and over 70 further research papers published on the subject, we know that people who grew up in adversity are more likely to develop serious and chronic illness as adults, including autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, depression and other mental illness, sleep problems, substance abuse behaviors and eating disorders. People with multiple ACEs also tend to have higher absenteeism and impaired worker performance, social engagement problems, financial stress and poverty, homelessness, and violence –  both as victims and as perpetrators.

Do you think this doesn’t affect you?  Think again – the economic cost of this problem in the US alone is currently estimated to be $585 Billion across the lifetime. Who do you think pays that bill? The huge medical, social and economic costs of this issue impact all of us, even if we got lucky and weren’t individually exposed. If 2/3 of us have experienced ACEs, chances are high that we all have friends, family members, co-workers or employees who grew up in adversity – many of whom are limited in life by their childhood histories.Read More

“WHATEVER YOU VIVIDLY IMAGINE, …”

“…ardently desire, sincerely believe, and enthusiastically act upon must inevitably come to pass!” I love that quote by Paul J. Meyer, a humanitarian and philanthropist known as the founder of the personal development industry. It’s my favorite one-line expression that describes the energy we can all generate and use to create our life experiences.

Just think about this: Every single act of conscious creation or self-directed change starts with a thought, followed by some mental processes and culminates with taking action!

"Imagine Indeed"

Change is in the air right now, as many of us consider what we’d like to create or transform in our lives: in our health, relationships, work, finances, life path, or spirituality. When New Year rolls around, instead of thinking about resolutions, I ask myself the following three questions, with the next twelve months as my time line:

  • What do I desire to experience?
  • What do I intend to learn and how do I commit to grow?
  • What shall I create and contribute to add value to myself, my family, my community, and the world?

After I know the answers to the three questions, I meditate for a few minutes, allowing myself to enjoy imagining the answers. When I feel ready, I journal, applying the quote above to my mind’s creations. I vividly imagine my burning desires with sincere belief that I can enthusiastically act and make it happen. I like to create colorful collages, so I usually make one to represent my “vision” for the coming year – and I always have a lot of fun with the process!

If you want to try this out for yourself, you can download this FREE exercise with 10-minute audio guide to spark your creative flow. Check out this little audio clip first, if you like:

“VIVIDLY IMAGINE EXERCISE”

Throughout the next twelve months, I’ll keep this yearly vision in mind on a daily basis as I ask the three questions for that day. Each day gives opportunities to take small steps toward achieving the annual goals and intentions, while I focus on how I plan to use my life energy that day.

Now, I know you may be thinking, “I’ve tried that (or something similar) and it didn’t work for me”, and I’m not surprised. You see, in order to succeed in creating what you desire, all four of the elements in the quote must be present. Most people get hung up on one or more of them. These are the two most common blocks: “sincerely believe” and “enthusiastically act upon”.

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FLOAT TO REST & TRIP IN THE LIGHT

Rest and relaxation are essential for optimal wellness, and I’ve recently tuned into the benefits of Floating, also known as “Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy” (REST), which takes place in a light-free, soundproof tank where a person floats in very dense, skin temperature epsom salt water. The first so-called “isolation tank” was used by John C. Lilly in 1954 to test the effects of sensory deprivation. Modern float tanks are now used for meditation and relaxation as well as treatment for stress, anxiety, chronic pain, fibromyalgia and a number of other health challenges. Students, musicians and athletes also use floating as a way to enhance their learning and performance.

Theta Wave Pod

Float Pod tank

Yesterday I floated for the fourth time in as many months at Theta Wave Float Spa in Sebastopol, California. The spa, founded by Andrew Patterson, is named for the Theta brain wave state that occurs during deep meditation and light sleep (experienced briefly just before going to sleep and waking), as well as REM sleep and hypnosis. The expansive Theta state, with brain waves ranging from 4-7 Hz, is useful for changing limiting beliefs and deeply embedded programs like addictions and in re-programming your mind with new, resourceful learning. Some people report feeling profound spiritual connections in Theta, along with increases in creativity and insight.

The beautiful, spacious facility is very well put together with soothing color, warm lighting and interesting art. The entry room is large and open, there are two private rooms with tanks and showers, a treatment room for massage, and a softly lit room for relaxing before or after floating with a cup of tea.Read More

Does Feng Shui Really Work?

With the Chinese New Year on February 19, we entered the Year of the Golden Sheep, welcoming a time of peace, harmony, creativity and generosity. This time of year always inspires me to take stock of the flow of energy in my life.  As a student of the ancient Chinese Art of Feng Shui for over twenty years now, I’ve learned some interesting ways to improve the energy of my home and office to enhance my success, happiness and general well-being. I find that by implementing the principles I’ve learned, I can create environments that are both energetically vibrant and aesthetically pleasing.

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photo by John Ragai https://www.flickr.com/x/t/0096009/photos/johnragai/16414850020/

Some of the things I do to activate the flow of energy, or chi, in my home and office are: keep the entryway to my home clean and free of clutter; locate beds in the corner of the room furthest from the door so that one can see the entrance from the bed; use plants, crystals, lamps and color with the cardinal directions, keeping the elements of fire, earth, air, water and metal in mind. I also have a fountain in the entry room to stimulate the flow of abundance. In the kitchen, I keep the stove top clean, make sure that all of the burners work well, and I use them all in turn. This stimulates multiple flows of abundance into my household. I keep the refrigerator clean and clear out old food that has lost its vitality. In the dining room, I place a small mirror on the ceiling above the table, so it will reflect abundance, and I keep a beautiful bowl on the table with oranges and a pineapple, or whatever fruit is in season. There are many more ways to achieve good results using the art of feng shui, too many to address here. For a more detailed summary of how you can use feng shui, check out my dear friend, Gwynne Warner’s website, Ten Thousand Blessings Feng Shui:   http://www.10kblessingsfengshui.com/
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