Stress and Anxiety – A chemical response that we can master


I work as a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and I have witnessed an increase in anxiety issues with my clients. Anxiety affects each and every one of us; knowing how and why it impacts us emotionally and physically can enable us to develop tools and skills to cope.

If we go back to a time when our ancestors were hunting for food they would be on “full alert” in case a predator would attack – there is a system in our brain called the Threat System. In this situation, it would be activated – known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. At that moment our mind and body would react, creating a sudden release of hormones cortisol and adrenaline, this, in turn, increases our heart rate; blood pressure and breathing rate; digestion shuts down; blood is re-directed from extremities to major organs and our brain is on full alert, this worked well for these intense moments and could get us out of dangers way and survival.

What is happening in our present day is this threat system is being activated (switched on) on a regular basis causing emotional distress and anxiety. We have a perceived threat (Thought) and our brain takes that message and does what it is designed to do, unfortunately with a detrimental impact on our emotional and physical wellbeing.

One must remember that our threat system is designed to get us out of harm’s way and protect us but in today’s stressful environment it can be over stimulated. Therefore learning to regulate our thinking can help to de-activate (switch off) the threat system this in turns helps to regulate our brain chemistry.

Meditation; mindfulness; stress and anxiety management and learning to be compassionate to self helps to activate another system in our brains the soothing system which creates feel good chemicals opiates; oxytocin which create feelings of safety; protection; and trust.

Honey & Ryan work with Prof. Paul Gilbert’s Compassionate Focused Therapy – he integrates Neuroscience; Cognitive behavioural therapy; evolutionary, social and developmental psychology and Buddhist psychology – we have witnessed many positive outcomes using this model, teaching how to regulate our emotional systems and develop qualities of self-compassion, once we become aware of how our brain functions we recognise we have a choice in how we think; feel; physical impact and behaviour which in turn can give us all better outcomes, breaking down and observing your thoughts enable change both physiological and emotional to take place.

A client I recently worked with and whose permission I have to use her testimonial said:

“…understanding where my anxiety develops and why has helped me overcome it considerably.”

When we start to practice the skills and apply them into our daily lives we start to see the change and this gives us hope that we can regulate our stress and anxiety.

As the philosopher Epictetus once said:

“It is not what happens to you but how you react to it that matters”

Sources:; ;; Epiticus Quotes – Good

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