The missing key to boost energy, mood, and focus...naturally + sustainably
Updated: Dec 25, 2017
Calling all go-getters, influencers, visionaries, leaders, movers + shakers of the world:
Most of us know that in order to be healthy, we’re supposed to drink plenty of water, get enough rest, make good food choices, exercise, and do something for our mental health...maybe meditate regularly, journal, or work with a therapist.
There is an absolutely overwhelming amount of information out there about what’s healthy and what’s not, and those recommendations seem to change frequently! So we mostly just try to do a decent job, and just go about our lives...tolerating the increasing allergies, frequent colds + flu (what even is flu season??), headaches, fatigue, grouchy mood swings, indigestion, mental fog...the list goes on.
Meanwhile, I’ve got things to do, family to attend to, work to accomplish, and I don’t have time to slow down and figure out how to fit a 2 hour gym sesh, hours cooking all my meals from scratch, daily yoga and meditation, and whatever else I’m supposed to do to attend to my health into my already busy schedule.
So we try to push the limits, using coffee and sugar and energy drinks and whatever else we can find to power through. Because if you’re anything like me, your work in the world feels far too important to let it drop...so you keep pushing and pushing, maybe even using medications to try and manage the irritating symptoms that crop up.
But something inside you knows that you’re heading for certain health catastrophe.
What if mood instability, fatigue, and mental fog aren’t your body doing something wrong, but actually RIGHT, intelligent, adaptive?
These symptoms and more can be signs of a fight-or-flight response, specifically orchestrated to respond to potential danger.
Say you come across a tiger in a field who seems like it wants to kill you (I know, not happening to many of us, but bear with me for a moment)...
We’ve got a whole innate response ready for just such a scenario... including supercharged activation for: heart rate, blood pressure, anxiety, depression, aggression, hypersensitivity (to all sensory input - just in case it might hurt you), allergic type immune reactions (itchy, sneezy, wheezy, swelling/inflammation), pain sensitivity, emotional memory (for example, if anything ever brushes your leg in the future, it will remind you of the grass in this field and trigger the fight-or-flight response again just in case there might be a tiger nearby), and more…
There are even a ton of things that get suppressed (mostly to conserve resources) like: digestion, growth, fertility/reproduction, wound healing, cellular immunity (nobody cares about a virus or cancer killing you in a few months if the tiger might kill you right now), cognitive clarity, focus, and memory (like learning math or remembering someone’s name or directions), compassion (you can’t fight for your life if you’re busy trying to understand the other point of view)...
These are all normal and good and intelligently adaptive physiological responses in order to survive to a dangerous situation. But there are 2 major problems:
This response is meant to last for a few hours, maybe days...just long enough so you can get away from the life-threatening danger. We are definitely not meant to live in a state of chronically elevated fight-or-flight! And...
Your brain doesn’t know the difference between a tiger trying to kill you versus work stress, fighting with your spouse, sitting in a chair hunched over a computer all day, eating too much sugar, or any other of the seemingly millions of stressful triggers we face on a daily basis…they all trigger the fight-or-flight response into action…
But how many people are stuck in chronically elevated fight-or-flight? Think about those physiological responses I listed above, and then think about the most common symptoms and health challenges people face...the worst of it being fatigue, mental fog, and depression + anxiety.
If we never get a chance to really come down from fight-or-flight into the default resting state, those intelligently adaptive responses become irritating health challenges that run us ragged into a state of fatigue, fog, and grouchiness...which take an increasing toll on overall health and, left unchecked, can eventually degenerate into catastrophic illness.
So why does the fight-or-flight response get stuck on loop???
Well part of it is definitely because there are an insane amount of physical, chemical, and emotional stressors out there...which is why there are so many approaches to the problem of chronic stress that work to reduce common lifestyle stressors (avoid wheat and dairy, practice mindfulness, etc).
But if this is our entire strategy, we just end up living in a progressively smaller bubble...and that does NOT work for me (and I suspect that you don’t love that idea either).
The missing key that gets overlooked can be found right in the name: fight-or-flight.
Our innate mechanism for coming back down to a default resting state after fight or flight happens when we move… Normally we would either fight the tiger (move) or flee the tiger (move!)
Anytime we move our bodies, special receptors (called proprioceptors) embedded in joints, muscle, and connective tissue send special signals to the brain that decrease pain and downshift the central nervous system from fight-or-flight back to a resting state.
This is why we’ve seen studies showing exercise fighting depression, why if you go for a run you’re energized but if you sit on the couch all day you’re exhausted, and why kids who have phys ed at school test higher on standardized tests than at schools where the program has been cut.
You might be thinking,
“So exercise is good for me...tell me something I didn’t know!”
It’s actually a bit more complicated than that.
The spine is responsible for the lion’s share of proprioceptive activation to the brain (since it’s got upwards of 100 joints, it’s the densest place for these special receptors)...feet are #2 (which is why running around barefoot is good for your brain too).
When one joint gets stuck (from sitting too long, or sleeping weird, or falling down, etc), our super-smart brains accommodate by making the ones around it move a bit extra, so you don’t really notice much change in your global range of motion. Cool for functional movement, not so cool for proprioceptive activation to the brain.
When a joint isn’t moving properly, now it’s starving the brain for the normal proprioceptive input that would be coming from that joint...so we’re basically asking the brain to manage whatever stressful input it’s experiencing with one hand tied behind its back.
And to add insult to injury, the stuck place is now sending alarm signals 24 hours a day, saying “Help, help! Something’s wrong here!”...which now amplifies that fight-or-flight response.
So while exercise is super important, there is a giant asterisk after that statement: *so long as all joints are moving smoothly + normally.
The key is fluidity
Think of a tree in a blustery storm: the rigid tree is likely to break, while the flexible one which moves with the wind is likely to survive.
Rigidity in general means increased vulnerability to injury, as well as amplifying the fight-or-flight response (especially when exercise wrenches down on those already stuck spots).
So what’s the solution??
Focus on exercises that promote fluid movements (such as dance), especially those that roll through the spine to encourage articulation through all segmental levels (think of how seaweed moves underwater). Walking barefoot in grass or sand can be beneficial, too.
Sometimes we just can’t work through all the sticky spots ourselves (and most of the time we don’t even notice them), which is where chiropractic care can come in. Time for another huge asterisk!
Chiropractic care is an essential part of establishing + maintaining healthy proprioception***
***but you have to find someone who knows what they’re doing!!
This means finesse, specificity, and a solid understanding of the relationship between dynamic biomechanics and neurology. It also means someone with whom you have a good sense of trust (seems obvious, but let me be super clear: if you have to “grin and bear it” to get adjusted, it might be time to find a new doc...awesome chiropractic should NEVER feel like an attack!)
In fact, this goes for all kinds of bodywork, including but not limited to: chiropractic, massage, physiotherapy, osteopathic manipulative therapy, acupuncture, and more.
A resonance-based approach is KEY. You want to find someone who works with your body to encourage therapeutic change in a way that trains the system to become more independent, rather than simply performing the same corrections over and over ad nauseum.
What we’re really hoping to accomplish with both exercises and therapeutic assistance such as chiropractic care is neuro-fascial integration.
That is, the goal is to achieve fluid motion through the fascia (spiderweb-like soft tissue that connects all body parts inside) so the entire body is better able to withstand mechanical stressors (like taking a tumble or stopping short in traffic)…which then helps to normalize those proprioceptive signals into the brain to encourage neurological resilience to stressors of all kinds (physical, chemical, and emotional).
Ideally, you want to work with a provider trained in exercises and adjustments specific to neuro-fascial integration (NFI)…but in the meantime, any exercises you can do to encourage fluid motion rolling through your joints (especially in the spine and feet) can help to release rigid areas, encourage more integrative global motion, and send healthy + restorative joint signals to your brain.
Of course, as with any exercises, make sure you consult a health professional before engaging in any new activity...and moving fluidly + easily through your spine shouldn’t hurt, so if it does then you’ll DEFINITELY want to consult with a chiropractor ASAP as this may indicate structural and/or neurological imbalances that require special attention.
Wiggle and flow through those spines + feet to feel happier, more energized, and laser focused.
Happy Resilience Building!
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