There are 3 ways that stress causes lower back pain

Photo: Larm Rmah

Photo: Larm Rmah

  1. When we go into the stress response, our bodies literally prepare to fight or flight. This engages the psoas, a muscle deep within the pelvis that connects the lower back (L4-L5 is maximal contraction point) to the femur (or upper legs). This contraction lowers our center of gravity, protects the gut region, and engages the core so that we can either fight, run, or roll into a ball and go fetal. If you’ve ever felt like you’re going to miss a step of the stairs, you’ve felt the automatic reaction of the psoas nearly pulling you into a ball. This reaction happens even during normal life in a micro way. Tight back during traffic, yup! The psoas also tightens the entire abdominal sac, resulting in a tight diaphragm, which constricts our breathing.
  2. When we go through a stress response, we start decreasing the depth and fullness of our breath. We are consciously or subconsciously trying to be silent to avoid detection. (Pay attention next time you’re stressed during a meeting. Chances are, your breathing has changed.) This reduced breath interferes with the body’s ability to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the body. CO2 is acidic. The breath is the primary mechanism for maintaining a proper acid/alkaline balance in the body. When the body is not excreting acid through the breath, a backup system using the kidneys is used. The kidneys go into overdrive to restore the balance. The kidneys are in the lower back.
  3. When we get stressed, our brain sends signals to pump adrenaline through the body. The adrenals, which produce and pump adrenaline, are in the lower to mid back. Stress puts the adrenals into overdrive, pushing them to limits.

Unfortunately, stress continues to spiral, cyclically getting worst unless the cycle is interrupted. The more stressed we get, the shallower our breathing becomes. That then physiologically puts the body into a more stressed mode (no oxygen) and interrupts necessary housecleaning functions, such as maintaining a good acid/alkaline balance.

 

This post originally appeared on Medium.

What we can all learn from Roman wartime philosophy

Photo: Andrew Yardley

Photo: Andrew Yardley

Imagine you’re hyped up for a big thing. You’re flooded with adrenaline, you’re laser focused, and you’re altogether jumpy.

Now imagine that big thing has just transpired and you are feeling an ‘excitement hangover.’ Now, imagine being incapable of returning to your previous state of consciousness and de-briefing yourself out of the hype.

This is what we put veterans through when they train, serve, and return.

There is something particular about military training that elevates an individual’s autonomic neural activity. It’s no wonder; war is intense and the hype-up is to be taken very seriously. Vets are trained for months in boot camp prior to departure for their missions, sometimes in special facilities pertaining to the kind of work they’ll go on to do, or specific to the region in which they will serve (for example, arctic region training is different from desert region training). This training helps those about to go on active duty or elsewhere to be in a fight or flight state, which is a state of hypervigilance.

Unfortunately, this training program lacks a decent and systematic de-brief, one that would ‘undo’ the hype-up vets experience. We train vets to go deep into the brainstem, into survival-mode-thinking, so that they’re highly reactive in the event of combat. When they’re no longer on active duty, it becomes tough to switch that highly active part of the brain off, which makes it difficult for vets to come home and be relaxed.

Hypervigilance can be beneficial, and it does serve an evolutionary purpose. But human beings are not meant to be consistently in this state; chronic hypervigilance leads to a host of problems, which everyone at some point in his or her lifetime has likely experienced.

In the ancient Roman empire, when a warrior would go to war, he would then train in unwinding himself for months on end before returning home.

I like to think of it as a ‘spa for military professionals,’ where tools like the body, breath, and other techniques to manipulate the autonomic nervous system would help get the war out of the man. He would go with his military unit and no one would leave until the leader of the group felt confident that the war had left their eyes.

When anyone is in fight or flight mode — not just vets — s/he is visibly hypervigilant, and you can see it in his or her eyes. It’s that panic that makes it hard to focus on anything but the stressor of the moment and next moves. And when someone is totally relaxed, you can see that in their eyes, too.

What ends up happening, when someone ‘comes home’ from an elevated autonomic neural state, and doesn’t make an effort to down-regulate the nervous system out of ‘war mode’, it’s likely that that person will remain in this state. I call this the ‘freeze’, and when it happens, we develop sleeping problems, feel physical pain in the lower back, develop discomfort in digestion, experience weakened sexual response — the list goes on.

On a neurological level, what is going on here is that there is too much brainstem and midbrain activity happening, and not enough in the full cortex. Perhaps the real solution is simply that certain regions of the brain need to be more activated once the fight or flight state is entered.

I’m in the business of down-regulation; it’s my thing. I teach it to military professionals and veterans, students and teachers, executives, lawyers, families and athletes alike. The great thing about the practices and techniques that I teach is that they help to re-engage different parts of the brain for any situation in which you might feel stressed. They really help the body to relax itself out of fight or flight tension, and they’re easy to do. In a word, I teach people how to ‘get chill’.

 

If you have a few extra minutes to spare, and wouldn't mind filling out a quick surveyI would love to better understand your experience with stress and how you want to work on it. I take the time to get to back to every single person that reaches out!

 

This post originally appeared on Medium