Stress is actually good for us. It primes our minds and bodies to tackle a sudden problem head-on. But we are only designed to experience stress in small doses. When it shows signs of never relenting then we face a problem.
In simple terms, we have two parts to our brain which control what we do, how we do it and how we feel. The left pre-frontal cortex is our logical rational brain also known as our conscious brain. This is the part of our brain that has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years and it’s the part that has created the amazing world we all live in, filled with the latest technology and modern advances. We don’t share this part of our brain with any other animal – we are unique. It’s like the boss and runs everything efficiently and effectively, it’s generally very positive and comes up with the right solutions. When we operate from this part of our brain life is pretty good and we find we can cope.
The second part is our subconscious, also known as our primitive and emotional brain and it operates at a very different level. This part has not evolved since primitive man, and its primary concern is to keep us safe. I often refer to this part as our health and safety officer, on the lookout for any sign of danger 24 hours a day and is always on alert. In primitive times it was all about survival and our flight, fight and freeze responses. Imagine if faced with a sabre tooth tiger in those times, there would only have been one of three options to choose from – run away, kill it or be killed – flight, fight or freeze. Any of these options would have been over very quickly and if we were still alive to tell the tale, our stress levels would return to normal and life would go on until the next threat of danger. It was a stressful and dangerous world back then, with the risk of death never far away, and it was our early warning system. We would have died out as a species very quickly without it.
As this part has not evolved since primitive times we still have the same reaction to a stressful situation as if we were being faced with a sabre tooth tiger, whether it be opening a bill we can’t afford to pay, having had an argument with our partner or realising we may lose our job. Simple things like being stressed on our commute to work, rushing to meet a deadline, trying to get everyone out of the house on time for school can cause the same feelings. It’s almost like we are having a constant battle with life. We live in a non-stop world and we now find ourselves faced with the constant stresses and pressures of juggling work, relationships, families and finances that take up more and more of our time and mental resources. Our instincts can perceive this as a constant threat and we can find ourselves operating from our primitive emotional brain on a day to day basis, feeling unable to cope, feeling overwhelmed and often in a downward spiral of despair.
Our instinctive reaction may be to run away from the situation and not face it (flight) or to get angry and deal with it with a torrent of emotion (fight) or to become anxious, overwhelmed and panic (freeze). We lose any intellectual control and logic that we normally have, and the primitive brain instinctively takes over. It is how we are programmed to react.
When we are in this state we produce a rush of cortisol and noradrenalin, the stress hormones. It makes us our heart beat quicker, we go hot and sweaty, our muscles contract, our stomachs churn and digestion switches off. In the short term this is effective and very useful and good for us, but it becomes problematic if activated long-term with no let up. High levels of constant stress can eventually lead to depression, weight gain, it can higher the risk of stroke and heart disease, it can lead to IBS, insomnia, fertility issues, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
BOOK A THERAPY
Make an appointment with Calmer Thoughts today. Your first inital consultation is always free and you will recieve an audio CD to help you sleep better.
I look forward to hearing from you.