Decoding the Stress Cycle

Stress, a natural reaction that has been with us since the evolution fo the species. If this reaction once proved to be extremely important for the survival of the species, is is now also known as “the silent killer“.

What is stress?

We all react to what is going on around us. Our senses help us to detect everything that happens. In the early days of the species, this analysis could be the difference between taking food to the table or being the food in some predator’s “table”.

When we hear, see, feel, smell or taste something, sensory information is transmitted to the thalamus, which in turn will have the functionality of distributing the information to the appropriate areas of the brain. In this distribution, some information is passed to the neocortex and to the amygdala.

Faced with a “life or death” situation, the amygdala reacts much faster than any logical and rational analysis that the neocortex does. The amygdala will promote the release of adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormones), resulting in an increase of the heart rate, an increase of the blood pressure and a fantastic boost of energy. This situation was called “fight or flight” moment. Our ancestors would be ready to flee the predator or to fight for their life. And, in a good way, we can say that it saved many lives.

In 1995, psychologist Daniel Goleman introduced the concept of “emotional hijacking” (“amygdala hijacking”) to refer to this procedure.

When an emotional hijacking occurs, we have a reaction to the emotion. The reaction will generate a behavior, which in most cases is not appropriate for the real situation. And we enter a snowball effect.

Nowadays, we still have this mechanism very present in our DNA, but the current “life and death” situations, in societies of the so-called First World, are mostly symbolic.

I use the word “symbolic” with some freedom, but perhaps the most certain thing would be to replace the word “death” with “security”.

At this point it is important for you to stop reading, and to ponder a little about this issue. Do you find any situations in your life where this has happened? Both in family and professional life? I invite you to write down those examples on paper.

Let me help you with some examples: some hard deadline at work; a crucial conversation with a boss; a much needed sale; the expectation of a child’s academic performance; and we could go on for a while with this list…

And, most of the time, we do not realize this. We are too focused on the reaction, in the so called “autopilot”.

Now take notice, if in the long old days this reaction would make the difference to our survival, in nowadays it occurs too many times over the same day, without any physical threat whatsoever. Having a high heart rate, high blood pressure and be always in “high gear”, only makes us move faster towards a decline on our physical and mental health.

That is why stress is also known by the name of “the silent killer”!

How to avoid stress?

I do not know how to answer that question. Stressful moments are part of our everyday since ever.

I believe there is a much more interesting question – “how do you cope with stress?”

Since it is not possible to avoid stress, it is possible to break the chain that leads us to the snowball effect. It means that it is possible to take charge before the “emotional hijacking” occurs. But for that to happen it is necessary to be present and attentive to the indications that our body provides us.

Im positive sure that when you are about to have a peak of stress, some change in your physiology occurs.

Practices like Mindfulness and or Meditation help a lot in this process of becoming self-aware of what is happening to you.

In my personal experience, I immediately feel an extreme contraction in the trapezoids and rhomboids. That’s my cue. I can now choose to break the stress cycle. I have the chance to perform some physical activity that helps me to lower the levels of cortisol and adrenaline, I have the chance to assign a different meaning to the situation, …

Give it a try, take the lead of the situation!

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