UNDERSTANDING STRESS, TRAUMA & PTSD:
-The Natural Rhythm of Our Stress Response
-What Happens When Our Perfect Design Becomes Overwhelmed
We are beautifully designed to navigate daily stresses. To maintain balance and equilibrium, our nervous system is in a continuous state of fluctuation, constantly resetting itself. The sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of our nervous system oscillate in cycles of action and rest, activation and settling, all day long. In fact, all of the systems in our body are in a perpetual state of expansion and contraction. Our lungs and heart expand and contract to oxygenate our blood and pump blood through the chambers of our heart. We are intensely rhythmic beings, and the rhythmic nature of your body is the foundation of physical and emotional health.
Our stress response also has a natural rhythm. It is designed to have a beginning, middle and end. When we feel stressed or unsafe, all of the systems in our body orchestrate to protect us from possible danger. Once we feel safe again, our nervous system is designed to settle back into a relaxed, alert state. But when we live with chronic stress or our attempt to protect ourself gets interrupted or overwhelmed in some way, the natural rhythm of our stress response gets disrupted. The stress cycle doesn't get to complete itself, leaving our body holding more crisis energy than we are designed to contain. This is a set up for symptoms of chronic stress, trauma and PTSD.
When we have been overwhelmed by trauma or PTSD (especially early in life), our nervous system develops a habit of hypervigilance. Our stress response keeps playing itself out, triggering a perpetual anxiety loop and causing our body and mind to respond to small stresses as if they were big threats. The reptilian brain (responsible for preserving life) and limbic brain (responsible for emotional reactions) do not distinguish between a real or potential threat, making it easy to get locked in chronic fear, worry and tension. Even when there is no danger, the reptilian brain keeps our muscles tight and braced in case there is need to take action. We may feel perpetually on alert, constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. Or we may feel depressed, numb and sapped of energy. These are normal responses to living with a stressed nervous system.
You are not alone. The National Institute of Mental Health states that anxiety is the nation’s most common psychiatric complaint. In Buddha's Brain, neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, says the human brain "has a built-in negativity bias." Negative experiences have a stronger impact and our brain picks up on them faster than positive experiences. Given that we're wired for self-preservation, this makes sense. According to endocrinologist and psychiatrist, Dr. Peter Whybrow, we all respond to virtually any stress or challenge, from rush-hour traffic to work deadlines, with some degree of the fight/flight response.
A HEALTHY, RESILIENT NERVOUS SYSTEM
Abby Rose, SEP, HSE
When we experience novelty or engage in various kinds of effort, our nervous system gets little boosts of energy to help us orient to our surroundings to make sure we're safe, and to give us energy for meeting the challenges of everyday life. When we determine we're safe or a task is complete, the body settles again. These cycles of effort and relaxation are fluctuating all day long. When we perceive a threat, a surge of survival energy floods our body to help us take action to defend ourselves. When the threat has passed or we were able to successfully defend ourselves, our system calms and regains equilibrium. This constant fluctuation is our natural rhythm. It works somewhat like a thermostat and keeps us functioning in a healthy, resilient range - and protects us against symptoms of trauma and PTSD.
A STRESSED, OVERLOADED NERVOUS SYSTEM
UNDERSTANDING STRESS, TRAUMA & PTSD:
The Natural Rhythm of Our Stress Response
What Happens When Our Perfect Design is Overwhelmed
. Our body contains more crisis-energy than it can manage, causing our nervous system to get locked in survival mode. Eventually, a circuit breaker of sorts shuts off the high charge that is stressing and overloading the body, which saps us of energy. When our nervous system is constantly overloaded, we tend to either get stuck in too much 'GO' energy, causing feels of panic, irritation or chronic fear - or too much 'STOP' energy, which shows up as depression, low energy, feelings of helplessness, etc. Very often we will go back and forth between these two states without being able to rest in the healthy middle.
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