WESTBOROUGH, MA January 31, 2017 There is no way to avoid a stressful life it seems. Some people are better than others at reducing the impact of stress. Excercise, healthy eating, regular sleep, and mindfulness reduce the impact of the stress and tension we all experience in our lives. These behaviors are being taught to children who experience stress just like their parents in many schools. Meanwhile, concussion and more serious brain injuries result in changes in the autonomic nervous system that are sometimes life threatening. The behavioral response of these afflictions include marked restlessness, anxiety, changes in sleep hygiene, abnormal pain response, and pervasive tension.
In cases of severe brain injury one might see autonomic storming as described in a prior blog. Autonomic storming results from trauma to regions of the brain that control primitive bodily functions like respiration, heart rate, and emotional regulation. This includes profuse sweating, elevated heart rate, rapid changes in body temperature and motor restlessness. These functions are comprised in the autonomic nervous system and are known as the fight-flight mechanism. The sympathetic nervous system elevates blood pressure, respiratory drive, and gets us ready to fight or run. Meanwhile, the parasympathetic system puts the brakes on these functions allowing the body to return to its normal resting rate.
“Eventually, chronic stress could be treated as an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which is routinely screened for and effectively managed like other major cardiovascular disease risk factors.” Ahmed Tawakol, Harvard Medical School
Ostensibly, stress has the capacity to change this normal resting heart rate and slowly raise our levels making it difficult to truly relax. In the long term, external stress can change our heart functioning including hypertension and cardiac arrhythmia and put us at risk for cardiovascular illness including heart attack and stroke. Lifestyle changes are necessary to avoid long-term health problems from stress. Mindfulness includes deep, regular breathing, guided imagery, and progressive relaxation. It is being introduced in some public schools so that it may become part of the coping mechanisms used by kids when stress sets them off – as it undeniably will do.
Sefton, M. (2015). Heart rate variability: Biofeedback options for post-concussion syndrome, https://concussionassessment.wordpress.com/2015/08/03/heart-rate-variability-biofeedback-options-for-post-concussion-syndrome/
WebMD (2017) Brain ‘stress ball’ may be key to heart risks. http://www.webmd.com/brain/news/20170111/stress-ball-in-your-brain-may-be-key-to-heart-risks#2, taken January 14, 2017