When I was studying for my post grad in Sports Physio, we had to do a paper called Pain Science. Now everyone has a paper at University which you have to do – even though you seriously question its relevance. What did Pain Science have to do with Sports Physiotherapy?
Little did I realise, this one paper would have one of the most profound influences on my treatment as a Physiotherapist.
We had a quirky guy teaching us called David Butler. Him and his buddy Lorimer Moseley are world leaders in Pain Science. He was also bloody funny and someone who could turn complex Neuroscience into simple explanations. My kind of guy.
With our second child due, opening another business, helping with my wife’s business and running Balance in Motion, I noticed a few changes in my daily routine which would lead to some not so positive affects on my body.
6 months prior I would run, train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, cycle or do yoga 6 days a week without fail. I would never work after 7.30 pm. I would never work Sundays.
Slowly but surely, as my to do list grew bigger and bigger, I started working from 5am and finishing up at 10pm. I worked Saturdays and Sundays. I had to get through my to do list and answer everyone’s emails
The above is when I ended up in the doctor’s room for a lecture on what I was doing to my body.
What was even more concerning to me, was that I was seeing this over and over, all day with you guys also! What happened in this little bubble of Paradise we call the Eastern Suburbs?
What I was also noticing was that healing times were directly related to how busy and stressed peoples lives were. The more stress the longer the healing time. The more stressed the poorer the scar tissue formation of injuries. Swelling would persist for longer, their scar tissue was stiffer and of lower quality and their injuries would be much slower to heal….
The SNS of the autonomic nervous system gets you out of trouble. The SNS command center in your brain stem fires a cascade of events through our nervous system to stop whatever we are doing and get us out of trouble a.s.a.p. The adrenal glands pump adrenaline through your body as your mind responds to a threat. It makes our eyes dilate so we can see clearer and get you primed to complete your task/ race by dilating the blood vessels to your muscles.
The activation of the SNS also activates the neuroendocrine system another major component of the stress response. It is a slower response system and its effects last longer than the SNS. The limbic system or mid-brain receives impulses from different parts of its system scanning for threats and when it perceives a problem it stimulates the adrenal glands, which sit above your kidneys to release cortisol a well-known stress hormone. Cortisol is great in times of acute stress. It basically activates bodily processes for immediate survival and closes down processes not needed for immediate survival.
Ever wondered why when you’re incredibly stressed such as about to prepare for a massive race or big game and your stomach is cramping and churning. Your main priority is not digestion at this time. You probably also don’t need your libido.
Can you imagine what happens if these systems are left on for long stressful periods? Yip poor memory, low sex drive, weight gain from poor digestion and poor tissue healing. All the systems that aren’t really a priority when a shark has just knocked you off your surfboard. Repairing that calf tear or sprained ankle is the least of your priorities when you’re stressed and need to be working 12 to 14 hours per day. This can have negative effects within a few days of constant stress.
What worked for me and some of the patients I’ve used as guinea pigs?
I knew the answer to avoiding the stress response was to return the nervous system to homeostasis. To activate the Parasympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system (PNS). The PNS is more interested in our long-term survival. Think rest and digest. It is also when we do our best injury nourishing and healing. It works best when you are resting. It likes a minimum of 6 hours sleep. If the PNS is activated successfully and we are calmed accordingly the cortisol level in our blood drops to a low comfortable zone.
I knew I had to change things or I was going to get really sick. Someone I look to in terms of solutions is the human guinea pig Tim Ferriss. The guy who wrote the Four Hour Body and Four Hour Workweek. He literally changed my life with the book ‘THE FOUR HOUR WORK WEEK’. He is huge on what he calls a morning ritual. A reproducible 30 to 60 minute routine that doesn’t change. I will briefly divide it into 4 parts that anyone can start.
“I already get up early this isn’t going to work?" Too bad, I start work at 7 and have small kids. Get up earlier. I get up 30 mins earlier now and go to bed 30 minutes earlier and it has changed my life for the better along with many patients.
Warning! The insanity starts as soon as you check your emails. It takes one email to throw your whole day out. One email from a disgruntled colleague, someone needing something done before 10am when your schedule is already full. This instantly activates the stress response. Your heart is racing and chances are it won’t be a great or productive day.
DON’T CHECK YOUR EMAILS UNTIL YOU HAVE COMPLETED YOUR MORNING ROUTINE.
Step 1 - Meditate
I have always wanted to get into meditation. God knows how many people I respect have told me to get into it. My excuse was I get those benefits from 2 yoga sessions per week. At the moment 2 yoga sessions would be a dream come true. Plan B – meditation! There is a lot of good quality scientific research to prove it has a positive influence on the endocrine system, immune function, stress reduction, sleep patterns and anxiety. That sounds pretty good to me. Anything proven in randomized controlled trials is worth a look!
After doing some research and talking to a couple of Psychologists Head Space kept turning up.
Head Space is an app. Designed by an Englishman called Andy. Check out his TED talk on meditation here. It is based on mindfulness.
Step 2 – Decide on the 3 things that matter today
Take three things that you would be incredibly stoked to complete that day, which are realistic. Write them down. “I would be extremely happy with my day if…” This was one of the most game-changing strategies. I found I subconsciously went about them blocking everything else out until they were done. Once I completed them, I could relax. I felt calmer knowing I had done them and didn’t continually add to the list. Prior to doing this, my brain was too scrambled by being in a reactive and over-caffeinated state – picking and focusing on one task felt overwhelming.
Step 3 – Move
Doesn’t matter what you do, just move. For me, I find yoga is an incredibly good way to start the day. There are a number of apps these days whereby you can set your timer for the amount of time you have and they will set a routine accordingly. I use an app call Yoga Academy and set the yoga app for 10 minutes and do that routine. This could even be a light walk or jog, depending on how much time you have.
Following this routine religiously has restored my energy levels, calmed my stress levels and made me a lot more productive. The routine is done in 25 to 30 minutes. I am starting the day with a plan, a calm mind and a non-stressed state (most of the time). Please give it a try and let me know how you go.
If any one has delved deeper into meditation and wants to share where I go from here email me at email@example.com.