Stress – What is it and what can we do about it?
By Charles F. Glassman, MD – CoachMD
To be sure, you have heard that stress is not good for us; in fact, stress kills. What is stress, really?
Our Primitive Brain
All of us possess a brain, of course. However, in my work, I have discovered the true distinction between our mind and our brain—or what I call, the automatic brain. The mind is what allows us to reflect on things and contemplate ideas as religion or even quantum physics. Our automatic brain, on the other hand, is primitive and purely reactive and responds only to danger threat, or vulnerability. When it detects any of these situations, the switch is flipped on, and a flurry of electro-chemical discharges occurs. This brain is concrete, reactive, binary (either on or off), and only has one response—fight or flight. The result of this response comes from hormones and nerve impulses. And what we feel is stress.
Fight or Flight/Aggressive of Passive
Dangers for everyone are different, but the electrochemical discharge is the same. Fight or flight, too, can be different for people, but the result of stress is very similar and universally detrimental. Since this brain is automatic and many times operating below our level of awareness, I often recommend working backward in an attempt to “figure things out”. For example, when triggered and a fight/aggressive reaction occurs, you may find yourself angry, enraged, and hostile. Every single time you feel this way, it means that some danger triggered your automatic brain into a stress reaction, causing you to “fight”. When you feel this way, find out what might be the actual inciting event.
Often it is not what you think. If you get furious because a car cuts you off, for instance, is it really the other driver or is it the unexpected bill you just received from your son’s preschool? Aggressive or fight responses only result in further stress and never allow us to accurately measure the degree of danger. Similarly, the flight/passive response to some known or unknown danger does equal damage. Often this response is seen by avoidance, procrastination, and depression.
Calm the Response
We all possess the ability to step back from a situation, using our mind. Very rarely are our dangers in the 21st century those in which we need the immediacy of the automatic fight or flight response. The first step when feeling the brunt of a stress response is to breathe. To get started, I usually recommend breathing in for a count of five and breathing out for a count of five. When you get good at this, the exhale is a count of ten or more.
The fight or flight response causes us to breath shallow and fast, thus preparing us for battle or escape. When we consciously slow down our breathing, it tempers the stress response and allows us to evaluate better the danger. By doing so, we can become assertive at dealing with the perceived danger, threat, or vulnerability and not react in a fight/aggressive or flight/passive manner.
Although stress is uncomfortable and not good for us, it does not have to be out of our control. Once we recognize what is happening, we can step back and gradually learn how to more effectively deal with real or perceived danger.
He is the author of the critically acclaimed book Brain Drain, which helps explain and fix self-sabotage. It is the winner of the 2011 Independent Publisher's Award and 2011 Eric Hoffer Award as the best Self-Help and Health book, 2010 Pinnacle Book Award for best Self-Help Book, and 2009 LA Book Festival Best Spirituality Book.
To new subscribers on his website, he is now offering his free, new EBook, Destiny Diet. Weekly, Dr. Glassman hosts Medicine on the Cutting Edge, which gives a voice to pioneers in medical research and development. Dr. Glassman lives with his family in Rockland County, NY.
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