An Urgent Message From My Overwhelmed Brain To Yours: Love Your Amygdala

I really suck at writing for more than 140 characters lately. In fact, I am just doing what I have to do every day, just to get to tomorrow. I am stressed.

I could blame Twitter or the pressures of my life (I’m a Social Worker in my day job, have a side hustle or two, three kids, a stubborn husband and an unwell mother), but the truth is that digging in and hanging on to a thought or feeling, following it where it goes and not clicking on the next shiny thing is hard for me. Flitting around the Internet or flying from one obligation to the next is way more exciting than prolonged attention. The disease of the quick and the busy has been swallowing me whole for months. I have just started a new position, so I am cutting myself a bit of slack. But…I suffer in invisible ways when I do not slow down long enough for reflection to sink in.

My mood darkens. My patience (what little I had in the first place) is nonexistent. And my normally buoyant personality gets brittle. I don’t like myself very much and I’m pretty sure my family isn’t really thrilled with me either.

Me, when I come home from work or spend too many days in a row stuck at home with my progeny.

Me, when I come home from work or spend too many days in a row stuck at home with my progeny.

Even though the concept and practice of self-care is not a new one to me, I am still struggling with learning when I need to nurture myself and how. When I’m stressed, (you too) my brain just doesn’t have the best judgment. Our brains get flooded with stress juice (this is my non-technical explanation) and our limbic system goes a bit haywire.

What happens in your brain?

Once your brain has decided there’s a danger, it sends immediate nerve signals down your spinal cord to your adrenal glands telling them to release the hormone adrenaline. Once released, adrenaline increases the amount of sugar in your blood, increases your heart rate and raises your blood pressure (and has many other actions).

 Your brain’s remarkable hypothalamus also sends signals to your pituitary gland at the bottom of your brain, telling it to release factors that within a few minutes have travelled through your blood stream and stimulated your adrenal cortex to produce a stress hormone – cortisol.

Cortisol is very important in your stress response – keeping your blood sugar and blood pressure up to help you escape from danger.

We want to run or hide, fight or eat tacos. Well, that last one is just my response. When the brain has prepped our bodies to be ready to deal with perceived stressors, we literally can’t think straight. If we’ve experienced trauma that is unresolved, or if we are chronically stressed, our brains can shrink, restructure pathways and make us even less able to manage pressure. According to this article in Huffington Post:

When you stew on a problem, the body continuously releases cortisol, and chronic elevated levels can lead to serious issues. Too much cortisol can suppress the immune system, increase blood pressure and sugar, decrease libido, produce acne, contribute to obesity and more.

It’s almost like our brains think we are constantly at risk, so the brain’s ability to respond appropriately to danger…to decide what is worth flipping out about, gets damaged. Our amygdalas (this is my absolute favorite body part and it gives me a little thrill just to say this word out loud and I will be your friend forever if you can spell and pronounce it properly) start acting like one of those tennis ball launchers that is shooting out balls too quickly to hit.

When this deluge is upon us…we pretty much suck at life.

One thing I have learned is that there are some shortcuts for me that reduce my stress immediately. A huge one for me is music. I’m going to share three songs that I simply cannot get enough of right now…three songs that take me to beauty, frustration and joy, in that order.

What is your go-to stress relief? People tell me that exercise is good for stress relief, but I’m not really into sweating, so I don’t know about it firsthand. Of course, good nutrition and sound and adequate sleep are also essential. And sex helps. As does chocolate and regular massages. These are things I know about.

Whatever it is you do…remember your brain needs you to come to a state of rest on a regular basis. It resets us and prepares us for the next response. And because I don’t want that response to be yelling, crying, hitting or otherwise being a terrible human being, it is imperative that I am aware of stress on the daily and am respecting its function (and watching for dysfunction).

Modern life has us chasing clicks and appointments, seeking near constant stimulation. Even when fantastic things happen in our lives, our stress levels elevate. Over time, chronic arousal of hormones changes the way we can react to stimuli. It takes away our ability to see the choices in front of us and evaluate them honestly. And frankly, it makes us miserable. And I for one refuse to go done with a scowl.

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About Kristen Chapman Gibbons

Loosely connected facts: Storyteller. Curator of a Better Internet. Lifelong Politico. Social Media Maven. Creativity and Empathy Evangelist. Performer. Creator of Content Worth Sharing. Digital Strategist. Former Social Worker. Decade teaching in Higher Ed. Master's Degree in Theology. Married to an Irishman. 3 darling kiddos. Preacher's kid. Appalachian. Music maker. Music devour-er. ENTP. Bohemian. Geeky. Obsessed with thrift stores and all things vintage. Lover of species.

View all posts by Kristen Chapman Gibbons

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One Comment on “An Urgent Message From My Overwhelmed Brain To Yours: Love Your Amygdala”

  1. jenniferlarsonwrites Says:

    I admit it. I have to exercise because it is the only thing that truly burns off my stress. If I wake up in the morning, feeling anxious, I can head to the gym and leave an hour later feeling much more sane. I never thought I’d be one of those people.

    Like

    Reply

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