These 4 Brain Hacks Will Help You Manage and Relieve Stress Now

The brain is a hot topic these days because we continue discovering new things about its ability to process and deal with stress. And with these finds comes great news . . . We can influence the way we experience stress and also rewire the mind and body patterns of this process.
Both good and bad stress (eustress vs. stress) have chemical and electrical signatures in the brain, which then signal hormonal and muscular responses in the body. Eustress is the kind of arousal in the body that helps us focus and get motivated for action, yet dissipates quickly once the stimulus is gone.
When we think of bad stress, we think of the kind that does not dissipate once the stimulus is gone. There’s no denying that we are wired to experience stress. And there’s no denying that when we do experience bad stress, it’s not a pleasant experience.
It’s important to learn more about the brain and how it’s impacted by stress so we are empowered to recognize and handle stress in a more positive and productive way.

What’s happening in the brain during stress?

During a stress event, the brain defaults to survival mode. You know what this feels like. The midbrain (just above the brainstem) dominates our experience in these moments. It’s actually recruiting blood, oxygen and glucose away from other areas so that it can optimize survival functionality.
The midbrain typically is associated with structures like the hippocampus and amygdala and is responsible for governing our fight or flight responses in addition to helping us dream at night, processing events into long term memory, and creating our drive for food, shelter, and procreation.
The midbrain creates a filter for the experience where we feel unsafe or threatened in some way. At times like these, it’s very difficult to be present because the front of the brain (where much of that awareness arises) becomes inhibited.
During stress, the brain takes our higher thought center offline by redirecting resources to the midbrain. This can feel like an inability to pull out of stress-based thought patterns and manifests as “foggy brain” – the inability to think about the big picture as we get stuck in the details of the stress.

What’s happening in the body during stress?

The body’s job is to match the brain dynamic. Once the brain is in stress mode, it sends its message to the command center for our glandular responses. The adrenal glands begin producing adrenaline and cortisol hormones to prepare the body to respond appropriately to the perceived threat.
This creates a shift out of our normal state of “rest and digest” and moves the body into arousal and contraction. Digestion stops, heart rate increases, breath quickens and becomes shallow, and muscles recruit resources to contract and prepare to fight or flee. The body becomes hyper vigilant and ready.
The great news is that there are simple brain hacks for relieving stress that can make a profound impact on the health of your brain and body.

Try These 4 Brain Hacks to Reduce Stress

These simple brain hacks are what I recommend as a neuroplastician and are based in my expertise and experience as the founder of the Neurosculpting® Institute.
YouAligned published an interview about neuroscultping and how it can help relieve stress. Read Manage Stress with Neurosculpting Yoga

1. Shake . . . Every Day!

We’ve all heard the phrase “shake it off.” This is as literal as it gets! Remember, the body in stress has contracted the large muscles to prepare you to fight or flee. If those contractions remain engaged, the mind continues to perceive the stress as present. A quick way to soften those contractions is to use up the energy of the contractions.
Shaking and twitching the body vigorously can achieve this, like the kind of twitching you might get when a shiver runs down your spine. Take thirty seconds in the morning, afternoon and evening to do a vigorous full body shake and the contracted muscles will begin to release because you’ve used the energy they were holding. They perceive the “completion” of the contracted state and will reset to a softer state.
This reset sends a signal to the brain that the stress response has been used up and that we are returning to normal. A great resource for a shaking practice is the Tremor Release Exercises (TRE®) founded by Dr. David Bercelli.

2. Exhale Deeply

Remember – in our stress states, our breath gets quick and shallow, keeping us from perceiving arousal. If we begin to take longer exhales as though blowing out candles, the breath deepens and the body starts to increase its levels of carbon dioxide.
This helps us approach a “rest and digest” state which then sends a signal to the brain that the stress response can return to normal. Think of those movie scenes where a person in panic is told to breathe into a bag – this is the same principle.


3. Prefrontal Cortex Activation

Just as the body has the ability to regulate our stress response, our thoughts do too. In the moment of a lingering stress response, try imagining what your mentor or role model would do in the same situation.
Once we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, we literally try on empathy. During these types of thought exercises, the brain gets activated in the prefrontal cortex by increasing its use of brain resources like blood, oxygen and glucose. It does this by shunting those very same resources away from the midbrain, often calming the stress response by downregulating the activity in the stress center.
Practicing empathy is an amazingly fast way to pull out of a negative thought pattern. Thinking about how your mentor would handle a similar situation also gives you insight into how best to approach the issue, so you feel more at ease.

4. Name It and Tame It

In the world of trauma, there is a common technique used to help someone come down quickly from a severe stress response. The ‘name it and tame it’ idea has been shown to measurably decrease the activity in the midbrain during crisis. When you are in the momentum of stress thoughts, simply start changing the verbs you use to describe the state.
Each time you say or think “I am angry,” change it to “I feel angry.” Changing the description from a state-of-being verb to an active and action-oriented verb moves the activity in the brain and shifts perspective from direct association to witness mode.
The more we use this approach, the more natural it becomes to experience the stress rather than become the stress. Following this pattern helps the stress resolve more quickly once the stimulus is gone, rather than linger long after.


Hack Your Brain for Stress Management

Stress is not bad or unhealthy as long as the stress response is normalized and released once the stressor is no longer present. Imagine being able to bring your body quickly back to homeostasis anytime you needed to feel expanded and recharged.
Sadly, most of us do not normalize our stress response. We carry it with us, bring it home, stew in it, rehash it, relive it and take it to bed with us. This is where normal stress becomes unhealthy. The key to a healthy brain and body relationship to stress lies in our ability to mitigate thought patterns and body responses.
A simple regimen of these four brain hacks can increase your wellbeing, help you enjoy home life, limit the lingering effects your job has on your day, and offer you a sense of brain and body control that offers you ease and grace.

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Lisa Wimberger

Lisa Wimberger is the founder of the Neurosculpting® Institute and holds a Masters in Education from the University of Stonybrook, NY. She is the author of NEW BELIEFS, NEW BRAIN: Free Yourself from Stress and Fear. Lisa is a neuroplastician and is also a faculty member of Kripalu Yoga and Meditation Center.


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