We all know stress. We have all experienced stress. Stress can and does affect our daily lives, as well as our mental and physical health. Everyone copes differently with worries, anxiety and problems, but we all experience the same physical reaction when we get wound up - but have you ever thought about why? And what's actually happening in your brain when things get a bit too much?
The science bit
When our brain encounters stimuli that it sees as a threat (whether real or imagined), our anxiety goes up, we lose control of our intellectual, rational mind (the pre-frontal cortex) and our instinctive limbic system takes over. In the free initial consultation I offer before treating any client, we use the example of a polar bear to illustrate this. So, when we encounter a grizzly, man-eating polar bear, our brain recognises the danger and reacts accordingly. A signal is sent within the limbic system to the amygdala (or fight/flight area), which refers to the hippocampus to see how we usually react to threat – in this case, with anxiety – and commands the hypothalamus to release the correct hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. This causes the heart rate to increase, the mouth to go dry, the stomach to churn and the palms to go sweaty and we flee – which are all classic stress responses.
We don't always react in exactly the same way, however. The amygdala is known as the 'flight, fight or freeze' part of the brain for precisely that reason; it will react by either running away, gearing up for attack or perhaps just freezing to the spot. It's important to remember that in some circumstances the freeze response would be the wisest - for example, if you were to encounter a bear or if you were trying to avoid detection.
Whichever reaction our amygdala chooses, the stress response we exhibit nowadays relates directly to our primitive past but has been adapted to modern day life. This is because the limbic system (or primitive mind) has not evolved since then; the intellectual mind, or cerebellum, has evolved around it as we as humans have evolved. This primitive part of the brain is still vigilant, obsessional and negative – as it would have been in neanderthal times - and it has to be, to protect us from possible predators, as was the case all those years ago. The limbic system knew that it was wise not to rest or switch off completely, because danger lurked around every corner and we never knew when we would need our amygdala to respond.
Is your bucket overflowing?
Within Solution Focused hypnotherapy treatment, we use the metaphor of a 'stress bucket'. When we have a negative thought, it converts into anxiety and adds to your stress bucket and, as it gets fuller we find our anxiety levels rising and our coping ability disappearing. This can affect everything; our mood, thoughts, our willingness to socialise, our memory, concentration, energy levels, motivation, the list goes on. We find we are short-tempered and can be irritable with people around us - especially those we are closest to.
When our stress bucket levels are lower, we are less likely to react with an unnecessary stress response, as we operate more from our intellectual, logical brain. When our stress buckets are overflowing and we are operating mainly from the primitive emotional limbic system, we may respond instead with an overreaction and/or exaggerated stress response. This is often when we begin to feel overwhelmed and the littlest things can set us off.
So what can we do about it?
We need to lower the levels in our stress bucket and keep them low. We can do this by not piling so much in there in the first place - positive thinking does wonders for this - and also by emptying our stress buckets to a manageable level.
We naturally empty our stress buckets during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep cycle. During this sleep, we process the events of the day, changing the contents of our stress bucket from emotional memories to emotionless narrative memories and removing them. But this may not be enough if your stress bucket is too full or overflowing. Hypnotherapy trance replicates the REM sleep process and, as such, lowers the levels of the stress bucket, helping us to cope better with any anxiety or problems in our lives. We can also learn coping mechanisms and techniques, so that when we do encounter a threat equivalent to that hypothetical polar bear, our stress response won’t be as extreme as previously experienced. These can be varied and as easy as you want to make them - a good breathing exercise, for example could mean the difference between a panic attack and remaining calm.
If you feel that your stress bucket is too full and needs emptying, or you find yourself reacting with an exaggerated response, why not drop us a line here to see if we can help. You might be surprised at the changes you can make in your life!
For more information about how hypnotherapy could help you, or to book a free consultation, contact us via our site or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org now.