The Stress Response

The Stress Response

A combination of things happen in reaction to stress, known as the fight/flight/depression response. This has evolved as a survival mechanism enabling us to react quickly to life threatening situations and would have been essential to our survival on a daily basis in primitive times. The brain has evolved in an additive fashion - as we evolved we gained more brain function, but we did not upgrade and lose the bits which became redundant. This means that the original 'repitilian' part (the primitive brain) is still very much present in our modern lives. This leads to a confusion, as our lives have certainly changed beyond recognition and we rarely need the extra strength to fight off wild animals when out shopping.

The stress response is a carefully orchestrated almost instantaneous sequence of hormonal and physiological responses which will allow us to either find the strength to fight or the speed to flee. In modern life there are far fewer life threatening situations than in prehistoric days but our brain still applies this response to an overload of stress (meetings, public speaking, relationships, work etc). 


When a life threatening or perceived life threatening situation is encountered the amygdala steps in, it interprets the information and sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. At this point all energy is concentrated in this primitive part of the brain and we lose intellectual control. The intellect is just too slow in a dangerous situation to be of immediate use. The hypothalamus communicates with the rest of the body through the autonomic nervous system, this includes the sympathetic and para sympathetic nervous system. The former will increase blood pressure, breathing, heartbeat and dilate bloodways priming us to fight or flee and the latter will put the brakes on and calm the body down when the perception of danger has passed.


When we suffer from anxiety disorders the stress response is regularly firing in non-life threatening situations and hypnotherapy works to put the brakes on and turn things around. First we need to lower the emotional arousal and the regular practice of relaxation will help. Once we understand that our brain is only trying to keep us alive and is following patterns of behaviour which to a certain point have worked, we are alive after all, perhaps not very happily, we can see how we can change things. We need to practice staying calm and in control, so keeping out of the primitive part of the brain. The practice of positive thinking will lower the levels of stress and so reduce the unnecessary firing of the stress response as they become better able to cope with the situations of life. Using guided imagery and hypnosis can then allow the brain to focus on the changes we ant to make at a fundamental level and end this negative cycle and allow us to live a happier life.

Humans need rewards to feel good, we need a steady flow of hormones like serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline. When we make a steady flow of these chemicals we can cope with any situation life throws at us. What can we do to make sure we get these rewards? We need to think positively, we need to interact positively and we need to be active positively. Sounds easy? So we need to take sometime each day to notice the good things. We need to make sure we take time to converse with our friends and family, be it light hearted or more serious, and we need to exercise. Primitive man had to work physically very hard to feed himself and in our modern life the furthest most of us go is to the supermarket and the fridge door. Fitting in 3 lots of exercise a week can really boost your well being on all levels.

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