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LIFE QUALITY RESOURCES

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For further information about neurofeedback, biofeedback, and psychotherapeutic services offered by Drs. Dan and Lucy Chartier and their associates, contact:

LIFE QUALITY RESOURCES

5613 Duraleigh Road, #101
Raleigh, NC 27612
Telephone: (919) 782-4597
www.LifeQualityResources.org

Helping Women Navigate Life Stressors

“This may be a particularly apt time for a conversation about women’s health,” observes Dr. Dan Chartier, a Raleigh psychophysiological psychotherapist. “COVID-19, coupled with social and economic upheaval, has resulted in a moment of extraordinary uncertainty—in short, a moment of extreme stress. And stress is a critically important factor in women’s health.”

Dr. Chartier

Stress—and how we deal with it—affects everyone’s health, Dr. Chartier acknowledges. “And the stress overload of the last six or seven months is having an impact on us all. But some individuals are more predisposed—physiologically and psychologically—to experience those stressors, and that is particularly true of women.

“Women are notorious multi-taskers,” he notes, “and today, most women are not only continuing to play traditional family care roles but are also workers, often solo breadwinners. That multi-tasking—even when effective, as it often is—creates even more stress. As a father of daughters, a brother of sisters, and a spouse of a wife, I recognize that we do not often give credit where credit is due in terms of how much stress the women in our lives suffer. And this pandemic and that ways it has disrupted out lives have simply added to an already heavy stress load.”

Different Brains, Different Perspectives

Women’s multi-tasking lifestyles and their greater sensitivity to stress have physiological roots. “There are important differences in the way male and female brains function,” Dr. Chartier explains. “The difference is in how the two brain hemispheres interact. In everyone, the left hemisphere drives verbal expression and understanding, while the right brain plays more of an emotional processing unit. Together, the two sides allow us both to be aware of our feelings and to communicate about or to express them.

“In the female brain, that connection between hemispheres is like a super multi-lane highway,” he notes. “Lots of traffic, lots of ease of communication about feelings; while in the male brain, it’s like a two-lane twisting back country mountain road. In fact, the female brain thinks, feels, and experiences in ways that males can hardly imagine. That often means that, late at night, the woman—the wife, mother, professional—who would like to go to sleep, finds her mind buzzing with issues and responsibilities that are part of her life, too often leading to insomnia, fatigue, and depression. Over time, this combination of pressures may manifest as anxiety or evolve into migraine headaches or jaw pain—or other conditions related to increased tension.

“The effect is that perhaps a majority of all women in this culture are suffering as the result of multiple stresses in their lives. In short, their lives, are seriously out of balance.”

Many Tools to Combat Multiple Sources of Stress

That connection between the psycho-emotional state and physical symptoms is often what brings patients to see Dr. Chartier, and he finds the two often impossible to separate. “When a woman’s psycho-emotional system gets overwhelmed, she may retreat into a darker space to avoid any further loss of energy in a world that’s demanding more than she can deliver.

“Maybe men just don’t admit it as much,” he adds, “but in terms of the number of people who seek health care assistance, women outweigh men, especially in a psychological realm.

While, with both male and female patients, explains Dr. Chartier, the process starts with talk therapy to bring a common understanding to the sources of stress and the obstacles to relaxation. “At that point,” he says, “we often find that the most useful tools for dealing with stress overload and its impact are psychophysiologic monitoring tools—biofeedback and neurofeedback. Like a reflection in a mirror, they let the person being monitored know exactly and objectively whether their stress or tension levels are elevated. And we use that kind of GPS guidance, if you will, to help the individual steer themselves into a healthier, more balanced space, physically, emotionally, and psychologically.”

For some issues, however, talk therapy plays the major role in relieving stress. “This is particularly true for individuals suffering guilt from family issues,” he explains. “The flip side of guilt is resentment; and that anger and depression can get mixed together. Depression comes about when anger is blocked and can’t be expressed. And if we’re not feeling safe enough to directly express resentment, then guilt is often the weight we use to hold that resentment down. Getting clear about the circumstances that couldn’t be openly and honestly expressed can help break through the guilt and lingering resentment.”

There are times, notes Dr. Chartier, when the source of the stress is purely physical. “An example is pre-menstrual dysmorphic disorder—a condition characterized by very severe and disruptive pre-menstrual symptoms. In these cases, certain neurofeedback protocols combined with light photic stimulation can be extremely helpful, by helping to flatten the peak of monthly hormonal stress. The idea is to help the brain make a gentler adjustment to the rapidly shifting hormonal background.”

Self-Regulation and Coping Skills

“The beauty of biofeedback and neurofeedback,” says Dr. Chartier, “is that they are tools that strengthen our self-regulation and coping skills—they’re empowering. For anything that stresses us, we can help counterbalance that stress by deepening our ability to detach and find a more peaceful state. So, while the approach might not directly change the physical symptoms a woman experiences—hot flashes, for example—it will dampen her reaction to it.”

Stress is a part of all of our lives, notes Dr. Chartier, “and it can be a positive force as well. Problems arise when it becomes excessive and when people are unable to handle it. So, when working with individuals suffering from extreme stress, our goal is to help them to develop effective coping strategies. This can involve counseling and psychotherapy, biofeedback techniques to relax muscles or alter blood circulation flow; or neurofeedback to help curb the ‘busy mind syndrome.’

“If one facet is out of balance, it’s going to pull the others out as well—so we work with the total person. We have to proceed cautiously, and as we proceed into unknown territory, the basic principles of conscious awareness, mindful living, and mindful problem solving will be more important than ever.”