You may know it simply as “fight or flight, but in this article we breakdown the stress cycle for the last time. I’ll explain what's happening in the mind and body during moments of heightened stress, and the long term effects stress has on our bodies. To cap it off I leave you with my best tips to beat stress for good.
What is the stress response?
One of the most alarming symptoms of CPTSD is unexpected and persistent anxiety. It can be inexplicable but undeniable. One second you were fine and the next you find yourself with an urge to react in ways completely inappropriate for the situation.
You may have an impulse to lash out at someone’s insensitive comment or feel the need to excuse yourself during a heated debate. These overwhelming reactions to stress only lead to more anxious thoughts.
Over the top reactions to trivial matters can be easily understood by examining the root cause of the issue. These reactions are present day manifestations of an ancient biological survival mechanism called the stress response. The stress response is our bodies emergency reaction system. When alarmed, the process of stress is set into motion.
Triggered: In the blink of an eye
On average, we can detect the micro expressions of another person within milliseconds. That's fast - the stress response is faster. Our brains and bodies begin the stress process before the visual centers of our brains' have even noticed a change in our environment. The following is how this happens in s l o w m o t i o n .
The Mind's Process
How our brains' communicate
The unprocessed information from the eyes and ears is sent to the part of our brain, which controls emotional processing called the amygdala.
The emotionally disturbed amygdala freaks out and calls on the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is the part of the brain responsible for our automatic physiological cycles responses. Such as sleep, appetite, and releasing hormones.
The hypothalamus receives the distress signal and calls on the autonomic nervous system to fire up the adrenal glands.
The adrenal glands release adrenaline into the bloodstream.
As the adrenaline courses through our veins we instantly have an excessive amount of energy to either fight for our lives or flee from the dangerous situation.
Before we move on, can we take a moment and admit to ourselves (most of the time) it’s never that serious.
The Body's Process
Once the Autonomic Nervous System is ignited all systems are a go. The body is at the mercy of the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. Subsystems of the Autonomic Nervous System, if you will (layman's terms people, layman's terms), they control very specific bodily functions during and after a stress response.
During a Stress Response
The sympathetic nervous system initiates the response by communicating danger to the adrenal glands, which causes the hormonal release of adrenaline.
Hyperventilation - The breath rate increases and the small pathways in the lung expand. Increasing lung capacity allows for the maximum amount of oxygen to reach the brain with each breath.
Heightened Awareness- the increase of oxygen in the brain heightens our senses. Making us alert and attuned to our environment.
Rapid Heartbeat- Blood is rushed into to the heart, muscles, and other vital organs.
Increased Blood Pressure- Due to the sheer force of blood flow pushing against the blood vessels.
Energy Distribution- Blood sugar (glucose) and fats are released into the bloodstream, providing the energy needed to take action to all parts of the body.
After a Stress Response
The second division of the autonomic nervous system , called the parasympathetic nervous system, helps restore the body's balance after the perceived threat has passed. Also known as the “rest and digest” system, it conserves the body’s energy by working to reverse the adverse effects caused by stress.
Normal Heartbeat- The heart rate slows until stable
Decrease in Blood Pressure- With less blood circulating, blood pressure begins to drop
Reestablishes Intestinal and Gland Activity - Such as digestion, and normal urination and defecation cycles
Long Term Effects
If the brain continues to perceive danger, the hypothalamus releases another set of signals which result in the adrenal glands prompting the release of cortisol.
Increased cortisol levels over time may result in the development of an anxiety disorder which is not uncommon in people who suffer from CPTSD.
Breaking the stress cycle is so important to solving persistent issues with anxiety. The first step is identifying your triggers. Understanding your triggers provides valuable information which can help you minimize the negative effects they have on you significantly.
Breaking the Stress Cycle: Tools
You can download my CPTSD Toolkit here. It includes the simplest yet most effective coping strategies I've used to overcome stressful life situations. When I'm stressed, I want the basics and I want them to work. If that sounds like you pick up a copy.
One of the best books I've read on this topic is Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. This book is geared toward women, and the way they go about disseminating the information can be triggering to some. However, if you are able to compartmentalize your political opinions to gain scientific insights on the stress cycle, buy the book. You can read my review here.
I'm always looking for new ways to conquer my challenges and make them call me mom, so check the Selene's Reads bookish blog often to see what I find. I post there every Thursday.
That's all for now. These resources should be all you need to get a handle on any stressful situations bothering you to date. As always, please remember to share this post and leave a comment so I know how to help you best.
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