Everyone knows stress can cause you to lose sleep. Unfortunately, lack of sleep is also a key cause of stress. This vicious cycle causes the brain and body to get out of whack and only gets worse with time. Make sure to get the doctor-recommended seven to eight hours of sleep. Turn the TV off earlier, dim the lights, and give yourself time to relax before going to bed. It may be the most effective stress buster on our list.
Exercise can be an effective component of a stress management program for many individuals and should be recommended to help those who are dealing with acute, acute episodic, or chronic stress. An advantage of incorporating exercise into a stress management program compared with other stress management techniques is the well-documented physical and psychological health benefits of exercise. However, it is important to remember that exercise is only one component of a stress management program, and there might be situations that require assistance beyond the expertise of a fitness professional, especially in working with individuals who are experiencing acute episodic or chronic stress. Although exercise might be effective in helping an individual feel calmer who is dealing with these types of stress, it will not solve the problem of major chronic or regular stressors. It may be necessary to refer these individuals to resources who can help them to address their stressors, such as a psychologist or other health care providers.
Meditations that cultivate mindfulness have long been used to reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and other negative emotions. Some of these practices bring you into the present by focusing your attention on a single repetitive action, such as your breathing or a few repeated words. Other forms of mindfulness meditation encourage you to follow and then release internal thoughts or sensations. Mindfulness can also be applied to activities such as walking, exercising, or eating.
Binaural beats, or binaural tones, are auditory processing artifacts (apparent sounds) resulting from the stimulation of the ears with two different sound frequencies. In fact, when two different vibrations are delivered to the brain separately through each ear, using stereo headphones, the two hemispheres of the brain function together to “hear” and perceive not the external sound signals, but a third phantom signal. This resulting signal, discovered in 1839 by Heinrich Wilhelm Dove, is called “binaural beat”. The effect on the brain waves depends on the difference of each tone. For example, if a sound frequency of 300 Hz is played in the left ear and 307 Hz in the right one, then the binaural beat would have a frequency of 7 Hz (“frequency following response”) which corresponds to the Alpha brain state, generally associated with relaxation, visualization and creativity. The beating tone is perceived as if the two tones mixed naturally, out of the brain. For the binaural beat effect to occur, the difference between the two frequencies must be small (less than or equal to 30 Hz), otherwise, the two tones will be heard separately, and no beat will be perceived.
Brainwave entrainment is a field of study and endeavor founded in the same physiological and psychological processes that make music, drumming, and chanting so powerful as methods for transforming the mind and spirit and aiding in healing of the body. These processes involve how the electrical energy in our brains synchronizes with sounds and visual stimuli, producing a particular brainwave frequency and its associated mental states.
The thing about conditioning is, it doesn’t matter whether the conditioned response is pleasant or unpleasant, desirable or undesirable. The process of conditioning works just as well both ways. You went looking for any indication you were getting an effect by using entrainment and you happened to have an unpleasant experience that you focused on. To the mind it is irrelevant whether it was pleasant or unpleasant. One way works just as well as the other. But the fact remains; it was your general expectations that resulted in a specific situation of conditioning.
“Stress and sleepless nights are closely linked,” Buenaver says. “If you’re in pain, tend to worry, or are coping with a difficult situation in your life, you may have more stress hormones than usual circulating in your body. A poor night’s sleep adds even more. And those hormones may never be fully broken down. It’s like running an engine in fifth gear all the time.”
One can also learn to control and slow down their brain waves through various neurofeedback technologies such as electroencephalograph (EEG), galvanic skin response (GSR), and heart, pulse and breath rate monitors. These devices measure stress and relaxation parameters and then "play" back the signals to the user so they can use the signals as a beacon to guide and "steer" themselves into a relaxed state. This takes some time, work and discipline but is much quicker than learning meditation.
That is generally where the science ends and the pseudoscience begins. A number of companies and individuals have then extrapolated from the phenomenon of entrainment to claim that altering the brain waves changes the actual functioning of the brain. There is no theoretical or empirical basis for this, however. Entrainment is a temporary effect on the synchronization of neuronal firing – it does not improve or increase brain functioning, it does not change the hardwiring, nor does it cure any neurological disorder. There is no compelling evidence for any effect beyond the period of entrainment itself.
A 2008 study at Hofstra University played two different binaural beats and a control sound (a babbling brook) to patients with high blood pressure. There was no difference between the groups. In one small study from Japan that was published in the Journal of Neurophysiology in 2006, they played various binaural beats to nine subjects, and observed the resulting EEGs. They found great variability in the results. Their conclusion was that listening to binaural beats can produce activity on the human cerebral cortex, however the cause was more likely a conscious auditory reaction and was not correlated to the frequency of the binaural beat. However, a 2005 study published in Clinical Neurophysiology found that they were able to induce a desired frequency in the EEG matching the phantom beat frequency encoded in a binaural beat, however this was with a single subject and was neither blinded nor controlled.
It’s not easy to remember to use your senses in the middle of a minor or not so minor crisis. At first, it will feel easier to just give into pressure and tense up. But with time, calling upon your senses will become second nature. Think of the process like learning to drive or play golf. You don’t master the skill in one lesson; you have to practice until it becomes second nature. Eventually you’ll feel like you’re forgetting something if you don’t tune into your body during challenging times. Here’s how to make it habit:
A binaureal beat is created by playing a different tone in each ear, and the interference pattern between the slightly differing frequencies creates the illusion of a beat. It's intended to be heard through headphones, so there's no cross-channel bleed across both ears. Listen to this, I'll play a simple binaural beat, and I'll slide the pan control back and forth from one ear to the other. You can see that there isn't actually any beat, it's just an acoustic illusion:
When explaining this to others they frequently respond with something like, “But I had no expectation or even any idea that my face might experience flushing. I didn’t even know that was possible. Now every time I listen to a particular entrainment track that specific face flushing occurs. If it is a specific phenomena, and it only happens when I use one certain entrainment track, doesn’t that prove it is the entrainment causing it?”
When we first use brainwave entrainment, we may not have anything specific in mind that will happen, but we hold a general expectation that “something” should happen. As we begin the process of entrainment we are on high alert looking for any little indication that something is happening. Pretty soon we identify some feeling or twitch or unusual perception. The moment we focus on whatever it is, the act of focusing on it magnifies the thing. Since we were already viewing the situation with an expectation that it was the entrainment that was going to produce some sort of result, we automatically associate whatever our phenomenon is with entrainment.
Maybe a favorite popular song, a certain piece of Classical music, a raucous dance beat, the pulse of Reggae, Indian, or African drums, or the chanting of Gregorian or Tibetan monks, but you probably know how the sound of music, drumming, or chanting is capable of transporting you into an altered and joyous state of mind and uplifting your spirits.
The exact physiological mechanisms to explain how exercise improves stress have not been delineated. Human and animal research indicates that being physically active improves the way the body handles stress because of changes in the hormone responses, and that exercise affects neurotransmitters in the brain such as dopamine and serotonin that affect mood and behaviors (9,11). In addition to the possible physiological mechanisms, there also is the possibility that exercise serves as a time-out or break from one’s stressors. A study that tested the time-out hypothesis used a protocol that had participants exercise but did not allow a break from stress during the exercise session (5). Participants were college-aged women who reported that studying was their biggest stressor. Self-report of stress and anxiety symptoms was assessed with a standard questionnaire before and after four conditions over 4 days. The conditions were quiet rest, study, exercise, and studying while exercising. These conditions were counterbalanced across participants, and each condition was 40 minutes in duration. The “exercise only” condition had the greatest calming effect (5). When participants were not given a break from their stressor in the “studying while exercising” condition, exercise did not have the same calming effect.
The authors concluded that preliminary evidence suggested that brainwave entrapment was an effective therapeutic tool, but further research was required. The evidence presented appeared to justify the recommendation for further research. In view of the lack of controlled evidence and problems with methodology and reporting in the review, the authors’ conclusions regarding efficacy did not appear reliable.