“Stress” is a commonly used term, and it is often used with different meanings. The standard definition for stress that will be used in this article is the disruption of the body’s homeostasis or a state of disharmony in response to a real or perceived threat or challenge (8). The threatening or challenging situation is referred to as a “stressor.” When a person encounters a stressor, the body prepares to respond to the challenge or threat. The autonomic nervous and endocrine systems respond by producing the hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol. The result of this hormone production is a cascade of physiological reactions that make up the stress response. Epinephrine and norepinephrine are involved in the initial changes that take place to prepare the body to react and to prepare for a challenge. These responses include increases in heart and respiration rates, blood pressure, perspiration, and energy production (8). There also is a suppression of immune function, production of β-endorphin (the body’s natural pain killer), and increased acuity of the senses. These changes make up the fight-or-flight response, which prepares the body to cope with the stressor. If the stressor is perceived as negative or more as a threat than as a challenge, cortisol production is increased. Cortisol is involved in energy production but also suppresses immune function.
Sensorimotor rhythm (SMR) is one final type of brainwave that has been studied. SMR, also known as low beta, is a type of brainwave, which occurs in the sensorimotor cortex, in the 12 to 15 hertz range when that area of the sensorimotor cortex is idle and immobile. The purpose of SMR brainwaves is not well understood, but some neurofeedback practitioners report training to increase SMR brainwaves can be beneficial for people with autism, epilepsy, ADD, insomnia, drug addiction, and as an aide to better manage stress.
Group exercise or encouraging stressed clients to find a workout partner is an excellent idea because it can provide a support network and accountability. However, there might be clients who find a group setting intimidating or competitive, which could be counterproductive in managing stress. In addition, those who report stress because of work or family obligations might enjoy the solitude of exercising alone. Using a variety of exercises or nontraditional exercises (e.g., exergaming, dance classes, yard work, or rock climbing) is a way to plan activities that are enjoyable to maximize adherence. Knowing your clients’ exercise barriers and stressors will help with planning an exercise program that can address these variables to maximize the benefits for health and stress management.
With its focus on full, cleansing breaths, deep breathing is a simple yet powerful relaxation technique. It’s easy to learn, can be practiced almost anywhere, and provides a quick way to get your stress levels in check. Deep breathing is the cornerstone of many other relaxation practices, too, and can be combined with other relaxing elements such as aromatherapy and music. While apps and audio downloads can guide you through the process, all you really need is a few minutes and a place to stretch out.
Entrainment is a term originally derived from complex systems theory, and denotes the way that two or more independent, autonomous oscillators with differing rhythms or frequencies, when situated in a context and at a proximity where they can interact for long enough, influence each other mutually, to a degree dependent on coupling force, such that they adjust until both oscillate with the same frequency. Examples include the mechanical entrainment or cyclic synchronization of two electric clothes dryers placed in close proximity, and the biological entrainment evident in the synchronized illumination of fireflies.