Imagine you are trekking through a forest and suddenly come across a huge bear. What would you do? Would you choose to run for your life or would you face the bear and fight it? Our barin acts like a superhero and creates a series of natural responses that are genetically hard wired into our brain whenever we are in a similar stressful situation. This combination of reactions to stress is also known as the “fight-or-flight” response because it evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling people and other mammals to react quickly to life-threatening situations.
These sequence of stress response starts with the “Gatekeeper of our thoughts” known as Amygdala. It is a small region of our brain, primarily associated with emotional processing, which sends the distress signal to other parts of the brain to act upon it.
The Gatekeeper of Thoughts
Amygdala acts as a trigger point to awake the superhero inside us to fight against the stress that we have come across. Whether the stress is a short term like speaking in front of a crowd or long term stress due to passing away of a beloved one, our brain reacts to these responses and prepares us to deal with the situation by revving up our nervous system as if the “gas pedal is pressed down”. During short term stress, the body revs up and also cools down after the response ends. However, chronic stress keeps the body in rev up situation for too long which creates a plethora of stress related issues primarily as hyper tension and anxiety.
Connection between Amygdala and Stress
Inability to deal with long term stress is one of the biggest reasons for hyper tension, heart failure, chronic pain etc. This natural fight response of our body that protects us eventually becomes the reason for most of our illnesses under long term stress. Therefore, “calming of the body” is the most effective solution to fight the ill effects of chronic stress.
Calming exercises for Amygdala
Dr. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, has devoted much of his career to learning how people can counter the stress response by using a combination of approaches that focus on the relaxation response for chronic stress patients. Meditation, tai chi, yoga are the best calming exercises that can help you fight chronic stresses.
These calming exercises keeps the mind and body in a relaxed state and helps us cool down the natural rev up state. Whether you are a student preparing for your exams, a mother with a child to look after, a working professional with a stiff deadline to meet or someone who is going through a trauma, meditation and other calming exercises help you directly fight stress.