Stress And The Brain
Stress appears to be a curse of our generation, blamed for so many ills. “I’m stressed out right now,” we say, or, “The stress is really getting to me.” We all speak of stress as something that falls upon us like a sickness we can’t control. Now that we are more aware of how our brains work, we can fully appreciate that once the amygdala perceives something as dangerous, it goes into fight, flight, or freeze mode. This flips on the stress response and shoots adrenaline and cortisol through the bloodstream putting the body on alert, which will compromise our health if not managed. Cortisol is an especially dangerous stress hormone, not only because of what it can do to our health but also because it limits the access to the prefrontal cortex, preventing us from thinking rationally. When we are in fight, flight, or freeze mode, here’s how the body reacts:
The heart starts to pound faster
Breathing becomes more shallow
Blood pressure and blood sugar rise
Perspective and the ability to see options are obscured
Digestion and immune systems are compromised
The stress hormones in animals are very important in fact, they are lifesavers. Animals survive in the wild by reacting to the stress response and attacking a predator, running away, or hiding. While most of us are now living in relatively safe environments without predators, the stress response can turn on automatically no matter what the perceived danger. It arises during relationship problems, money worries, or difficult living conditions, none of which may be actual threats to our lives.