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Stress , the Toxic NeuroKid

Usha Rengaraju

Stress is everywhere and it’s a very important factor in our health, affecting the body, mind, and brain. It's very important to understand the neuroscience of stress to promote our well being and flourishing.

Humans beings like to operate within their window of tolerance (comfortable zone) most of the time. When we get out of our comfort zone, the stress levels rise and make the situation distressing. The symptoms observed are an increase in pulse rate, increased blood pressure, extreme distressing levels of emotion which makes individuals feel frozen or trapped. Although at times we do get little out of our comfort zone as a part of our eagerness to try out new things like watching a game or a movie and experience wide array of emotions like excitement, anger, fear, etc in the process, we quickly settle back to normal.

Uncontrolled high stress can cause serious damage to well being and cause severe traumatic experience where normal coping is overwhelmed. Individuals who recover from such traumatic experiences end up becoming more resilient in the process. Post-traumatic growth, a theory developed by psychologists Dr. Tedeschi and Dr. Calhoun holds that people who endure psychological trauma following adversity can often see positive change afterward.

Stress affects not only memory and many other brain functions but also triggers inflammation and can disorganize our mental and physical life. Stress is in our bodies as well and not just in our minds. Learning to manage stress becomes a keystone of our wellbeing and health. Stress regulation and stress management are an essential part of positive psychology and positive psychiatry. Some of the suggested pathways are good exercise, mindfulness meditation, yoga, breathing exercises and avoidance of drugs or alcohol.

Polyvagal theory developed by Dr.Porges introduces the concept of social nervous system which helps us navigate relationships and cope up with stress. Emotionally healthy individuals experience social engagement state during non-stressful situations. They are unafraid and are capable of a “connected” interaction with another human being and their body and emotions feel normal. Myelinated vagus nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system gets activated during connection mode hence it is also called ventral vagal response. During stressful situations, the sympathetic nervous system gets activated and triggers a fight or flight response. This causes constriction in blood vessels and an increased heartbeat. When the sympathetic nervous system goes overdrive, Unmyelinated vagus of the Parasympathetic nervous system gets activated which causes freezing or shutdown, as form self-preservation.

Meditation and mindfulness are powerfully effective, and they offer a spaceto connect to ourselves, and our body, brain, mind. The other stress management strategies are relaxation, exercise , creativity , games , many of which uses sympathetic nervous system wisely. Its more important to identify the strategies which work for each of us to enable us to surf our stress and become more stronger individuals. Flexibility fosters resilience and highly connected minds and bodies.

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