In the modern world, where we live in a way that we were not necessarily designed to do, the figures of chronic stress are high, with marginalised groups particularly affected (Kandola and Sharon, 2022).
So, what causes Stress? When your senses pick up on a stressful event, whatever that may be (work, a car horn beeping), the information is sent to an area in the brain which interprets this stimuli. This area, our Amygdala, “panic button”, (or fire and safety officer) is responsible for our fight, flight or freeze response.
Mother nature is rarely random, so, the evolutionary benefit of this? Stress relates to our primitive past, as an adaptive survival response – for instance when there was danger and we were not able to go out to hunt.
We still have this primitive area of the brain and this response still takes place for non-life-threatening stressors (such as a traffic jam!). So even perceived danger may lead to the modern-day symptoms of Depression i.e., staying in bed all day (freeze), Anxiety i.e., worrying (flight) or Anger i.e., shouting (fight).
If our Amygdala perceives danger then it sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus (your brains coordination system / internal pharmacist) will then communicate with your autonomic nervous system.
When general stress levels are higher, and your Amygdala is on high alert, it is also more likely that a fear response will be created following an event, storing within our Hippocampus (the brains librarian). This process can explain phobia and trauma responses as the brain has pattern matched certain stimuli as ‘danger’.
The glands will respond by releasing the hormone Epinephrine (Adrenaline) into the bloodstream, which can produce rapid physiological changes such as sweating, loss of bowel control, increased heart rate. If we continue to perceive something as dangerous then Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone (CRH) is released, traveling to the pituitary gland (HPA axis), which triggers Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH) aka the Stress Hormone.
What else do you need to know?
When the threat is no longer evident, then Cortisol levels will fall and our Parasympathetic Nervous System will lower our stress response i.e., decreased heart rate, slowing of the gastrointestinal system.
Workman (2016) highlights the work of Dr Don Clifton in the early 1950’s, with the metaphor of how we deal with stress being referred to as ‘the stress bucket’. Some ‘stress’ within our brain is healthy, so when dealt with appropriately we perform the tasks we need to survive: such as eat, wash and go outside! During the day we might add stress into the bucket, such as if we miss our train and are late for work, then we realise we lose our keys! As the mind cannot tell the difference between imagined and reality, even purely THINKING about this, increases our stress levels further.
Stress and Chronic stress can present in many ways not only mentally, psychologically and memory related – but physically, including triggering various diseases. Neural networks in the brain, particularly in the pre frontal cortex (performs complex functions including planning and contains our personality, or the bit you know as ‘you’), evidenced via brain imaging – can actually reduce in size (Mariotti, 2015)
So, what can you do about it?
As I am sure you are already aware, Stress Management is incredibly needed! A highly effective method, includes refocusing your thoughts on solutions, as well as focusing on the positives in life. In Solution Focused Hypnotherapy we talk about Positive actions i.e. planting a flower, Positive thoughts i.e. I am grateful for, and Positive interactions i.e. spending time with family (The 3 P’s).
The 3 P’s release chemicals such as Serotonin aka the happiness hormone. Clients I work with write a positive diary each evening before they go to bed, to help re focus their mind on the positive in their life.
Overall stress reduction and bucket emptying takes place throughout the course of client sessions, working on your own individual goals – whether this is more meditation, more movement, thinking more positively. The way Solution Focused therapists work via specialist language and positive reinforcement aides pre frontal cortex control!
Our mind can also empty our stress bucket when we sleep, during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) via the process of dreaming. If we get a full and good night’s sleep then we are more likely to awaken with our stress bucket empty, allowing us to be better equipped to take on the day effectively. In Anxiety clients for instance, they may wake early in the morning to limit the exhaustion caused by the immense amount of REM required (Griffin and Tyrrell, 2006). A personalised relaxation audio is given to clients to listen to before bed, to aid sleep and promotion of positive neural network activity. Please just get in touch for my own Stress Management recording.
I am passionate as a practitioner in helping facilitate stress reduction, in order for us to lead happier and more fulfilled lives. I help you become more aware of the situation and assist with the skills you can implement to cope with inevitable stress, feel more relaxed and be more you again.
Please click HERE to book in for a free no obligation discovery call via zoom, if you would like to find out more about how I can help you,
Clifton Practice Hypnotherapy Training Diploma Course Notes
Harvard Health Publishing (2022). Understanding the Stress Response https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response – accessed 28/2/22.
Kandola, A., & Sharon, A. (2022) What is Chronic Stress and what are its common health impacts, Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323324
Mariotti, A. (2015). The effects of chronic stress on health: new insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain-body communication, Future Science, 1(3).
Ratey, J (2001) A Users Guide to the Brain. Pantheon Books: New York.
Workman, A. (2016) Cavemen & Polar Bears: A proven strategy for management of your mood and mindset. Mellifera Publishing: Bristol.
Yapco, M (2006) Hypnosis in Treating Depression: Applications in Clinical Practice. Routledge: New York.