It’s nice to think that our brains are always on our sides and that when we need them to thinking clearly and logically the most, they’ll be there for us. However, this isn’t always the case; the brain is hardwired to protect the body, and in today’s world, this can sometimes get the best of us. Consider how the amygdala part of your brain responds to threats, for example.
The amygdala controls the fight or flight response when a threat is present, a feature that was pretty important for our ancestors, who were battling predators and dangerous terrain and conditions. Today, though, our poor brains aren’t able to distinguish between real and perceived threats. What’s more, most threats we face today are stressors, not actual threats to our safety and wellbeing. Here’s how it works:
- A threat is perceived;
- The nervous system tells the body to be on alert;
- The adrenal cortex releases hormones (like adrenaline and cortisol);
- Your heart starts to beat harder, your breathing becomes more rapid, and your muscles get more blood.
This response is automatic. And it’s not all that happens. In the midst of that whole process, your amygdala tells your hypothalamus that you’re distressed, and this overrides the normal way that your brain handles incoming information. As such, you may deal with a stressful situation by:
- avoiding it;
- telling yourself you aren’t capable of handling it;
- convincing yourself of failure;
- becoming very emotional;
- perceiving a situation in a completely distorted manner (i.e. thinking someone is targeting you because of something they say or do).
Fight or flight can be lifesaving, and help you to deal with acutely stressful situations. But be careful about chronic stress – those hormones can take a huge toll on your health, even preventing the growth of new brain cells and increasing your risk of disease!
How do you tend to deal with stress? Maybe something to keep in mind this holiday season!
Have a great holiday, everyone! We’ll be back posting on the 26th!
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