Stress. Stress. Stress. We all have it. We all think we have too much of it. We all think we are often controlled by it or resigned that we have to live with it.

There is a lot of misperception when it comes to the subject of stress. I believe that by having clarity on the subject, it paves the way towards a healthier mindset shift in perspective. This makes for healthier, constructive coping attitudes towards stress.

The main shift I want you to consider is unlike the opposing forces of gravity, entropy and inertia, stress is an INTERNAL response. We consider stress to be PRESSURE acting externally upon us. Deadlines, traffic, children, financial worries, relationship problems, public speaking, health issues, pollution, government policies, political conflict, taxes, lack of time and sleep and on and on an on.

All of these are very real issues. However, it is internal response to these matters that determines the level of stress we succumb to, and allow to drive our objectives and goals into a downward spiral.

In order to overcome this internal downward force and use and leverage stress in an upward direction, lets clarify and understand the root source of stress.

Stress is an internal response to an external event or stimulus. That stimulus is usually something that we perceive as a threat. Our primitive brain and our genetic ancestry is hardwired to detecting threats. Its the sympathetic nervous systems that is responsible for responding to visual or audible threats by pumping out adrenalin and glucocorticoids to stimulate that fight, flight or freeze response. Our ancesters with the best stress and fear detectors managed to survive attacks from animals and enemies and passed their dna onto the next generations, while those with less acute stress and fear receptors were caught and perished.

So we now are a culture with very fined tuned innate ability to seek out and respond to threats. Either by attacking, avoiding or running away. But here lies the problem. We live in a society that no longer has the same life threatening conflicts that are ancestors did ,and yet we respond to our perceived threats in the same physiological manner . By constantly stimulating our symapathetic nervous system to turn on, we put our health at risk. In his well documented book entitled Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, famed author and scientist  Dr. Robert Sapolsky explains that in primitive cultures, the real threat of attack was met with a 3 minute surge of sympathetic nerve rush of adrenalin . After this brief moment of intense confrontation, the animal either successfully fled or was eaten. The surviving animals parasympatheitic response kicked in (which counters and relaxes all the sympathetic responses) and the animal resumed its relaxed, unthreatened routine for the remaining 23hrs and 57 minutes. We on the other hand, maintain our sympathetic response for the greater part of the full day. Sapolskys research shows that the constant , prolonged stimulation of the sympatheitic nervous system is more dangerous than the event or stressor that sets it off.

Research shows that it causes a lot more than ulcers now. It is  linked with heart disease, high blood pressure, damaged arteries, cancer , advanced aging, immune dysfuntion and diminished life expectancy. Why? For starters, over stimulation of the sympathetic chain, disables the parasympathic response which functions to aid digestion, lower blood pressure, and facilitate reproduction and immune function. These vital systems become deactivated. Secondly, it hinders the connections that form in the hippocampus(learning and memory) and shrink brain neuron circuits. It also alters DNA. Research has demonstrated that women who care for special needs children suffering from severe cases of Down Syndrome and autism have a 6 year reduction in life expectancy. The talomeres, which are at the tips of the DNA strands, shrink and fray. This causes quicker aging, and a decrease in immune response and bone mineral density.

So what is the solution to this bleak picture I presented? The answer comes from our ability to understand and learn (by practise of course!) to CHOOSE our response. Victor Frankyl, the noted physisist and author wrote that between the stimulus (threat) and the outcome there is a space. In that space we have the power, control and opportunity to choose our response.

So how did the mothers of special needs children choose to respond to the agonizing, constant conflicts of their childrens demands? By forming support groups where they shared stories, cared for each other and engaged in private laughter. By  overriding their primitive brains threat detector, and recruiting the higher functioning frontal cortex that is responsible for love, compassion and empathy, those women were able to  actually reverse the damage to their DNA. Studies showed that what followed was an increase in production of telomerase ,which is the enzyme that repairs the talomeres at the end of the DNA strands.

So how can you learn  to apply this approach to your life.? I will demonstrate with more examples in the next blog. Stay tuned.