Hello everyone. A while back I discussed the relationship between stress and ‘meaning’. For those who missed out a brief synopsis is that if you don’t add any significant meaning to the thoughts or experiences you are having at any given time you won’t feel stress. It is only when we add meaning to our thoughts that the body responds and we feel ‘stressed’.
In this email I will be talking about what actually goes on in the brain when we become stressed. Knowing this and recognizing it when you are actually stressed so you can do something about it are two different things but at least with a bit of knowledge we are better prepared to understand ourselves! So, what is happening in the brain when the stress cycle kicks in, and what can be done about it? Don’t worry; we are not going to have a biochemistry lesson so keep reading!
Simply put there are three sections of the brain. The Hindbrain, the Mid brain and the Frontal Lobe. If we look at the functions of these areas of the brain we get a real insight into stress and how to diffuse it.
The Frontal lobe is where all our logical processing happens. It functions best when we are not stressed. In fact when the stress response is in full swing, blood from this area of the brain is actually diverted to areas of the body involved in the flight or fight response such the large muscle groups of the body. This may be one reason why logic goes out the window when we are in life or death situations… that is if you are not and action hero from the movies….. they obviously have massive fontal lobes to stay so cool under pressure! This area of the brain is most utilized by primates who have higher cognitive functioning.
The Mid brain is a different animal entirely. You could say it is like the mammal of the brain, the ‘dog’ or ‘cat’ in that it is primed to be ever vigilant for danger and always aware of its surroundings. It is our ‘anxiety’ and hyper vigilance area and plays a huge role in the flight or fight response. Ever alert for danger this part of the brain is supplying us with the ‘flight’ route out of a situation.
The Hindbrain is like the snake or lizard section of out brain and is purely about survival. It is the ‘fight’ portion of the flight or fight response and in extreme situations will promote extreme responses to get us out of danger.
So what does all this mean? If you are not stressed your Frontal lobe or cognitive brain is capable of ‘thinking’ your way out of problems rationally and systematically. This is where we would all like to be when learning and applying new information or when we have to find tricky solutions to problems. This may also be why some people work best by putting aside complex problems. They rest and wake up the next day with a solution!
If you are anxious and on alert, like a dog or a cat you could calm yourself down with soothing physical contact such as massage or a hug! These ‘physical’ experiences speak directly to the part of the brain that is in charge of anxiety and gives it soothing signals to calm down. Once it is calm the Hindbrain also calms down.
When the hindbrain is in charge there is very little that can be done other than to move out of the way! Have you ever experienced a two year old having a tantrum and hurling themselves to the ground or lashing out. All parents know to let the worst of a tantrum pass before trying to sooth and rationalize with the child is the best approach!
In the last email I mentioned massage, exercise, good nutrition, supportive friendships and lots of rest and relaxation as ways to care for our physical, mental and emotional health. I also mentioned a technique called ‘tapping’ which because of it’s physical nature speaks directly to those areas of the brain that are involved in the ‘stress response. It makes sense as we become more aware of how our brain works that we incorporate lots of these practices in out daily routines to maintain our health and wellbeing so we can function to our best ability. Good luck with your efforts at managing your stress!
About the Author: Dr. Linda Wilson is a qualified Stress Specialist, Hypnotherapist and EFT-Tapping specialist. She is an author of Stress Made Easy and is in private practice at Cranbourne Family Chiropractic and Wellness Centre, 03 59984554 or click here to visit online.
Category: Stress Management