Easy Way To Remember The Blood Flow Through The Heart The Stress Response – Learn to Recognize It – Learn to Manage It

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The Stress Response – Learn to Recognize It – Learn to Manage It

One very important step in taking control of your life is managing and mastering your stress response. The stress response, also known as the “fight or flight response,” has been a major part of our makeup since the time of cavemen. It plays a key role in making us fight hard or run away quickly when a dangerous situation puts us in danger.

When a person perceives that a situation is dangerous, that message is quickly transmitted to the hypothalamus, the non-thinking part of the brain that activates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Many changes occur in the body when the SNS is engaged. Blood pressure and heart rate rise, breathing shifts from the diaphragm to the chest, and blood flow shifts to the large muscles and brain, away from the stomach and extremities, limiting digestion and causing cold hands and feet. Muscles tighten in readiness to run or fight. The pupils dilate, the mouth becomes dry, and the erection is prevented. The immune system and tissue repair are limited.

 

This is nature’s way of ensuring the survival of the species. By redirecting and increasing physical activity, blood flow and energy, a person in crisis has the resources to run fast or fight hard, increasing the likelihood of staying alive. The resulting changes put the body in a very uncomfortable and demanding state. If this large outflow turns into a chronic one, serious physiological and psychological problems often manifest themselves.

 

Just as nature equipped us with a nervous system to survive an accident, it also equipped us with a nervous system to maintain a state of calm: the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The characteristics or actions of the PNS are largely the opposite of the SNS, and for all intents and purposes, when one is on, the other is off. Therefore, the goal of stress management is to use methods that promote a state of calm and inhibit the stress response. The following strategies have been extensively researched and proven to be effective:

 

External

 

What you do to manage the outside world can go a long way in reducing your sensitivity to stress. These techniques include: 

  • Practicing assertiveness
  • Reducing, eliminating, or learning to respond differently to stressors
  • Improving communication
  • Eliminating self-defeating behavior
  • Have clear goals
  • Time management in a positive way

Internal psychological

Note that the message sent to the hypothalamus can be about a real threat or a perceived, benign threat. The stress response serves you well when you are actually in danger. You are not well served when you deceive yourself. So the following strategies help you make a difference:

  • Cognitive restructuring
  • Distraction
  • Challenging
  • Having rational beliefs versus irrational beliefs
  • Appropriate expectations

Internal physiological

 

There are calming techniques that tell the brain that you are not in trouble. They can be used to turn off a response or on a permanent basis to prevent it from being triggered:

  • Breathing
  • Pictorial relaxation
  • Relaxation reaction
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Insight meditation
  • Biofeedback
  • Hypnosis

Recommended reading

 

Davis, M., Eshelman, ER, McKay, M. and Fanning, P. (2008). Workbook for relaxation and stress reduction

McKay, M., Davis, M. and Fanning, P. (2007). Thoughts and Feelings: Taking Control of Your Mood and Life

 

More information on stress management can be found in my book on positive psychology, It’s Your Little Red Wagon… Six Key Benefits to Navigating Your Way to a Good Life (Embrace the Power of Positive Psychology and Live Your Dreams!).

 

Copyright 2009 by Sharon S. Esonis, Ph.D.

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