Intestinal Health: Microbiome & 10 Gut-Health Tips

By: Carol Heckman, RN, CNHP, MH, CNC

Your intestinal tract (both the small and large intestines) is home to a large garden of microbes that are vital for mental and physical health. This garden is called the Gut Microbiome.

In years to come, our microbiome may be considered an organ itself. It’s that powerful. Studies are confirming that we’re actually more microbe cells than human; and, each of us has a unique, personal “cloud” of microbes that interact and keep us healthy.

Recently, our sanitized lifestyle and germ-fear has decreased the variety and viability of the good microbes in our gut gardens. The less helpful microbes, the weeds, are taking over. This is profoundly impacting the mental and physical health of all individuals, young and old through increased problems with: allergies, weight management, anxiety, depression, PTSD, brain fog, fatigue, hormone imbalances, auto immune conditions, and cognitive imbalances, to name a few.

What’s affecting your gut? Get an easy checklist to improve your intestinal health…

Microbiome and your health

The millions of microbes in your gut are integral to digesting, absorbing, creating nutrients and eliminating waste. Science has shown these microbes are important in sustaining a healthy immune system by feeding the GALT system (Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue).

In addition to intestinal health, the microbiome plays a key role in brain and nervous system wellness – through the Vagus Nerve and the Enteric Nervous System that connects the gut and brain.

Have you ever gotten that gut-feeling? Microbes “tickle” nerve endings that communicate with these nerves and send signals to the brain. The gut microbiome is also key in producing chemicals and neurotransmitters that calm your moods and create emotional wellbeing.

Research is showing how negative-impacts may progressively weaken the microbiome and thus profoundly impact mental and physical health. These negative impacts include:

  • Stress and trauma
  • Inflammation
  • Poor food choices/quality of food
  • Lack of sleep
  • Environmental toxins
  • Antibiotics and other medications

Gut health self-care checklist: 10 tips

How are you tending to your garden? Here are the suggestions I give to all of my clients. If you are not doing these now, start with one thing and build from there.

  1. I take time to chew the food in my mouth to pulp for better digestion.
  2. I eat real foods and limit processed and fast foods.
  3. I eat slowly and until I am 80% full.
  4. I make half of my plate vegetables for the fiber to feed my gut microbes.
  5. I eat fermented foods regularly to feed my gut microbes.
  6. I have a bowel movement every day. (If you experience constipation, try eating apples: an apple a day keeps the doctor away!)
  7. I take a probiotic daily to support healthy gut balance.
  8. I am active, moving my body every day.
  9. I am in bed for a good night’s sleep by 10pm.
  10. I have self-care tools and resources that support me mentally and emotionally to adapt to stress.

For individual guidance, schedule a consultation with me.


Carol is a Registered Nurse, as well as a Certified Natural Health Practitioner, a Master Herbalist, and a Certified Nutritional Consultant.

Intestinal Health: The Gift of Instinct

Using your built-in navigation system…

By: Lisa Manning, CST, CHt

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth…
Robert Frost

We’re all faced with ‘roads’ throughout our lives, the sum of these choices charts our life paths. To navigate, you’re born with a deep inner ‘knowing.’

While intellect and rational thought plays an important part in decision-making, you can move through these choice points with greater ease and success if you know how to trust your gift of instinct. At-home mindfulness exercises can help.

Your emotional guidance system

This instinctive gut-brain connection is real: it’s your enteric nervous system (which Carol explained in her intestinal health article this month), which is ‘on’ in the background all of the time. That gut-feeling in your abdomen (stomach and intestines) picks up on information before you even have time to mentally process it and react.

When you’re scared, or not sure what choice to make, the body’s first reaction to this distress is immediate physical ‘guarding.’ The abdomen, chest, throat and/or jaw often respond by clenching. Even mild distress can develop into patterns of habitual guarding, creating chronic tension and pain.

From a mindfulness perspective, those symptoms are simply information! Now that you’re aware of what is happening, you can use the body’s guarding process as a tool for guidance.

Learning to navigate using your gut instinct

Often, our human tendency is to try to emotionally and physically escape discomfort, by either drowning it out or ignoring it. This shuts down your inner compass and leads to a sense of disconnection and disorientation.

It’s challenging to feel self-acceptance, self-trust and self-determination when you’re disconnected from your deep, intuitive knowing. But, learning to metaphorically come ‘into’ the physical body, in quiet reflection and awareness, teaches balance.

Instinctive knowing is sensory not verbal! This is a time to turn down the volume on thoughts and analysis, and tune into sensations, visuals and feelings.

Here is an exercise for tuning into the ‘gut brain’ for guidance:

  1. Find a quiet place to relax where you won’t be disturbed.
  2. Think of a situation or decision that is a current challenge.
  3. As you contemplate the challenge, sink into your body and feel the area around your lower abdomen/intestinal area. Is it tight, uncomfortable? Use it as an emotional barometer.
  4. Identify the choices/paths that could change and improve the situation.
  5. Visualize each factor in rich detail; take your time here, the more sensory input the better. As if you could look into a magic ball, see the desired outcome playing out in full color. You can give it your own musical score, too!
  6. Sense the changes in your abdomen. Look for an aha-moment, in which your abdomen softens, and you might sigh, or feel some other sense of physical calming and release.
  7. The answers are apparent when you’re at peace and feeling a sense of comfort. Your deep physical instinct knows the path to follow.
  8. Thank your body for being such a finely-tuned instrument for interacting with the world.

Have fun with it!

Lisa is a licensed Craniosacral Therapist. She’s also a Master Certified Hypnotherapist, specializing in Somato-Emotional Hypnosis to address chronic pain and anxiety. Lisa’s also a trained Ionic Foot Detox practitioner.

Stomach Health: Trust Your Gut & DIY Massage

by: Glynda Cullen, LMT, LE

How often have you heard the phrase “trust your gut?” This is more than just a common anecdote referencing intuition, it turns out: it’s science and a foundation of Ayurveda, an ancient healthcare tradition.

The enteric nervous system (ENS) governs the GI tract’s assimilation of food – and this primal gut-brain connection is also responsible for assimilating thoughts and emotions. So, any problems you have digesting food or assimilating stimuli (physically, mentally or emotionally) threaten your stomach health.

What to do? At-home Ayurvedic stomach massage is easy to learn. Do it whenever your gut tells you to…

The brain-stomach connection

Your ENS is a superhighway of constant chemical and hormonal communication between the gut and brain – via nerves as complex as those in the spine. So, your gut communicates pain or discomfort to your brain when it’s hungry or scared, or when it’s threatened by disease-making microbes.

Interestingly enough, digestion primarily takes place in your small and large intestines and stomach: commonly referred to as our “core,” which could serve as a frame of reference for saying stomach is the core of our health.

This concept of “core” has been around for thousands of years. According to the time-honored, healing science Ayurveda (which has origins in India), Agni or digestive-fire is the core of a healthy immune system.

Ayurvedic stomach massage

The abdominal cavity houses many vital organs and truly deserves more of your loving attention. It’s true that the stomach is considered a sensitive area to be touched; we carry many emotions here. Nabhi Abhyanga, or Ayurvedic stomach massage, is considered so essential to strong immunity that teachers of this healing art say: “If you do not massage the stomach, why massage at all?”

The warm, trustworthy hands applied to the stomach, during Nabhi Abhyanga, can facilitate the removal of accumulated toxins often referred to as Ama in Ayurvedic teachings. This massage practice is particularly effective for those suffering from IBS or anyone doing a colon cleanse. It’s not uncommon to experience an emotional release, or feeling of lightness, when having this work done.

Before having an abdominal massage, drinking a warm cup of water with lemon encourages the opening and flow within the GI tract that will promote detoxification.

Self-massage is free and very beneficial as well:

  1. Lie on your back, with legs bent.
  2. Begin with both hands moving in clockwise circles on your abdomen; the direction your natural digestion flows.
  3. Now, probe for any tender or sore spots; do small circles in these areas, increasing pressure as you warm up the tissue.
  4. Next, move up and down, and back and forth into these tender areas.
  5. Complete your self-massage the way it began, with firm, gentle whole-hand circles on the entire abdomen in a clockwise direction.


  • The entire massage should last 20 minutes to be most beneficial.
  • You may do a dry-massage or add a small amount of nourishing oil such as sesame, coconut or olive to increase the flushing of the tissues.
  • I always recommend following-up any massage with plenty of fresh water to flush out the released toxins. Otherwise, reabsorption can occur and you certainly don’t want that to happen!

Ayurveda offers many more practices to improve your stomach health. You may find the website helpful when choosing recipes to nourish your body and stoke your fire!

Next time you receive a healing massage, consider the importance of the stomach to your sense of wellness and immunity.

Glynda is a licensed Massage Therapist and a licensed Esthetician. She is also trained in Ionic Foot Detox practices. She performs therapeutic massage, organic facial treatments, and healing Ionic Foot Detox Baths. (Glynda offers after-hours appointments).

Stomach Health: Are Stomach Issues Giving You Headaches?

By: Kyle D. McIntyre, PT, DPT, CFMT

In general, people don’t think about their organs when they experience pain; and the stomach, specifically, is often overlooked regarding overall health. It’s really a very important organ: mechanically, (when we eat) the stomach begins churning; while, chemically, enzymes are secreted that break down the food we digest.

What happens when something ‘goes wrong’ with your stomach? People are often aware of what are called “referral patterns” that certain organs have, such as the heart. We all know, for example, that someone having a heart attack may feel symptoms in their left arm or back versus their chest.

Each organ has its own unique referral pattern. So, even if your stomach isn’t in an obvious state of distress, it can still cause referral symptoms throughout your body. One of the stomach’s (and other organs’) referral patterns is musculoskeletal pain.

In my field of functional manual therapy (FMT), organs, such as the stomach, have become an area of increasing focus over the years. What are other signs of stomach-health issues, why does it happen, and how can manual therapy help?

In addition to the referral patterns, organs take up a lot of real estate in the human body. Your trunk (where your stomach is located) is tightly compacted with organs. Each organ needs to move and have room for healthy function of ligament and connective tissue attachments.

If the stomach organ becomes tight or restricted – from a lack of movement, a trauma or blow to the area, or scar tissue from a surgery – movement of your trunk and limbs can be restricted, which can put more stress on your muscles and joints.

Your stomach, therefore, can have associated skeletal restrictions and emotional consequences. Skeletally, your stomach can cause or refer pain to the left side of your neck, your mid-thoracic and upper lumbar spine, your left SI (sacroiliac) joint, and your left shoulder. Emotionally, your stomach represents the social, professional self, which produces the image we give or want to give.

Some signs of mechanical stomach dysfunctions include: left-sided headaches and sinus issues; a heavy appetite with a feeling of quickly filling-up or bloated after eating; heartburn or regurgitation; and/or heart symptoms (such as arrhythmias).

Assessment and manual treatment (by a qualified functional manual therapy practitioner) of your stomach, along with the other organs in your trunk, can improve body mobility and resolution of musculoskeletal pain. FMT can also improve digestion and reduce chronic and sudden conditions, such as bloating and heartburn.

Kyle is a Physical Therapist with a Doctorate in Physical Therapy; he is also a Certified Functional Manual Therapist.

Stomach Health: Emotions in the Stomach

By: Cathy Logan, CHC, COT, CECP

Are there situations that make you feel nauseous? Do you ever get a “gut feeling”… or have a “knot” or “butterflies” in your stomach?

We all use these expressions for a reason: your gastrointestinal tract is very sensitive to emotion. Anxiety, despair, failure, helplessness and worry are just a few of the emotions that can trigger symptoms in your gut.

As well, your brain also directly effects your stomach. A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain and vice versa. Therefore, your stomach distress can be the cause OR the product of anxiety, stress, worry etc. So, what can you do?

Releasing trapped emotions

You may have heard me talk before about trapped emotions: negative emotions (which are a record of the past) that get stuck in the body – making your body “live in the past.” These trapped emotions, anxieties and unprocessed life experiences are held in your nervous and digestive systems and can be a source of what’s ailing you.

It’s been said that 90% of pain is from trapped emotions! And, it’s your subconscious that holds the answers (the majority of everyone’s thoughts are subconscious versus conscious).

The Emotion Code© is a wonderful modality for finding and clearing those subconscious emotions. Through muscle testing, we find each emotion, at what age (of your life) it got trapped, and where it is in your body; and then, we release it.

I find many clients’ emotions (especially anxiety) are mostly stored in the stomach. Once these emotions are released, clients experience much less pain and stress, and say they feel “lighter” and able to manifest what needs to be manifested – meaning, creating positive outcomes by positive management of your emotions.

We at Chesapeake Holistic are always here to help. If you’ve never tried Emotion Code, give us a call and set up a free session. It’s time to start truly living!

Cathy is a Certified Health Coach, and a Certified ONDAMED® Technician and Emotion Code® Practitioner. She is also trained in Ionic Foot Detox.

Stomach Health: 5 Tips to Reduce Acid Reflux

By: By Carol Heckman, RN, CNHP, MH, CNC

Do you have Acid Reflux?… Bloating; burping; indigestion after eating; chest and abdominal pain; sleep disruption (and/or distress when lying down); flatulence; constipation; diarrhea; appetite changes; and sadness from not being able to enjoy favorite meals and food-related social activities.

Acid Reflux is a common health complaint – a big reason that new clients seek my help is to find an effective, natural approach to alleviate discomfort and the discouragement they feel from lack of relief from Reflux symptoms.

Commercials for prescription and OTC medications tell us Reflux comes from having too much stomach acid. And, the only way to eliminate Reflux is with an antacid or an acid-production blocker. Makes sense, in theory. If you see it on TV, and the Internet, it must be true! Right? Wrong.

What causes acid reflux?

Acid Reflux can occur from a variety of causes, but research is showing it’s unlikely to be caused by too much acid.1 Ironically, low amounts of stomach acid, or Hypochlorhydria, is one of the most common causes of Acid Reflux, or GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease).

Low stomach acid occurs from stress, eating on the run, aging, infection, and the standard American diet of processed foods, and overeating, excessive alcohol intake and smoking.

Without enough stomach acid to break-down food, the food just sits in your stomach, altering microbiome and fermenting. This creates gas and a buildup of pressure on the esophageal sphincter (muscle), which causes the sphincter to open and stomach contents to reflux into the esophagus.

Proton Pump Inhibitors (prescription and OTC acid blockers) do nothing to correct low stomach acid and (in addition to some significant side effects) may exacerbate your situation. Without sufficient stomach acid to properly digest foods, you run the risk of being deficient in vital nutrients, creating a slippery slope to other gut and health imbalances.

Even if you don’t have a low stomach acid issue, use of PPIs has been shown to induce nutrient deficiencies, so there is a double impact.2,3,4

So, how do you alleviate acid reflux?

What can you do (instead of popping Tums or Prilosec), if you’re suffering from Acid Reflux? Practice better eating habits and consider supportive supplements.

Here are 5 tips you can implement today:

  1. Chew! Thoroughly chewing your food enables your stomach to use the little acid it has to efficiently and effectively break-down food.
  2. Before your meal, take a few calming breaths as you sit down. This allows your body to disengage from stress and be ready to begin the digestive process as you smell, see, taste, and chew your foods.
  3. Avoid excess fluids (which dilutes stomach acid) with your meals, especially alcohol.
  4. Eat smaller portion sizes; doing so helps your body to have enough acid to digest what you’ve eaten.
  5. Consider adding key, calming supplements to your diet, such as: Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice (DLG); a high-grade probiotic or a digestive enzyme with betaine (natural amino acid); or pure aloe vera juice (drink alone or add to your favorite juice).

If you try these 5 tips and you still have Acid Reflux, consider getting help. I’ve had great success helping my clients to get relief from reflux (which may also be triggered by specific foods) and off of their antacids and acid-blockers for good.




Carol is a Registered Nurse, a traditionally Certified Natural Health Practitioner, a Master Herbalist, and a Certified Nutritional Consultant.

Nervous System: Manual Therapy for Pain

By: Kyle D. McIntyre, PT, DPT, CFMT

Pain is a normal part of life, and without the perception of pain we would not survive. However, pain should be a temporary experience versus an ongoing sensation when no threat is present.

If you, or someone you care about, have chronic pain, the questions you’re likely asking are: “Why?” and, “What can I do to make it stop?

In the medical and holistic fields, our understanding of what triggers pain has increased greatly during the past 15-20 years. This expansion of knowledge has led to innovative pain treatments, especially for those living with ongoing discomfort.

What causes pain?

While injured or inflamed tissues cannot feel pain, these tissues (via nerves) do activate your brain’s nociceptive (the potential for pain) pathways.

Essentially, the over-activation of nerves, by the tissues, causes your spinal cord to become more sensitive (at the area of the spinal cord where those nerves are entering), allowing a flooding of inputs to go up to your brain. Your brain processes the input, just as it constantly manages all of the inputs from your body, at a subconscious level.

Your brain will then become hyper-focused on the area of your body where those nerves are coming from. If your brain perceives the threat to be serious, it will produce a pain output.

Over time, with continued nociceptive inputs, the related nerves will have a reduced threshold for activation and will then start firing at lower levels of stimulation – even from stimulations (movement or sensory inputs) that previously would not have produced pain.

This sensitization of your nervous system can lead to things beyond just pain: it can cause mood swings, fatigue, appetite changes, sleep disturbances, loss of concentration, and depression.

How do I make the pain go away?

The pain can be managed, and often eliminated, by changing this vicious cycle of neural sensitization:

  • Recent research reveals just having a better understanding of pain leads to a reduction in discomfort.
  • Aerobic exercise has also been known to reduce pain.
  • Sleep hygiene is also important; good sleep enables your nervous system to relax and restore itself at night. (There are some great sleep tips in Cathy Logan’s recent article “ONDAMED Sleep Protocol + At-home Tips”)
  • Treat the source of the pain input (at the tissues) through function manual therapy (FMT).

As an FMT practitioner, I work to desensitize a client’s pain and decrease the stress on the tissues.

Generally, at the areas where pain originated, there was a mechanical dysfunction (that increased stress on the tissues and elevated the pain perception in that area). Through manual therapy, we can reduce the stresses on the tissues, which also increases blood flow and oxygen, and detoxifies by helping to eliminate waste from the area.

Reducing the inappropriate mechanical stress on tissues can dramatically change the activation of the nociceptive pathways, and, therefore, cause a positive trickle-up affect to the brain. Ultimately, pain is significantly diminished or eliminated.

Kyle is a Physical Therapist with a Doctorate in Physical Therapy; he is also a Certified Functional Manual Therapist.

Nervous System: 10-Steps to Relaxation

Glynda Cullen, LMT, LE

It’s a little known fact… relaxation is a learned skill. Why? Your body’s autonomic nervous system has two distinct branches: sympathetic and parasympathetic.

The ever-elusive nervous system balance – of work and rest – is one we all seek (or should). But, the ability to ‘let go’ of stress (that accumulates in your mind, body or spirit) is not a built-in human function or inherent talent.

So, how should you de-stress? Watching a movie on the sofa won’t help you to release the stress. However, a 5-10 minute relaxation ritual will help.

Why relaxation is so elusive

The sympathetic nervous system responds quickly and forcefully to any crisis we encounter. Unfortunately, the pace of modern life creates a low-grade fight or flight reaction within many of us all day long.

When this sympathetic activation persists, it creates chronic tension – you may even experience a host of ongoing stress symptoms such as headaches, racing heart, decreased respiration, and digestive and mood disorders.

Gracefully enter the parasympathetic nervous system: the fuzzy, calm, relaxed feeling you get when its finally your turn to lie down on the massage table or climb into a cozy bed at night. It should be easy to relax under these circumstances, right?

Well, you can’t just say to your body, “It’s time to relax!”

Successfully switching gears to the nourishing, restorative parasympathetic experience of your autonomic nervous system (ANS) is essential to your wellbeing.

Relaxation how-to in 10 steps…

Try incorporating a 5-10 minute relaxation ritual into your daily routine; doing so can greatly improve your stress symptoms. The simple meditation below is called Favorite Place.

  1. Lie down in a warm, calm and peaceful place in your home.
  2. Begin your relaxation ritual by extending the muscles in your arms and hands; stretch and create tension. When it feels right, release.
  3. Continue this systematic relaxation practice, by extending the muscles in your legsand feet; create tension and release.
  4. Open your mouth wide;maintain tension for a short time and release.
  5. Notice the sensation of ‘rest’ after you’ve worked your muscles; sink into this deeply restful feeling.
  6. Begin to do slow, even and smooth diaphragmatic breaths.
  7. Imagine a place you love…is it the beach or a forest?
  8. Begin to incorporate your senses:see the colors, hear the sounds, feel the textures. Can you hear the birds chirping or the gentle waves on the shore? Try to feel the sand.
  9. Open yourself to the feelings of peace within. Stay with this warm,calm sensation for several minutes.
  10. When you’re ready, stretch your arms and legs. Then,wiggle your fingers and toes and begin to bring your awareness back into your space.

* For an added boost to your atmosphere (before you begin), light a few candles and try diffusing your favorite essential oil. I love the comforting smell of Peace and Calming by Young Living, which we carry at CH.

** Listening to a guided meditation can be really helpful if you have trouble performing the above mediation on your own.

Now, take this feeling of balance with you throughout your day, and into your dreams at night.

It’s hard to believe maintaining a healthy nervous system can really be this simple: it is, and the positive effects are cumulative. It’ll take regular practice to retrain your sympathetic nervous system to let go of the chronic stress, but meditating for a few minutes each day can really make a difference.

After a couple weeks of practice, you’ll notice an ability to achieve a deep relaxation-state more quickly. Make the choice to let go of stress today, and embrace the joy in your life.

Glynda is a licensed Massage Therapist and a licensed Esthetician. She offers therapeutic massage and facial treatments (and after-hours appointments). 

Nervous System: How to Minimize Stress from EMFs

By: Carol Heckman, RN, CHNP, CNC, MH

These days, managing internal, external and environmental stressors is a full time job! Some we can control, some we cannot. One significant form of environmental stress, which may affect our nervous systems, that we’re all exposed to daily is EMFs.

What are EMFs? Invisible, yet ubiquitous, Electro Magnetic Fields are created by electric, magnetic, and wireless energies. Some EMFs are good for you, some are not…

Natural EMFs are created by: visible light (prisms of colors); the Earth’s magnetic field (which can be measured by a compass); and the spin of our planet that creates gravity. EMFs also occur in the human body as part of our brain waves, nerve impulses, and heartbeat.

While EMFs can be healing, when part of color therapy, Reiki, and prayer, the harmful EMFs (ones that don’t occur naturally) are what we should all be aware of and learn to avoid or minimize.

Harmful EMFs and Health Consequences

Harmful EMFs are generated by manmade technologies, including: electric grids and power lines, radio, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellphones and towers, microwaves, smart meters, computers, TVs, and gaming systems.

In 2011,the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer stated EMFs from cellphone usage may indeed cause cancer in humans: the agencies classified EMFs as a Class 2B carcinogen.

As well, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has been following the impact of harmful EMFs (particularly from cellphones). NIEHS has led studies to examine the effects of long term exposure (from radio frequency radiation) – especially related to the nervous systems of children who use cellphones.

In addition to potential cancer risks, some symptoms of harmful EMF exposure include: fatigue, altered concentration, mood changes, mental confusion, headaches, behavioral changes, and immune system weakness.

So, what do I do?

You may now be thinking, “Carol technology is here to stay. Since we’re all exposed to more harmful EMFs than ever before, how do I mitigate risk of exposure and preserve my (and my family’s) health?”

Glad you asked. Here are some preventative measures you can start right now:

  1. Reduce usage. Yep, using less EMF-emitting technology is the easiest first step to a healthier lifestyle.
  2. Unplug. Turn tech and other machines off (and unplug the cords if possible) when not in use.
  3. Protect with a barrier. Add an EMF shielding device to tech and appliances. In our office, we recommend Safe Shield products. Call our front desk or stop by to learn more.
  4. Increase your distance. The impact from tech-driven EMFs decreases with distance.

Keep TV remotes on the coffee table versus next to you on the sofa or bed. The infrared radiation from remotes is higher than the EMFs emitted from computers.

Set up a designated spot (away from your main living areas) for as many EMF-emitting technologies as possible (e.g., Wi-Fi router, laptops, gaming systems, and cellphone charging stations).

Most importantly, keep your cellphone off of your person: don’t carry it in your pocket; keep it out of your bedroom at night; and always USE A HEADSET or earbuds instead of keeping a cellphone next to your head and neck.

Do you think EMFs may be impacting your health? Schedule a health consult with me and let’s find out!

Carol is a Registered Nurse, a traditionally Certified Natural Health Practitioner, a Master Herbalist, and a Certified Nutritional Consultant.

Nervous System: Respond vs. React

By Lisa Manning, , CST, CHt

We have little power to choose what happens in life, but we have complete power over how we respond to challenges. It’s not stress that kills us, it’s our reaction to it.

When a stressful situation occurs, the sympathetic nervous system is triggered and we enter into the infamous ‘fight or flight’ mode. The body is ready to fight, defend or protect itself.

At this point the higher mind needs to step in and mediate: “OK guys, let’s take a minute to calm down and think this through.” Learning how to respond (versus reacting) appropriately to a situation is vital to your health…

The difference between a response and a reaction may seem subtle, but each feels very different… and, usually, each yields very different results.

A reaction comes from the fears and beliefs of the unconscious mind. It (the reaction) tries to shift the discomfort of the moment and doesn’t take into consideration the consequences. Reacting might be cathartic in the moment, but doing so often leads to regret from fear- or anger-based actions that aren’t well thought out.

Choosing to respond (instead of reacting) is a controlled reflection of our values and who we want to be in the world. Choose is the power word in this scenario.

Unless you’re actually being chased by a tiger, the best first response is to take at least one deep and full breath in and out. The more deep breaths, the better. This signals the nervous system to turn down the heat, and to turn up the parasympathetic response of ‘rest and recover.’

Deep breathing creates the mental space and calm (breathing room!) needed to choose the most appropriate response; and, it also helps protect against the harmful effects of chronic stress.

‘Tend and befriend’ is another type of response that has been recently recognized. Oxytocin is released when we give or receive physical and emotional support. It’s the euphoria we feel when we fall in love and the healing power of a sincere hug. This is the cheapest medicine on the market!

Ways to Respond rather than React

Start with breath – This is the simplest and most powerful tool for slowing down an out of control nervous system response.

Look within – Make a habit of examining thoughts before they become words or actions. What’s really behind these feelings? What will this action get me? Is that what I really want?

Stay centered – The best decisions come from a healthy combination of emotion and intellect. We don’t have to turn off our feelings in order to moderate our responses.

Recognize choices – There are always options. Work on choosing the actions that create the outcomes you truly desire.

Each time you’re able to consciously and successfully respond to stress the process gets easier! “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” You will literally create new neural pathways in the brain that will help you to continually develop lifelong healthy-coping habits.

And, be generous with the hugs!

Lisa is a licensed Craniosacral Therapist. She’s also a Master Certified Hypnotherapist, specializing in Somato-Emotional Hypnosis to address chronic pain and anxiety.