Thursday June 22nd 2017

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Dissolving stress with Open Focus when diagnosed with addiction

By Robert Wright, Jr., Ph.D., COFT

Let’s face it.

By itself, every day stress is challenging to deal with. So, when you add addiction issues to the stress equation – if you are not careful – you can set yourself up for a potential disaster. Whether you currently are coping with addiction or are in recovery, stress can knock you off track if you do not address its potentially debilitating effects. So, it’s important to become more aware of the significant role stress plays in your life as you work to deal with, heal and recover from addiction.

We’ll help you do that here. Then, we invite your comments and questions about stress at the end. In fact, we try to respond to all legitimate queries personally and promptly.

Why is stress so harmful?

Did you know that according to recent studies and surveys by the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Census Bureau, stress and stress burnout has been called America’s number one health challenge? Further, a 2014 study by the American Institute of Stress revealed that 77% of Americans reported regularly experiencing physical symptoms caused by stress, and that 73% reported regularly experiencing psychological symptoms caused by stress.

Did you know that a British Medical Journal study concluded that work-related stress can double your risk of dying from heart disease? Countless studies have demonstrated that stress is linked to alcohol and drug addiction and that chronic stress is a well-known substance abuse factor. Even more, other studies show that high stress levels can trigger or predict the risk of relapse.

What Is Stress?

There are many ways to think about and define stress. In terms of addiction issues, a helpful definition is that stress is:

“Any force or input (internal or external) which disturbs our complex dynamic need for harmonious equilibrium or homeostasis.”

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Therefore, stress can be considered our physiological and psychological response to events in our environment which represent a change in circumstances that may be perceived by the body or mind as a threat.

The human biological stress response of “fight, flight or freeze” was designed to protect and help increase our odds of surviving potential threats within our environment and generally works in our favor when not overtaxed. While the stress response helped our ancestors survive real life and death situations in the past, in today’s modern world much of the stress – threats – we experience and feel are in response to imagined – psychological – rather than real physical threats. In terms of addiction, those real or perceived threats may trigger intense cravings or relapse, so, it is critical to get a handle on your stress in order to improve your chances for achieving recovery or maintaining recovery.

What Are The Types of Stress?

According to stress pioneer Hans Selye, there are two types of stress: Eustress and Distress. You can easily distinguish and remember the difference between these two because Eustress makes you feel good about a stressor (it’s pleasant) while Distress causes you to feel pressured, harried or unsettled (unpleasant).

Many people are under the mistaken belief that stress is always bad for you but generally Eustress plays a positive role in our lives. However, in terms of the addiction equation, it may do just the reverse!

Why?

As a rule, when you engage in any addictive activity, it usually makes you feel good in the moment—triggering a state of Eustress—but that affect is only temporary or illusory. Unfortunately, in the case of addiction, this quest to feel better, e.g. repeatedly trying to achieve a “maximum high” can result in devastating consequences. In worse case scenarios, such retriggered intense cravings for the feeling of Eustress—dopamine spiking—can cause you to lose your job, friends or partner, become homeless or sick or even result in an early death.

Acute Stress and Chronic Stress

It’s also important to know that stress can present itself in two forms: Acute Stress and Chronic Stress. Acute Stress is a short lived adaptive response where you respond to a stressor in your environment, then return to a normal state of calm (allostasis or homeostasis). Sometimes, Acute Stress can help you since it gets you to do things that need to be done even though you may not feel like it.

For instance, a student may not feel like doing her homework, but the anxiety producing Acute Stress feelings she experiences when she thinks about what might happen if she gets a failing grade, e.g. she won’t get admitted to the college of her choice, motivates her to study and complete her assignments early or on time. In this way, Acute Stress can be beneficial when it boosts your stress hardiness and makes you more resilient—you can successfully face and overcome challenging life events more easily. This allows you to “up your game.”

Conversely, Chronic Stress represents a condition where stressors repeatedly re-activate your “fight, fight or freeze” system. When this happens repeatedly and you continue to ignore your bodily distress symptoms, this often leads to preventable illnesses, disease states such as chronic pain or an early or painful death.

Chronic stress has the potential to overwhelm your body’s defenses, thus setting in motion a cascade of harmful effects which negatively impact your health. Chronic Stress increases your allostatic loads, thereby impairing your body’s ability to maintain allostasis or homeostasis.

What Are The Symptoms of Chronic, Distressful Stress?

  • aches and pains
  • headaches
  • migraine headaches
  • inability to control your temper
  • insomnia
  • lack of energy
  • loss of appetite
  • low back pain
  • low mood
  • overeating
  • undue worrying

What Are Some Conditions Caused By or Aggravated By Chronic Stress?

  • anxiety
  • asthma
  • autoimmune disorders
  • cardiovascular disease
  • constipation
  • diabetes
  • heartburn
  • high blood pressure
  • insomnia
  • loss of sex drive
  • obesity
  • stroke
  • substance abuse

Dissolving Stress With Open Focus

Open Focus is an amazingly effective stress management technique which dissolves chronic stress by shifting your attention. Although you may have never heard of it, Open Focus was created over 40 years ago by Dr. Les Fehmi of the Princeton Biofeedback Centre. Dr. Fehmi also wrote a best-selling book entitled Open Focus Brain. While working with biofeedback and neurofeedback equipment with clients, Dr. Fehmi discovered that the most intense state of stress relief clients experienced could be achieved without using equipment. He called this state Open Focus.

When you are in an Open Focus state, your attention becomes more flexible, shifting you out of a “normal” narrow focused attentional style into one that’s wider and more global. Although being in a narrow focused attentional style is helpful for goal attainment, remaining and maintaining a narrow focus for too long, often results in unnecessary stress.

You can easily begin to diminish your chronic stress by learning and using Open Focus. The really good news is that when you begin using Open Focus to reduce your stress, you’ll simultaneously lessen the effects of any anxiety, chronic pain or grief you may be dealing with. This can be a wonderful opportunity for you especially when you are wrestling with the added stress of addiction. As Lee Weber mentioned in a previous blog post, when you are looking for stress relief, doing Open Focus is “10 times easier than meditation.”

Why Does Open Focus Work? The Relaxation Response

Open Focus uses the concept of space to break up habitual rigidity in your attentional processes. This increases brain plasticity while simultaneously reducing your chronic stress and inducing a magnified Relaxation Response. The Relaxation Response is the physiologic counterpart to the stress “fight, flight or freeze” response. It is a protective mechanism against the potential ravages of stress with resultant decreases in respiratory rate, metabolism, heart rate, and blood pressure.

Thousands of studies have concluded that regularly generating the Relaxation Response is good for you. The health benefits include slowed breathing, increases in awareness and attention and whole brain synchrony. This state also results in beneficial nitric oxide spiking and positive changes in gene activity which is opposite those associated with stress. So using Open Focus to regularly generate the Relaxation Response is a good idea.

An important feature that distinguishes Open Focus from other stress management techniques is that it changes you from the inside out. Dr. Fehmi has discovered that by not rejecting or resisting your pain and going right into the heart of your pain, i.e. “resting” in your pain, has the capacity to dissolve your pain, anxiety and stress. The amazing thing about this counter-intuitive approach is that it works! FAST!

Want To Learn More?

If you’d like to learn more about Open Focus and how you can experience the benefits of having your chronic stress reduced, diminished or dissolved, consider contacting me by email at Dr.Bob@StressFreeNow.info. I have been a certified Open Focus Trainer for over 10 years, achieving excellent stress, anxiety and chronic pain reduction results for clients. Feel free to contact me with your questions or to schedule a wellness coaching session.

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About the Author: Dr. Bob, the Stress Relief Doctor, is an Executive Stress Management Wellness Coach who helps individuals and groups get ahead of the stress curve by giving them the tools they need to address and dissolve their habitual stress, anxiety, grief and chronic pain. Dr. Bob is an author, keynote speaker, and the co-host of the popular StressFreeNow podcast series. He has published 5 books and over 50 articles dealing with ways to reduce chronic pain, anxiety, grief and stress regardless of the cause. His passionate goal is synthesizing and translating the findings of scholarly studies in nitric oxide and endogenous morphine research into ordinary language to help the general public improve their healthy well being. Dr. Bob helps you move forward with your life by reducing your stress, anxiety, grief and chronic pain. You can learn more about how Dr. Bob’s gentle approach helps improve the quality of your life by visiting his Coaching page or emailing him directly at Dr.Bob@StressFreeNow.info.
Reference Sources: American Psychological Association. (2015). Paying with our health. Washington, DC 
Benson H. (1997). The relaxation response: Therapeutic effect. Science, 278, 1694–1695.
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NCBI: Chronic stress, drug use and vulnerability to addiction
Corticotropin-releasing factor in the dorsal raphe nucleus: Linking stress coping and addiction
RJ Valentino, I Lucki, E Van Bockstaele – Brain research, 2010 – Elsevier
Fehmi, L., & Robbins, J. (2007). The open focus brain: Harnessing the power of attention to heal mind and body. Boston, MA: Trumpeter. 
GF Koob – Brain research, 2009 – Elsevier
Modeling stress and drug craving in the laboratory: implications for addiction treatment development
NE Goeders – European Neuropsychopharmacology, 2003 – Elsevier
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NIDA NOTES – Studies Link Stress and Drug Addiction
R Sinha – Addiction biology, 2009 – Wiley Online Library
Stress and cocaine addiction
The American Institute of Stress. (2014). Fort Worth, TX
The impact of stress on addiction

A Diagram Your Stress Balancing System

Outcomes for Addiction: Homeostatic Balance and Dynamic Balance increase chances for achieving and maintaining recovery; Stress or Imbalance increases chronic stress and the risk of triggering addictive behaviors or relapse.

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About Dr. Robert Wright Jr., Ph.D., COFT

Dr. Bob, the Stress Relief Doctor, is an Executive Stress Management Wellness Coach who helps individuals and groups get ahead of the stress curve by giving them the tools they need to address and dissolve their habitual stress, anxiety, grief and chronic pain. Dr. Bob is an author, keynote speaker, and the co-host of the popular StressFreeNow podcast series. Let Dr. Bob help you move forward with your life by reducing your stress, anxiety, grief and chronic pain. To learn more or to schedule a Wellness Coaching session, visit his Coaching page or you can email him directly at mailto:Dr.Bob@StressFreeNow.info

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