You've probably heard of the fight-or-flight response – that ancient survival mechanism that helps us deal with threats to our safety. But have you ever asked what happens to us when we are chronically under stress?
A myriad of studies alludes to the fact that chronic stress can cause that response to go haywire.
The problem with stress is that it doesn't just mess with your head – it can actually mess with your whole body. Occasionally a bit of stress can be beneficial since it allows our nervous system to operate at full capacity when needed. However, it can also result in persistently high alert levels.
The result? Our bodies become flooded with stress hormones that can wreak havoc on everything from our digestion to our mood. Stress affects everything, it's not just our mental health that's suffering – it's our whole physical system that's under threat.
In short, stress throws off the delicate balance that exists between our physical, emotional, and mental health.
A deregulated nervous system means that the body's ability to regulate and respond to stressors is impaired. This can lead to symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, irritability, and difficulty focusing. It can also impact physical health, leading to digestive problems, headaches, and chronic pain. Essentially, the nervous system is not working efficiently, which can have significant impact on overall health and well-being.
Nervous system dysregulation can occur due to chronic stress, trauma, anxiety, or other factors, leading to symptoms such as fatigue, mood swings, insomnia, and digestive issues. Pilates and breathwork can be effective in resetting the nervous system and promoting relaxation and balance.
Pilates exercises focus on strengthening the deep stabilising muscles of the core, improving posture, and increasing flexibility and mobility. These movements are performed with focused breathing, which helps to oxygenate the body and reduce tension.
Breathwork techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing, alternate nostril breathing and ujjayi breathing can promote relaxation, reduce anxiety, and rebalance the autonomic nervous system.
Research has shown that regular pilates practice can improve mental health outcomes such as anxiety and depression, as well as physical symptoms such as pain and fatigue. One study found that eight weeks of Pilates and breathing exercises reduced cortisol levels in female participants with anxiety disorder.
Another study found that ten weeks of pilates and breathing exercises improved sleep quality and reduced anxiety and depression in breast cancer survivors.
Some studies have found that pilates can help regulate the body's autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary functions such as heart rate, breathing, and digestion. In addition, research has found that Pilates can improve balance, coordination, and flexibility, and help patients with chronic pain, anxiety, and depression.
For example, a study published in the Journal of Yoga and Physiotherapy showed that a combination of pilates and breathing exercises, reduced anxiety and depression levels in women with breast cancer undergoing treatment.
Another study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found that pilates improved balance and functional mobility in elderly patients with Parkinson's disease.
Furthermore, pilates has been used as a complementary therapy in the treatment of conditions such as chronic low back pain, and multiple sclerosis, among others.
The nervous system can become deregulated due to a variety of factors, including:
Stress: Chronic stress can lead to overproduction of stress hormones through dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. This can affect the function of the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex, leading to changes in mood, behaviour, and cognitive function.
Trauma: Traumatic experiences can lead to changes in the brain and nervous system. Trauma can cause dysregulation in the HPA axis, changes in neurotransmitter function, and alterations in brain structure and function.
Medications and drugs: Certain medications and recreational drugs can impact neurotransmitter function and lead to dysregulation of the nervous system. For example, excessive or prolonged use of opioids or benzodiazepines can lead to changes in the brain and nervous system.
Genetics: Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to nervous system dysregulation. Certain genetic polymorphisms have been linked to conditions such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder.
Poor diet: A diet high in processed foods, sugar, and unhealthy fats can lead to inflammation in the brain and negatively impact neurotransmitter function, leading to nervous system dysregulation.
Overall research suggests Pilates and breathing exercises can help treat nervous system dysregulation, alleviate symptoms, and promote balance and relaxation. But it's crucial to practice with a certified Pilates instructor who can modify workouts for specific requirements and restrictions.