All About You. Make 2021 your best year.

Hopping off the strain train

Written by Karen Long

Welcome to the first in a series where we’ll be bringing you the best Wichita has to offer in the way of wellness, stress-reduction, relaxation and rejuvenation. To kick the year off right we’ve interviewed a neurologist, a doctor, a neurofeedback trainer and an equine therapy specialist for a look at the science behind stress, plus innovative ways to start untying tension today.

Counteract Cortisol and Quench Stress

“The stress hormone cortisol is what’s going to make you fat, frazzled, fearful, forgetful, fatigued, and, over time, frail,” says Dr. Eva Henry, neurologist and owner of Agewell Brain Center. Chronic stress bathes the brain in cortisol for extended periods, which damages the memory center called the hippocampus. “So when somebody has stress they are literally shrinking their brain, their memory center.”

There are several concrete ways to calm the brain and counteract cortisol. The first is to set healthy boundaries. “Women in particular need to learn how to say no in a very respectful way, and not feel guilty — healthy boundary setting equals self-care,” says Dr. Henry. A second important factor is sleep, which she calls “the stress quencher.”

“Every night when we sleep, our brain is washing out the cortisol that’s lingering on.”

When we’re wired and tired, quality sleep can be elusive, however, so in her practice Dr. Henry recommends natural supplements, adaptogens to soothe a mind racing late into the evening.

Another powerful strategy is the use of two hormones: progesterone and oxytocin. If testing shows low progesterone, Dr. Henry prescribes it to act as a natural antidepressant. You may have heard of oxytocin, described as the “cuddle hormone.” “It’s the love hormone, it comes out during sexual climax — but in very small doses, used daily, it’s a very powerful biologic to counter cortisol.”

At Agewell Brain Center, Dr. Henry focuses on treating patients with traumatic brain injury, a significant number of whom have PTSD. She says, “I prescribe oxytocin and it works really well. They finally get to sleep, finally reduce anxiety and are less fearful.”

For more information visit agewellbraincenter.com, or call 316.260.5001

 

The Inside Track on Equine Therapy

Can brushing and interacting with a horse soothe an overactive brain? Stacy Gash, owner of Hope Grown Ranch, is counting on it. After offering riding lessons for the past 10 years, Gash is about to become Eagala certified as an equine specialist. She will be qualified to practice the Eagala method, partnering with a social worker and a horse to facilitate ease and focus in the client.

“The counselor or therapist is able to work with the patient on a deeper level,” explains Gash. “There are only two or three Eagala-certified ranches in Kansas.”

The journal “Animals” reports that grooming a horse can lead to relaxation, calm and a reduced heart rate in the groomer, and may cause the release of that bonding hormone, oxytocin, leading to increased trust and enhanced empathy.*

In 2021 Gash is adding two related modalities to help clients find tranquility and clarity: brain mapping and nutrition. She’ll be working with Dr. James Seberger of Cognitive Performance & Health to provide personal diagnostics through brain scanning. Another partner organization will use Reams Biological Theory of Ionization, or RBTI, to analyze a client’s individual food frequencies. In the spring Gash is combining equine therapy, brain mapping and RBTI for a 7-day retreat at Hope Grown Ranch called “The Power of Align.” Participants will discover their personal brain and food profiles through brain mapping and saliva and urine sampling.

“My passion, when starting this ministry,” says Gash, “is to have everybody experience it, to help people heal from PTSD, ADHD, ADD, anxiety and depression, and live fuller, more fulfilled lives.”

*Source: “Emotional Transfer in Human-Horse Interaction: New Perspectives on Equine Assisted Interventions.”

To learn more about equine therapy or “The Power of Align” retreat, go to hopegrownranch.com or follow Hope Grown Ranch on Facebook.

 

Anxiety and Addiction

The link between stress and addition has never been more apparent than in 2020, according to Dr. Gregory Lakin of Center for Change. Liquor stores have experienced record sales, and Dr. Lakin has seen a large uptick in people seeking outpatient treatment for opioid addiction.

“People have always had various ways of coping with stress during times of high anxiety,” says Dr. Lakin. “What seemingly may have worked for some short situations before, like a drink or pill or joint before an anxiety-producing social event, does not work so well during times of sustained stress like this pandemic.”

Whether requiring treatment or not, Dr. Lakin says everyone can learn effective coping skills to manage internal anxiety and improve mental resilience. One key stress buster is exercise: “Endorphins released into our bloodstream during exercise increase positive attitudes and decrease anxiety.”

Building a supportive network will help you through tough times and give you needed feedback and accountability. Also, remove the emotional clutter: “Focus on your meaningful and high-priority goals, and eliminate those distractions that don’t really matter.” This is the perfect time to remember and recite the Serenity Prayer, Dr. Lakin says: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Taking small, manageable and systematic baby steps is a concrete process that steadily leads to positive change. Track and celebrate some of those daily wins with gratitude and thanks. “Studies show that people who are kind to others, optimistic and have gratitude in their lives become happier over time.”

For more information visit centerforchangeks.com or call 316-201-1234.

 

This is Your Brain on Stress

One of the tricky things about stress is recognizing it. Veronica Seberger, board-certified neurofeedback trainer at Cognitive Performance & Health, says there are some red flags to watch out for: “When you have a busy mind and can’t calm your thoughts down. When it’s hard to sleep. When you’re having tension headaches or migraines, or stomachaches and gut issues — especially in kids.”

In the practice she owns with her husband, Dr. James Seberger, Veronica tells patients that stress is a precursor to illness. She can actually see on a brain scan when a patient has exhausted their resources of energy. To help people return to equilibrium, she guides them through at-home neurofeedback and brain training — something she was doing years before the global pandemic.

Veronica says, “We can’t really calm the brain without also calming the body. The two are connected.” For example, a brain flooded by the stress hormone cortisol will have us craving carbs and sugary foods.

“One of the most practical approaches is breathing,” Veronica says. An exercise she teaches her patients is to inhale for four seconds, hold for two and exhale for seven. “Inhale the calm, hold on to that, then exhale whatever you want to let go of.” One or two minutes of mindful breathing, done on a consistent basis, can have measurable effects, even bringing down blood pressure.

“People have heard it so much, but breathing really ties in beautifully with calming the body, calming the brain down.”

For more information visit cognitiveperformancehealth.com or call 316.260.9005.

 

Join us in February for the next installment of this series. We’ll be exploring the cutting edge of nutrition and how to find the personalized diet that works best for you to stay healthy and energized.

 
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