Stress At Home and How To Manage It

The Compound Interest of Stress

Wood_1930_AmericanGothic What makes chronic stress potentially lethal is its duration and the constant accumulation of its effects. Stress upon stress grows like compound interest on a loan. When only the minimum payment is made, the balance continues to grow and can never be fully repaid.

Humans respond to stressors such as physical or perceived danger, an infection, or a crowded and noisy environment, by initiating a complex biopsychosocial adaptation and coping response. This response is initiated by the sympathetic nervous system and leads to release of excitatory stress hormones (the catecholamines) and glucocorticoids from the adrenal cortex (the well-known adrenaline rush).

The objective is to engage with the situation, resolve it and return to the status quo. This process of regaining stability through change and adaptation is called allostasis. The arousal and mobilization of biopsychic resources is intended to be temporary and is shut off when the challenge has passed.

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5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Stress

Goya_1828_ExecutionPioHill Stress is often defined as entirely harmful. Nary a moment goes by without someone reminding us that “stress is bad for you!” The fact is, stress is good, in at least five different ways.

1: Stress is a survival mechanism of the human species  

We cannot function well without at least some amount of stress, which alerts us to the fact that something or someone requires our attention. Anxiety is not turned off or on by a rocker switch. Stress produces its effects along a continuum. At appropriate levels, it keeps people engaged in their world.

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Stress Software: How Fear and Exercise Are the Same

Dali_1951_RaphaelesqueHeadExploding When it comes to stress, exercise and sheer terror are one and the same.

An adaptive and vitally important characteristic of the nervous system is its ability to increase arterial pressure almost instantaneously. This can take place in times of good stress (exercise, getting out of the way of an incoming bus), but also in times of bad stress (loss, grief, calamity, adversity, job strain).

During dangerous situations (real or perceived as they may be), arterial pressure rises to as high as twice its normal value within a few seconds. This spontaneous alarm reaction triggers a dramatic increase of arterial pressure that can immediately supply blood to any or all muscles of the body needed to respond. This translates into an enormously increased ability to fight against or to flee from the cause of danger.

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Stresshack #3: Livingstone, The Lion and Me

 Livingstone_LionRIn going round the end of the hill I saw a lion sitting on a piece of rock about thirty yards off with a little bush in front of him. I took a good aim at him through the bush and fired both barrels into it. The men called out. “He is shot, he is shot.” Others cried, “He has been shot by another man too, let us go to him.” I saw the lion’s tail erected in anger and turning to the people said, “Stop a little till I load again.” When in the act of ramming down the bullets I heard a shout and looking half round I saw the lion in the act of springing upon me. He caught me by the shoulder and we both came to the ground together. Growling horribly he shook me as a terrier dog does a rat. The shock produced a stupor similar to that which seems to be felt by a mouse after the first gripe of the cat. It caused a sort of dreaminess in which there was no sense of pain nor feeling of terror though I was quite conscious of all that was happening. It was like what patients partially under the influence of chloroform describe: they see the operation but do not feel the knife. This placidity is probably produced in all animals killed by the carnivora and if so is a merciful provision of Creator for lessening the pain of death. As he had one paw on the back of my head I turned round to relieve myself of the weight and saw his eyes directed to Mebalwe who was aiming at him from a distance of ten or fifteen yards. His gun which was a flint one missed fire in both barrels. The animal immediately left me to attack him and bit his thigh. Another man whose life I had saved after he had been tossed by a buffalo attempted to spear the lion upon which he turned from Mebalwe and seized this fresh foe by the shoulder. At that moment the bullets the beast had received took effect and he fell down dead.

David Livingstone (1857). Missionary Travels (pp. 11-12). London: EW Cole.

Scottish explorer Livingstone, in his journey to discover the sources of the Nile, reported what is now known as stress-induced analgesia. Under conditions of extreme stress or in the adaptation to an extreme environmental challenge, an individual’s normal reaction to pain—reflex withdrawal, escape, rest, and recuperation—could be disadvantageous. In a dire emergency, these reactions to pain are automatically suppressed in favor of more useful behaviors. It turns out that we have a piece of software, the analgesia system, that automatically activates in these circumstances, with rather remarkable effects.

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Stresshack #2: Stressed by Stress?

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When stress hits, sometimes all bets are off and even the best loses it. That’s bad, right? Like, maybe, even… very bad? To be avoided, as in, cool is best (“I should be the picture of calm and I am anything but”)… Why can’t I react any better than this, one may ask. Or, why does my reaction need to be always this strong? The heart beat needle reaches the red zone, sweat breaks out, it’s hard to talk coherently, it’s like the world is ending this minute, muscles tense all over the body and the stomach cramps, adding to the misery… Often all this goes on mostly inside, while struggling to keep a semi normal appearance. Often, this goes on for a while, even a long while, while frantically working on a response that actually makes sense and addresses the stressor (“do I fight it, do I run, or am I frozen in place and can’t decide?”)

And when all of this occurs, and because it does occur this way (or worse), it adds to whatever stressor caused it to begin. The stress reaction becomes stressful in itself. It becomes a state of being, a condition, a problem of its own. So can anything be done to change this? Take the jump and find out.

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Stress Hardware Review: The Limbic System

Limbic-System The limbic system is the complex neuronal circuitry that controls emotional behavior and motivational drives. The good news: It comes preinstalled in your brain. The bad news: It controls not only behavior but also body temperature, the drive to eat and drink, and the ability to control body weight. The bottom line: Stressful emotions can set the limbic system on fire, causing overeating (or the opposite), sweating (or chills) and play funny tricks on the motivation to decide whether to fight the stressor, take flight from it or simply freeze in place. Let’s review this all-important structure in the management of stress.

Design

The limbic circuitry is located toward the front of the brain. The limbic system is comprised of numerous structures, the most important of which are the hypothalamus, the amygdala, the hippocampus, the cortex, the cingulate gyrus, the striatum, the pallidum, the thalamus, and Meynert’s nucleus basalis.

Features

The limbic system closely regulates behavior, and more specifically it determines the body’s initial and instinctive reaction to emotional challenges that influences the individual’s ultimate response. For the difference between reaction and response, see this post.

In addition to its primary role in behavior control, the limbic system controls many internal conditions of the body, such as body temperature, concentration of the body fluids, and the impulse to eat and drink, and thus the ability to control body weight.

Since the regulation of these functions is located within the same structure that also processes the first impact of emotions, it is easy to see how a stressor can immediately be felt as a loss of appetite in some of us, or a craving for “comfort” food in others. This design of the system makes it more difficult to keep one’s cool (temperature is affected, too) and to make clear-headed decisions in the face of a serious emotional challenge—exactly when such ability would be needed the most!  Be that as it may, our natural endowment consists of a circuitry that handles the rational and the irrational at the same time and within the same structure, so one must make the best of it in the face of challenges and stressors that can wreak havoc even on the best fine-tuned system.

Technical Specifications (if you really want know all about it)

| References | The outer arc of the limbic system (also called the limbic gyrus) includes the subcallosal area, the cingulate gyrus, the isthmus of the cingulate gyrus, and the parahippocampal gyrus, including the uncus and subiculum. The subcallosal area includes a cluster of small septal nuclei that lie immediately anterior to the paraterminal gyrus and anterior commissure. The septal nuclei receive input from multiple midbrain nuclei, the substantia nigra, the CA1 region of the cornu ammonis, the subiculum, amygdala, lateral hypothalamus, cingulate gyrus, and mamillary bodies. Efferent fibers project to the entire hippocampal formation, the habenula, hypothalamus, thalamus, amygdala, mamillary bodies and the cerebral cortex.

For even more detailed information on the septal region of the limbic system see this article: Cavazos JE, Wang CJ, Sitoh YY, et al: Anatomy and pathology of the septal region. Neuroimag Clin NorthAm 1997; 7:67-78.

br-800epi The middle arc (also referred to as Broca’s intralimbic gyrus) consists of the paraterminal gyrus, the indusium griseum, and the hippocampus. The paraterminal gyrus is wedged between the septal nuclei and the anterior commissure. Posterior to the anterior commissure is the hypothalamus. The indusium griseum, extending from the paraterminal gyrus, consists of gray matter and white matter tracts named the medial and lateral longitudinal stria. The indusium griseum is closely applied to the superior surface of the corpus callosum. Posteriorly, it courses around the splenium and inferiorly merges with the tail of the hippocampus.

The mamillary bodies, fornix, alveus and fimbria form the inner arc. The alveus and fimbria are the major efferent fibers tracts of the hippocampus. Posteriorly, the fimbria form the crura of the fornix that continue upward deep to the splenium of the corpus callosum. As the two crura converge, a thin triangular sheet of fibers passes to the opposite side to form the commissure of the fornix. The crura merge as the body of the fornix, which continues forward along the inferior edge of the septum pellucidum and roof of the third ventricle. At the foramen of Monroe, the fornix divides into two columns which course inferiorly. Just superior to the anterior commissure, the columns divide into pre- and postcommissural tracts. The precommissural fibers connect to the septal nuclei and anterior hypothalamic nuclei. The postcommissural fibers continue inferiorly to end in the mamillary bodies.

Need still more details? See this comprehensive article: Sitoh YY, Tien RD: The limbic system: An overview of the anatomy and its development. Neuroimag Clin North Am 1997; 7:1-10.

My Role As a Clinically-Trained Coach

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One of the most important goals of coaching, and  one that perhaps is most likely to pay off quickly, is to maximize the effectiveness of  top performers.

Many of the top performing executives I see  may be functioning perfectly well on the technical side, but often not so well on their intrapersonal and interpersonal sides.

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I Can’t Meditate To Save My Life

01740_rockefellersview_2560x1600 Meditation is hard. I get distracted very easily. I start noticing every noise, every wrinkle in my socks, and my stomach starts making the loudest noises. When I try to meditate, it feels like I am trying to stop the earth’s rotation—without any success at all, thank goodness. Too bad, because it’d be good for me… especially when I read the news item that follows.

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I React, Therefore I Am

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I react, therefore I am. In some circumstances, an instantaneous reaction is vital for survival. Imagine the situation of having to step out of the way of an incoming bus. In many other circumstances, however, an instantaneous reaction is not advisable, not appropriate, or not the best possible course of action.

A reaction may be defined as spontaneous and unplanned, too quick and immediate to be fully controllable. We react based on our temperament, our personal history, our experiences, on what we have learned, and on our expectations.

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