Stress is the way our bodies and minds react to something which upsets our normal balance in life. Stress refers to how we feel, and how our bodies respond when we are anxious or fearful. A certain amount of stress can have some positive effects on the mind and body, allowing us to respond in a positive manner. Stress can be both detrimental to our bodies and affect our performance. What is too much stress? It all depends on how you respond.
To be able to manage anxiety effectively, it is important to understand how your brain reacts to stimuli that trigger anxiety.
Let me first highlight the areas of your brain where they are most involved. Then I will go into the details about what happens inside the brain.
The Thalamus serves as the central hub for sounds and sights. The thalamus is responsible for converting visual cues into size, shape, colour and audio cues. It also signals the cortex by volume and dissonance.
The cortex gives you raw sounds and sights meaning that you can be aware of what you see and hear. The prefrontal cortex plays a vital role in turning off anxiety after a threat has passed.
The amygdala, which is the emotional center of the brain, is responsible for triggering the fear response. The emotional significance of information passing through the amygdala can be found in its associated data.
An interesting aspect of anxiety is the bed nucleus. The amygdala triggers an immediate fear response while the BNST perpetuates that fear response and causes anxiety-like symptoms.
The amygdala sends signals to the locus ceruleus, which initiates the classic anxiety response, including rapid heartbeat, increased blood pressure and sweating, and pupil dilation.
The hippocampus, which is also your memory center, stores raw information from the senses and emotional baggage. It’s connected to the amygdala.
These are the key components. Now, let’s see what happens when we feel anxious, stressed, or afraid.
Fear, anxiety, and stress are all triggered by your senses.
The thalamus processes sight and sound first, filtering out incoming cues before sending them to the amygdala and cortex.
Touch and smells go straight to the amygdala without the need for the thalamus. This is why strong memories and feelings are often evoked by smells.
Any cues you receive from your incoming senses, whether they are real or not, that are associated in some way with a threat to the amygdala are processed immediately to activate the fear response. This is the expressway. This happens before you even feel the fear.
The adrenal glands produce high levels of coritsol due to the pituitary and hippothalmus. The hippocampus cells are damaged by too much stress hormone coritsol, which can cause memory problems. Memories lose their context and fragment.
The sympathetic nervous system of the body goes into overdrive, causing the heart rate to increase, blood pressure to rise, and hyperventilation in the lungs. Goosebumps can be caused by increased sweating and tingling sensations in the skin’s nerve endings.
As you take in every detail, your senses are hyper-alert and freeze you. Your muscles are prepared to fight or flee when adrenaline floods.
The brain shifts its focus from digestion to potential dangers. Sometimes, this can lead to the evacuation of the digestive system through urination and defecation. You don’t even have to digest your food if it is being eaten with someone else’s meal.
Only after the fear response is activated, does the conscious mind kick in. Some sensory information takes a more thoughtful route to the cortex from the thalamus. The cortex determines whether the sensory information is worthy of a fear response. If there is a real threat in time and space, the cortex will signal the amygdala that it should continue to be alert.
Fear is an essential survival response. Anxiety is the fear of something that cannot easily be found in time and space.
It is usually an indefinable feeling that is triggered by something you feel. This is often not threatening, but it is associated to a fearful memory. The fear response is perpetuated by the stria terminals’ bed nucleus. Anxiety can be a fear response that causes anxiety. Anxiety can cause severe anxiety and even depression.
Once you understand how anxiety works in your brain, it is possible to pay attention to the ways we can use our pre-frontal cortex to stop an unintentional anxiety response after a threat has passed.
Background music: My Elegant Redemption by Tim McMorris 4
You should also read Lisa Feldman Barret’s book on How Emotions are Made. This new research challenges the claims I made in the video.
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