Phew, now that's out of the way -
What exactly is going on?
Well, in all likelyhood you're a tad stressed out & you just haven't quite realised it yet.
Or more likely, you realised ages ago but life is just far too complicated for you to do anything about it.
I mean, a weeks spar break just so you can recoup and relax, that's just selfish right?
Especially, as you've got to deal with your job, your family, your friends, the never ending housework...
I'm here to tell you that in reality, that weeks spa break may just be what the Dr ordered to get you back up and running again.
You see, when we're stressed out (whether we choose to ignore it or not) our brains and bodies are constantly reacting.
Much like breathing, your brain & body go into autopilot.
There is an automatic stress response which happens without you even needing to do a single thing.
The problem is that whats going on is just not always that helpful...
So, what's going on in this automatic stress response?
In a nutshell, something you perceive as 'scary' happens which triggers your brain that then activates your sympathetic nervous system, which then causes hormones to be produced, then glucose & fat become released from stores which triggers your brain (again), so even more hormones are produced... (Harvard Medical School, 2016a).
Because I like things simple I've created a handy diagram as to what happens when & a step-by-step playbook (you can thank me later!).
1. Something you perceive as scary happens to trigger the stress response. This is a super important point. It doesn't have to be something actually, genuinely scary or life threatening to trigger the stress response (although that's what it's designed for). It just needs to be something that your brain thinks is scary.
2. The amygdala region of your brain is triggered. Your amygdala is responsible for controlling the way we react to things emotionally. This can be a new event (experience, situation, person...) or the same event we've already experienced which draws on past experiences (memories) (Woodland, K., 2017a).
3. The amygdala sends a 'distress' signal out to the hypothalamus. Your hypothalamus is very much like the 'command centre' and it is responsible for controlling both your autonomic nervous system (e.g., everything you do without thinking like; breathing, sweating, digesting food...). Your autonomic nervous system is constructed of two further parts; the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is the action part and the parasympathetic nervous system is the chill out & relaxation part (Harvard Medical School, 2016a).
4. The hypothalamus activates the sympathetic nervous system. Your body is now 'firing on all cylinders'. Your sympathetic nervous system connects all your bodies internal organs to the brain by the spinal nerves. When activated these nerves prepares your body for the stress response e.g., increase your heart rate, increase blood flow to the muscles and reduce blood flow to the skin (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2017).
5. Epinephrine is produced and released into your body. Epinephrine is more commonly known as adrenaline and this is the 'go' hormone. When this is flying round your system you have a huge burst of energy. This is the same hormone which enables mums, dads & passer-by's to lift cars and save their kids (Wise, J., 2016).
6. Glucose and fats are released from your temporary stores. Glucose (sugar) is the main energy source for all your muscles and your brain on a daily basis and is converted from carbohydrates into glucose in your liver (Vann, K., 2017) and fat is your bodies stored fuel which is converted into glucose and used (Vanderkooi, J.M., 2012). So, for all those with a slightly larger waistline than is proper... at least it's helpful in an emergency to help you effortlessly throw cars around!
7. The hypothalamus activates the HPA axis which consists of the hypothalamus, pituitary glands and adrenal glands. Together the HPA axis is responsible for keeping the stress response going. If the brain continues to perceive that something scary is happening the hypothalamus then releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH).
7.1 The pituitary glands are responsible for looking after and triggering all the other hormone creating glands e.g., the adrenals, the thyroid, ovaries & testes. The hypothalamus talks to the pituitary glands which then tells the other glands what hormones to release & when (The Pituitary Foundation, 2017).
7.2. The adrenal glands are located at the top of your kidneys and are responsible for your metabolism, ensuring your immune system is working, regulating your blood pressure and your stress response (John Hopkins University).
8. Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) is released and travels to the pituitary gland. This in turn triggers the release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). When there are high levels of ACTH in your body there will be low levels of cortisol & vice versa. If the levels of ACTH become too high this then triggers the release of cortisol to lower the levels of ACTH (Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine).
9. The adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) travels to the adrenal glands which then triggers the release of cortisol. & it's the cortisol needlessly flying around your system which causes so much long term damage...
9.1 Cortisol strengthens connections in your brain to the areas responsible for depression, anxiety & PTSD (Woodland, K. 2017b, Woodland K. 2017d)
9.2 Cortisol cuts away connections in your brain making it hard to think, concentrate or process information (Woodland, K. 2017b)
9.3 Increased levels of cortisol (i.e., being stressed a lot) has been linked to really nasty physical illnesses such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes type 2 (Woodland, K. 2017 c, Woodland K. 2017d)
10. When we're no longer scared the cortisol levels fall and the parasymathetic nervous system kicks in to close down the stress response & get our bodies back up and running as normal again.
Why on earth would our bodies be designed to kill us slowly?
I hear you sister!
The thing is that it's not...
I know right now it kinda feels like that but when the stress response was built into your bodies design all those thousands of years ago it was created to last just 45 seconds... (Woodland K., 2017e).
Please don't hate me.
The stress response is designed to give you that short sharp burst of super humanness so that you can save yourself (or other members of your little ugg tribe) and then once you've got to a safe place it turns off and normal service is resumed.
The problem is - most of us are stuck in a constant stress loop.
& it's usually triggered by things often outside of our immediate control e.g., a rubbish job, evil boss, kids running around like they're possessed...
We just have to suck it up and deal with it.
But, most of us aren't actually dealing with it, we're ignoring it and so the 45 second stress response has gone completely out the window & it's more like a non-stop ball of stress mess.
OK, so why do I keep putting the kettle in the fridge?
Well, the big ball of stress mess is directly responsible for fiddling with how well your brain is functioning.
If you think of it like this:
Meaning you're probably thinking about a million things which your subconscious believes is far more important/valuable than making your cup of tea so that when you try to return the kettle and milk to their rightful homes you inevitably get things muddled up.
So... how do I stop getting things muddled up?
Easy - do you remember that spa break I mentioned right back up at the top of the page?
OK, so for most people reading this I know that really isn't an option so here's ... things you can do to start turning off the perpetual ball of stress mess in your brain so that you can relax, chill out and start to enjoy your life again.
I know this seems really simple, but it will make a huge difference.
Obviously, you also need to pencil in doing something fun, relaxing and enjoyable every week as well so that you can start producing much more serotonin (happy hormone) which will also help to reduce the amount of cortisol flying around.
But, getting everything down on paper is going to stop your STM being clogged up and therefore, stop you putting the kettle in the fridge!
I hope you've enjoyed this post and have found it useful?
I'd love to hear what you thought or if you have any questions so please do leave a comment below & I'll get back to you as soon as I can.
Have a wonderful rest of your day, I'm off for a cup of tea :D
Catch you soon, Katie x
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"Adrenocorticotropic Hormone Test." Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 3rd ed. Retrieved October 2, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/adrenocorticotropic-hormone-test
Encyclopedia Britannica (2017). Autonomic Nervous System. Anatomy. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2, October 2017 from: https://www.britannica.com/science/autonomic-nervous-system#ref254600
Harvard Medical School (2016a) Understanding the stress response: Chronic activation of this survival mechanism impairs health. Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved 2, October 2017 from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response
Harvard Medical School (2016b) Q&A The Impact of Stress. Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved 2, October 2017 from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/q-a-the-impact-of-stress
John Hopkins University (n.d.). Adrenal Glands. John Hopkins University Health Library. Retrieved 2, October 2017, from: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/endocrinology/adrenal_glands_85,p00399
McLeod, Saul. (2009). Short Term Memory. Simply Psychology. Retrieved 2, October 2017 from: https://www.simplypsychology.org/short-term-memory.html
The Pituitary Foundation (2017). What is the Pituitory Gland? The Pituitary Foundation. Retrieved 2, October 2017 from: https://www.pituitary.org.uk/information/what-is-the-pituitary-gland/
Woodland, Katie. (2017a). Anxiety is genetic - or is it? Woodland Psychological Services Ltd. Retrieved 2, October 2017 from: http://www.woodlandpsychologicalservices.com/blog/anxiety-is-genetic-or-is-it
Woodland, Katie. (2017b). How Stress Affects The Brain. Woodland Psychological Services Ltd. Retrieved 2, October 2017 from:http://www.woodlandpsychologicalservices.com/blog/how-stress-affects-the-brain-huffington-post-blog
Woodland, Katie. (2017c). How Much Does Workplace Stress Cost? Woodland Psychological Services Ltd. Retrieved 2, October 2017 from:http://www.woodlandpsychologicalservices.com/blog/how-much-does-workplace-stress-cost
Woodland, Katie. (2017d). Why Stress Is Bad. Woodland Psychological Services Ltd. Retrieved 2, October 2017 from:http://www.woodlandpsychologicalservices.com/blog/why-stress-is-bad-huffington-post-blog
Woodland, Katie. (2017e). When Does Stress Become Something More Serious? Woodland Psychological Services Ltd. Retrieved 2, October 2017 from http://www.woodlandpsychologicalservices.com/blog/when-does-stress-become-something-more-serious
Wise, Jeff. (2016). Stealth Super Powers. Psychology Today. Retrieved 2, October 2017 from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201011/stealth-super-powers
Vann, Katie. (2017). How is excess glucose stored? Live Strong. Retrieved 2, October 2017 from: https://www.livestrong.com/article/264767-how-is-excess-glucose-stored/
Vanderkooi, Jane. M. (2012). Your Inner Engine. An Introductory Course on Human Metabolism. University of Pennsylvania.