The Stress Response Part 1
As human beings, we have aspects of our experience we can control, and many that are automatic. We are hardwired for stress response at a perceived threat, to breathe without having to think about it, to process food and remove toxins from our bodies, to age, to fight infection, and ultimately, to die.
One thing we are hardwired to do is automatically react to a perceived threat. Within seconds hundreds of hormones prepare us to fight, flee, freeze, or faint. This stress response was useful when there were actual physical threats. Regretfully in modern life, emotional and social threats lead to the same result, sometimes with debilitating long-term effects.
For example, when you have a car accident (the actual event and threat) your stress response will probably be flushing, tingling, rapid breathing, narrow focus, hand clenching, and fear. Afterward, you may feel fearful of getting into a car again, or going to that area of town. You tend to forget the hundreds of times you were in a car and nothing happened, and now act as if every time you get into a car there will be an accident. Because we are hardwired for a stress response to a perceived threat, that fear can become the default.
The more we experience this fear of a future event, and act as if it is imminent, the more our brain and body will stay in chronic stress survival mode instead of growth and relaxation.
This happens with stressors of many kinds if we cannot face the fear and instead limit our lives in order to avoid the stressful, feared place/people/event. Wanting to avoid fear traps us. Let’s face it – fear is a very uncomfortable feeling, especially since at its extreme range are terror, panic attacks, and shock.
To further complicate things, humans don’t just react to physical threats, we also react to threats to our self-worth, pride, tribe, loved ones, beliefs, and values.
No wonder our lives are stressed!
See the Stress Response Part 2 next week on Stress and our Body.