Is This Really Just Stress?
Could This Really Be Just From Stress?
My palms are clammy. I can feel the pounding of my heart in my throat. My eyes are scanning for the next threat that is coming for me…because there is something coming for me; my brain keeps telling me. I swear, if one more person tells me to “relax” or, heaven forbid, “just let it go”, I’m going to go into mama bear mode and, respectfully, rip them to shreds.
Does this sound familiar to you? Uncontrollable anger? Irrational irritability? Lashing out or over-reacting to simple things? The desire to transform into a bear and disappear into the wilderness or go human hunting? (Ok, the last one is just me personally.) Could this really be JUST chronic stress? We know that chronic stress is bad for us. We’re constantly being told that chronic stress can lead to:
- High blood pressure
- Accelerated heart rate
- Increase risk for diabetes
- Cycles of weight loss/ gain
- Decreased libido
- Difficulties with reproduction
- Gastro-Intestinal stress
- Chronic fatigue
And the list simply GOES ON! This doesn’t motivate me – it infuriates me. I feel like a caged animal and, despite my desire to be a bear, I’m not a wild animal. Every time I try to address my stress, I simply get depressed, angry, MORE STRESSED and lose hope. Until Now!
Let’s discuss what’s causing these feelings of hopelessness, anti-social behaviors, irrational irritability, inability to think or make decisions quickly and feeling out of control. Hopefully, understanding what’s happening will help give us a sense of control.
First, some nerdy brain basics:
- Everyone experiences stress. Some stress is beneficial, but chronic stress releases a hormone called Cortisol and this is bad!
- The hippocampus’ primary function is for storing memory and learning.
- The Amygdala is responsible for processing emotions, detecting fear, and preparing for emergencies (think fight-or-flight response).
- The brain communicates with other sections of itself through axons and neurons. Think of lots of electrical circuits that “zap” info from one area to another area (really, really fast).
Ok, now let’s tackle this figurative mama bear feeling. We most often come across bears when they are actually in their fight or flight phase. We’ve stumbled across them without giving them any warning (STRESSOR) so they either ‘Black Bear-it; run away’ (FLIGHT!) or ‘Grizzly Bear-it’ (FIGHT!) They are not willing to listen or rationalize with us. Chances are they don’t want to hang out with friends to calm down. They are grouchy, protective, and pretty darn terrifying! Their whole body is saying “FIGHT!” or “FLIGHT!” Sound similar to what happens to you when you’re struggling with stress? Why is our brain telling us to act like a mama bear when we’re in the safety of our office, car, house, etc.
When we have high levels of cortisol in our system, the following can happen:
- Brain connections are literally cut! This makes you less sociable, avoid interactions with people, and impaired memory and understanding.
- Repressed expression of several genes responsible for forming connections between brain cells causing our brain mass and volume decreases!
- Increased size of amygdala making the brain more receptive to stress.
- Hardening of wires/connection between hippocampus and amygdala making us more sensitive to stress.
- Entrance of toxins into the brain.
- Brain cells die and do not regenerate themselves.
- Decreased serotonin, which is responsible for feelings of well-being and happiness, and dopamine, which is responsible from motivation and reinforcement.
- Brain inflammation
The above effects of high cortisol are the driving force of cognitive struggles. There is nothing wrong with you or me, our brain is just stuck in mama bear mode. So, when we feel overwhelmed, it’s ok, our brain has gotten a bit stuck in stress mode and we need to take a breath. Ok, realistically, take like 30 breaths. We are in control.
Fact: Stress can make your digestive system go haywire, causing diarrhea, stomach upset, and excessive urination.
Awareness Challenge this week: Start with one new practice this week to help the body manage stress, whether that be through carving out 15 minutes in your day to go take a walk outside and breathe deep, eating a health breakfast (ideas here), or getting an extra hour of sleep to help recover from high stress hormones. For more ideas stay tune to for part 2 on how to rewire the brain coming June 4th.
Tune in next time; we’ll discuss the benefits of tea and how it can even help reduce your stress!
In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about living a healthier lifestyle, reach out to us for our professional guidance and support. Give us a call!
The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.
Blog Photo Credit: Thrive Global
Cover Photo Credit: www.deccanchronicle.com
Stress Blog Sites: