One of the stress hormones our bodies release is Norepinephrine ( NE). This is a sibling to adrenaline and works to enhance the fight or flight response. When it is first released, in small amounts, it produces a temporary euphoric high- this is how cocaine works. It can also induce a physical reaction such as rapid heartbeat, increase in blood pressure and sweaty palms.
Flood some more, and you will start to feel edgy, anxious and restless. Insomnia often follows. Aggressive or Hostile behavior can result. Sleep deprived, senses heightened, even more reactive to pain than normal, this can set you up for an infinite loop of elevated norepinephrine levels that starts to make you feel just a little crazy.
Extreme or chronically high levels of norepinephrine will induce panic attacks, phobias, inability to focus or think clearly. While small amounts of NE enhance memory formation, too much can actually block the formation of memory, causing cognitive problems.
Some of the symptoms of a panic attack are :
- dizziness or feeling faint
- shortness of breath
- feelings of suffocation or choking
- numbness and tingling of hands and feet
- chest constriction and chest pain.
The most common recommended action to help break this cycle is exercise- burn it off. But for someone who is physically unable ( either temporarily or permanently) this presents a challenge. And for those with chronically high norepinephrine, a little exercise is never enough and too much exercise is interpreted by the body as more stress, and only raises the hormone levels.
There are some things that are recommended to lower norepinephrine levels, some of which have been successful for me so far, and some I have not yet tried.
- Medication– if the cycle is sever enough, sometimes the only way to break it is to intervene chemically. If you have tried everything else and you are still suffering, work with your doctor to break this cycle. Drugs like propanol, which block NE or drugs that raise GABA levels can be effective here.
- Breathe– deep , slow cleansing breaths slow down your body’s stress reaction and over time help it to return NE to normal. remember that most natural methods are not going to have instant results, like throwing a light switch, they work by slowly breaking the cycle of increasing stress. this one really does help me, but i often find that once I am wound up, it is almost impossible to stop myself and just breathe. I can trick myself into breathing by turning on a very well known song and belting it out loud. It is impossible to not breathe when you are singing out loud.
- Progressive muscle relaxation– by alternately contracting and relaxing all the muscles in your body, this works to slow down your system and again slows down the stress response. I know this works, but lately have been prone to muscle cramps and sometimes this sets them off. Doing this in partnership with calming visualizations is particularly a good way to slow things down.
- Having a calming hobby. this is going to be different for everyone. This is most likely NOT video games or computer games. Remember that what you think during the actively is actually impacting your stress. If you find seek-a-word puzzles mind numbing and relaxing, this might work for you. If seek-a-word puzzles make you frustrated and wishing you could rip pages out of the book, try something else. For some people this is needlework. needlework stresses meme out, more than anything. I am lucky that we are now entering into gardening season. For me, getting some dirt on my hands and between my toes is a very relaxing thing. If you find weed pulling relaxing, come on over- there is always enough here for someone to help with 😉
- Meditation. this is my challenge. Meditation got my through my divorce. I had a stump in the back yard and I would “stump sit” for a while. I had a big rock in a friend’s yard- I would go and sit on the rock. I know I need to return back to this practice, but I have not yet found the path. I know it has to do with feeling overwhelmed with things to do, and making my own self a priority- setting other things a side to just be. I will get there by the end of the summer, this is my current goal.
- Massage. this is a big win for me right now. I have found this to be very very helpful. Not only is it slowing me down and relaxing things, but having a myofascial release is lowering my pain levels. While professional massages can be expensive, this does not have to be professional to help. Having a friend or a loved one give you a massage can make a world of difference. There are tons of learning resources on how to massage available on the web or in book stores.
- Diet Changes.- apparently lowering the tyrosine in your diet can help. Tyrosine is one of the building blocks that make up NE. Without a plethora of the building blocks, your body can not make as much. Since NE is actually made from dopamine, and dopamine is made from tyrosine, lowering tyrosine will impact more than just NE. Since other methods have been helping me, I have not experimented here yet- but others have with some apparent success. If you already do this, or you try it, I would love to hear your experiences.
While elevated NE levels from chronic stress can convince us that we are out of control and hopeless, can increase our aggression and hostility- effectively isolating us from support structures, and can turn our bodies into traitors- there is hope. We can actively combat the effects of chronic pain and stress in our brains and find and maintain that elusive inner peace. When I get there, I will light the candles and shine the light so it is easy for you to find. If you get there first- light a few for me.