The Anatomy of Stress
All of us experience stress on a daily basis.
But do you know how it affects your brain?
Let me start by explaining what stress is.
The electrical circuit in your house has a fuse which is there to protect your appliances from an electrical surge. So, when lightning strikes your house, the fuse breaks and cuts off the electricity to your computer so that it won’t blow up.
Just like the electrical circuit in your house, your brain has “fuses” called synapses. The synapses are located between the brain cells (neurons) and the rest of your nervous system. Your heartbeat is like the electricity in a circuit. When it beats too fast, your synapses pull apart slightly, stopping the impulse from going through and possibly damage your brain and that is called stress.
The best way to monitor stress is to look at emotions. If you are happy, calm and content, your heart rate is normal. If you are frustrated or irritable, your heart rate is faster and when you are aggressive or enraged your heart rate is very high.
Stress (synapses pulling apart) always happens in your non-dominant brain hemisphere first, so if you are right brain dominant, your left brain will “shut down” when you are stressed. This also means that during stress you will find it difficult to perform tasks that are controlled by your non-dominant hemisphere.
The more we stress, the less logical and more emotional we become.
row 1: top view row 2: side view
Normal heart rate is around 60 - 75 beats per minute (bpm) (fig. A)
If you heart is beating at 80-120 bpm, one side of your brain shuts down. (fig.B) Notice how the synapses are slightly further apart.
At 120-180 bpm both your brain hemispheres (yellow part) will shut down (fig.C2)
NB: Dehydration will also cause the synapses to pull apart. Drink enough water!
So, how do we get out of stress?
The easiest and fastest way is to do some kind of physical movement. Take a walk, run around the block, do a few push-ups, do the dishes, etc. Slow, deep breathing also helps - remember the count-to-ten rule? Taking a break before responding to something stressful physically gives your brain time to "get back online" and then you can respond more rationally.
Basically your emotions should be able to tell you how much brain you have at any given time of the day and someone else’s emotions should tell you how much brain you’re talking to. Using this guideline you should be able to eliminate a lot of unnecessary conflicts and resolve issues with minimal emotional damage.