The response of your brain and stress

In times of stress, we often feel that we "lose" it. We can feel that we consume paralyzing stress. At this point, our brains often can no longer experience the functioning of the upper executive brain regions, and this leads to periods where the brain goes "empty", as during a long examination.

What is anxiety?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety is "the response of the brain to any demand". This definition shows that anxiety is normal and necessary and not necessarily harmful. It is harmful when it is excessive. Excessive pressure is toxic stress.

The prefrontal cortex

The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that serves as a control center for our emotions, keeping our nature under control. In extremely stressful situations, the brain sends chemicals away from the prefrontal cortex to the hypothalamus, which manages the stressful feelings.

The pre-frontal cortex is sensitive to stress. This area of ​​the brain does not reach full maturity until the teen years. Home page for neural circuits for abstract thinking, is also responsible for gathering and helps us stay at work while we store information in our work memory.

When no pressure is applied, the neurons in the prefrontal cortex executive center work smoothly and help us solve problems and think calmly. When anxiety strikes, our brains are flooded with norepinephrine and dopamine, which are exciting chemicals. They tell the prefrontal cortex to stop the release of neurons.

Stress hormones

At the same time, adrenal glands tell our body to release stress hormone cortisol, which also invades the prefrontal cortex. In fact, studies show that after exposure to neurotransmitters or stress hormones, the neurons in the prefrontal cortex disconnect and stop firing.

Studies have shown that when a person is exposed to excessive periods of excessive anxiety, the regions of the brain involved with continuous etiology begin to flop, the dendrites in the tonsil are grown and those in the prefrontal cortex are shrinking. In fact, it has been found that when a person is exposed to an extended level of anxiety, the pre-frontal gray matter shrinks.

High levels of cortisol reduce the ability of the brain to function properly. In addition, excessive levels of increased stress can destroy brain cells, even leading to a reduction in brain size.

High levels of cortisol reduce the ability of the brain to function properly. In addition, excessive levels of increased stress can destroy brain cells, even leading to a reduction in brain size.

Scientists hope to use what they learn about the brain's response to anxiety and what makes it degenerate from reflex to reflex. Current research can lead to effective stress therapies.

Things that cause stress

Childhood anxiety factors include exposure to violence, mistreatment of all types, neglect and conflict of divorce / relationship parents. The effects of these stressors affect dysfunction, provocative behaviors, poor school performance, anxiety, depression, avoidance of intimacy, and disturbance of attachment.

Exposure to chronic anxiety in childhood leads to lifelong neurobiological disorders that lead to long-term issues such as mood disorders, anxiety, immune dysfunctions, medical issues, structural changes in the brain, and reduced age of death.

Adult anxiety factors tend to be caused mainly by the same childhood experiences and their consequences over time, including major medical issues. Over time, adults with anxiety have often resorted to unhealthy treatment mechanisms, which can also help increase stress. These include substance abuse, hazardous living environments and other unhealthy lifestyle choices.

Managing stress

Currently, the best methods for stress management include relaxation exercises, deep breathing, meditation and medication.

When we are in a stressful state, we can learn to help ourselves at this time using cognitive strategies. These include the above suggestions as well as:

  • Taking a "schedule" or temporarily walking from a stressful situation.
  • Repeating an internal "mantra" like "All will be ok".
  • Go for a walk or to do some other physical action to get out of your body.
  • Using attention, such as focusing on something that uses your senses. You can look for everything in your environment that is a specific color, alert sounds or something else.
  • Using a mental activity like registering one to one thing you are grateful for, starting with each letter of the alphabet.

Pharmaceutical companies are testing the drugs prazosin and guanatine, which are now used for other purposes, to see if they can help keep the mind functioning well during stressful experiences.

Treatment of chronic stress

It is important to realize that stressful events are stored differently in our brains by non-stressful events. Most episodic memories are stored in the left hemisphere of our brain, which can be recalled and examined cognitively. Stressful events are stored in our brain's right hemisphere and feel visceral. Treatment from traumatic memories requires a more extensive approach to healing than the simple application of coping skills.

With chronic stress caused by extensive exposure to traumatic events, it is often helpful to meet a therapist. The best types of healing of post-traumatic stress include physical / experiential interventions such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) and other types of bilateral stimulation methods.

I would also like to mention the treatment of the ego-state as a powerful tool for the treatment of childhood injury. All of these methods together can allow people struggling with long-term stress to finally find relief and put painful memories into bed.

Bibliographical references:

  1. Arnsen, A., Mazure, C., & Sinha, R. (2012). This is your brain in the collapse. Scientific American, 4(306), 48-53. Retrieved from
  2. Bernstein, R. (2016, 26 July). Mind and Mental Health: How Stress Affects the Brain. Retrieved from
  3. Fox, H. & Sinha, R. (2014). The role of guanatine as a therapeutic agent for the treatment of stress-related pathophysiology in cocaine-dependent individuals. Advances in Pharmacology, 69, 217-265. doi: 10.1016 / B978-0-12-420118-7.00006-8
  4. Paulsen, S. (2017). When there are no words: Early wound repair and neglect from the EMDR therapy session. Bainbridge Island, WA: An Institute for Integrated Psychology, Bainbridge.
  5. Schneiderman, N., Ironson, G., & Siegel, S.D. (2005). Stress and health: Psychological, behavioral and biological determinants. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 1, 607-628. doi: 10.1146 / annurev.clinpsy.1.102803.144141

© Copyright 2018 All rights reserved. Publishing permission is granted by Sharie Stines, PsyD, a therapist at La Mirada, California

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