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Unlocking the Secrets of the Brain's Stress Command Center

When we are under stress certain parts of the brain get activated and even take over. When a person experiences a stressful situation, the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for thinking) sends a stress signal to the hypothalamus. This area of the brain functions like a command center, communicating with the rest of the body through the nervous system. This allows for immediate survival action to occur so that the person takes action to fight or run.


Specific areas of the brain communicate with the rest of the body through the nervous system, which controls bodily functions such as breathing, blood pressure, heart rate, and dilation or constriction of blood vessels, as well as important nerves and bronchioles in the lungs.


The autonomic nervous system has two parts, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system works like the gas pedal in a car. It triggers the fight-or-flight response, giving the body a burst of energy to respond to perceived danger. The parasympathetic nervous system works like a brake. It supports the "rest, digest and repair" response, which calms the body after the danger has passed.


When stressed, the hypothalamus sends a signal from the nervous system to the adrenal gland.. These glands respond by releasing cortisol and adrenaline, also known as epinephrine, into the bloodstream. Adrenaline causes physiological changes as it circulates throughout the body. The heart begins to beat faster, pushing blood to the muscles, heart, and other vital organs. Heart rate and blood pressure increase. People who experience these changes also begin to breathe faster to bring oxygen to these systems. More oxygen is sent to the brain, increasing alertness. vision, hearing.


There is a priority to the systems that are triggered by the stress response and others which get prioritized. At the same time, adrenaline causes the release of blood sugar (glucose) and fat from temporary storage areas in the body. These nutrients enter the bloodstream and provide energy to all parts of the body.

These changes happen fast without conscious choice fast. In fact, the connection is so strong that the amygdala and hypothalamus kick off this cascade even before the visual centers of the brain have had a chance to process the situation. 


Within the activation of the stress response system, is the HPA axis. This network includes the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands. The HPA axis relies on hormonal signals to activate the sympathetic nervous system or stress side / accelerator pedal. This begins an alert to the the body systems for survival. If the threat does not resolve or continues to heighten, the hypothalamus releases another hormone cascade. These chemicals travel to the adrenal glands, causing them to secrete cortisol. Cortisol is meant as protective agent for the body.. Once the threat is over, cortisol levels drop. The parasympathetic nervous system (peace side/brakes) then reduces the stress response.


When we are under prolonged stress cortisol can begin to cause problems in the body. At a certain point these levels can become depleted leading to various stages of adrenal fatigue. Once this occurs the body must steal what it needs from other body parts such as the gut lining. This then leads to things like leaky gut, gut dysbiosis to name but a few possible problems.


Tips for Coping with Stress

Many people do not actively deal with stress. 

Fortunately, people can learn skills to cope with their stress. Modalities include, breathwork and breathing such as deep belly breathing, focusing on soothing words (such as peace, compassion, love, or tranquillity), meditation on peace, repeated prayers, yoga, and tai chi and keeping a gratitude journal daily. Additionally, Body work, Somatic therapy, resourcing, grounding and trauma resolution are important modalities to address underlying chronic levels of heightened stress response.

In a study by Massachusetts General Hospital, with 122 hypertensive patients aged 55 years and older. Eight weeks later, 34 subjects (just over half) who practised the relaxation response lowered their blood pressure by more than 5 mmHg. These individuals went on to phase 2 of additional stress reduction. In the second period, 50 percent of these individuals were able to remove at least one blood pressure medication.

Exercise: There are many ways people can combat stress through exercise. Exercises such as brisk walking after a stressful event not only helps you breathe deeply (we often breathe shallowly when stressed), but walking can also reduce muscle tension. Movement therapies such as yoga, tai chi, and qigong combine physical strength with deep breathing and mental focus, all of which can lead to a sense of calm.

Social Support and Community: It is essential to regulation and a sense of safety to be in supportive relationships, relationships that enrich us and help sustain life. Isolation is devastating on so many levels. Theory suggests that people who have strong relationships with family and friends and receive emotional support are healthier and more stress hardy aka resilient.

Resilience Building and Stress Busting Tools:
  • Breathing

  • Grounding and Resourcing

  • Processing Resentment or Difficulties

  • Develop Better Communication Skills

  • Heal Codependent Tendencies

  • Set Boundaries with Yourself and Others

  • Practice Gratitude

  • Practice Mindfulness


To you resilience,
Your friend and rescue resource,

Pam


For more information on our resilience programs Click this link to go to the info page.

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