Your Brain on Stress

By: Stephanie Osuba

Our brain has an automatic response to stress located in the amygdala, an almond sized structure in our brain that regulates emotion. Once a threat is perceived, the amygdala releases a number of hormones – adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine – to prepare for the “fight or flight” response. This is all well and good for physical threats, but what about interpersonal threats? Threats that are far more complex that need an actual solution rather than simply running away. That’s when your prefrontal cortex comes into play as it handles all of the executive function in your brain and allows you to think critically about situations. This way you can learn how to deliberately take a step back and think about how you are going to handle the stressor. So instead of letting your emotions dictate when you are angry with your significant other, dealing with rude customers, or have one too many, here are some ways you can learn to manage your stress in a constructive way:

  • Take a Breath: Calm things down and take deep breaths. This clears your head long enough for you to regain control of your emotions and let your prefrontal cortex get onboard. Once you do that, you can start critically thinking about what to do with your stressor.
  • Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness is the act of being in the present and being aware of your surroundings and the social context you are in. By asking yourself, “why am I feeling angry?” or “is saying this mean thing the best thing to do right now?” you can stop yourself from acting out in a way that you might regret.
  • Focus on What You Can Control: Some situations allow room for you to intervene, and others do not. Focus your energy on aspects you can anticipate, while at the same time mindfully accepting the aspects that you cannot.
  • Broaden Your View: When the amygdala gives off negative emotions due to the stressor, the anxiety usually narrows your point of view and drives you to find the quickest solution to the problem. As we know, the fastest solution isn’t always the best and it prevents you from using the stressful opportunity to grow and learn from the situation and finding a creative solution.

As much as we would rather not have to deal with it, stress is part of our daily lives and learning how to manage it can give us the life skills to handle, relatively, any situation thrown at us.

Source: Greenberg, M., Ph.D. (2017, September 7). Five Secrets to a Stress-Proof Brain. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mindful-self-express/201702/five-secrets-stress-proof-brain

If you or someone you know is experiencing psychological distress due to stress, please contact our psychotherapy/psychiatry offices in New York or New Jersey to talk to one of our licensed professional psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, or psychotherapists at Arista Counseling & Psychotherapy. Contact our Paramus, NJ or Manhattan, NY offices respectively, at (201) 368-3700 or (212) 722-1920 to set up an appointment. For more information, please visit http://www.counselingpsychotherapynjny.com/.

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