The Neuroscience of Stress

The Neuroscience of Stress

Today, we’re unraveling the mysteries of stress, worry, and anxiety and how they are all part of our fear response.

Stress, Worry, and Anxiety: A Deeper Understanding

Before we dive into the ways to manage stress, let’s clarify something: stress, worry, and anxiety aren’t the same, but they all dance to the rhythm of our fear response. They’re all part of our fear response, but understanding their differences is key to managing them effectively. Here’s a spoiler: our goal isn’t to eliminate these emotions entirely. Surprising, right? Given how often we hear about the perils of stress and anxiety in the news. In this video, you’ll learn five ways to reduce stress, and what’s fascinating is that these methods, used by our ancestors, still hold immense value today, thanks to the insights from neuroscience.

So, grab a comfy seat and watch the video here:

The Neuroscience of Stress

Now, did you notice what was happening in your body as we watched the person struggling not to fall off the tightrope?  How about when the guy jumped off the balcony of a high building?  Did your palms get sweaty? Did your heart race? Maybe you found yourself looking away or felt the urge to try it yourself. These physical and emotional responses were triggered by your primitive brain in response to perceived danger, releasing chemicals like cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. Stress, my friends, is what’s going on inside our bodies. It’s driven by our most primal brain, the limbic system, and is automatic and instinctual. It happens before our thinking brain, the prefrontal cortex, even has time to register the threat in our environment.

The Fight, Flight, or Freeze Response

Our primitive brain’s response to danger involves the “fight, flight, or freeze” reaction, orchestrated by the sympathetic nervous system. It was designed to save our lives when we lived in a world where hesitating meant becoming a saber-toothed tiger’s lunch. In this system, speed is key – it acts before we think. This quick response can sometimes be inaccurate, leading to startled reactions when we encounter the unexpected, like someone sneaking up on us or strange noises in the night.

The Role of Acute Stress

Acute stress, the kind that occurs in response to immediate threats, serves a vital function. It mobilizes energy, readies our muscles, and sharpens our focus on the danger. It’s the body’s way of saying, “Act fast or face the consequences.” In essence, acute stress helped us survive in a dangerous world.

The Chronic Stress Conundrum

In the modern world, our bodies often feel under constant threat, thanks to the pressures at home and work. This near-constant activation of our threat detection system contributes to chronic stress, which, unlike acute stress, can be harmful. Chronic stress is a major factor in conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, autoimmune diseases, depression, and poor mental health. It exhausts our energy and disrupts our sleep. So acute stress helps us survive by telling us when we are in danger like when we walk too close to the edge of a cliff. Chronic stress is harmful to us and can damage our physical and mental health. 


Embracing Stress Management

While it’s impossible to eliminate stress entirely, our goal is to learn how to tolerate it better. Neuroscience reveals what our ancestors instinctively did to bring their bodies back into balance after encountering stress. In my next blog post, we’ll delve into the five strategies they used, strategies that remain highly relevant and effective in today’s world.