Tacoma Christian Counselor
Education of the senses begins in utero. There you are, floating weightless in the amber light as the sound of your mother’s voice wakes you and you feel the rumble of her stomach as she walks toward the kitchen for breakfast. As she puts the first bite of food in her mouth you begin to stir, instinctively knowing that you are connected and that your provision is coming.Your senses and self-awareness are born in the earliest stages of brain development before you enter the world. Birth is both transforming and sometimes traumatic depending on the circumstances.
Regardless of the way you entered the world, your senses were overwhelmed and the effects of stress on the brain was inevitable. You had a barrier of protection that eliminated much of the brain stress that the outside world provides. All stress is resolved once she holds you and you taste your first drop of her milk.
Now that you are an adult living in the 21st century, you have more control over the stress you allow in your life. You can limit stress to some degree by becoming more self-aware. Still, stress is a daily part of everyone’s reality.
Can you control the types of stress you are exposed to? What are the causes of stress? What are the effects of stress on the brain? How can you use your senses to reduce stress?
Certain types of stress can be avoided while others can’t. All will be processed by your brain.
Four Types of Stress
Here are four different types of stress scenarios.
Work Stress: A meeting is called in the conference room as you are pouring your first cup of coffee in the break room. All the managers’ faces begin to distort and one loses his cool. The company has been acquired by an outside firm who plans to redistribute their leadership from the midwest to the west coast rather than maintain the current qualified staff. Layoffs will ensue.
Family Stress: You went to bed at 10 pm to be well rested for your presentation tomorrow. Your sibling calls at 1:30 am from the bar and needs a lift home since the Uber driver refuses to pick him up. He has a 1-star rating for belligerent behavior with the last Uber driver two nights ago. He is drunk again and wants you to pick up a six pack on the way.
Health Stress: You have been doing great at prioritizing your workout even making it to the gym three times a week, but you’re not losing any weight. Your doctor runs some blood work and finds that your thyroid is operating way below normal and you have hypothyroidism.
Financial Stress: Two teenagers are already on the family car insurance when one totals the Lexis flipping it into a brand new BMW convertible full of personal injury lawyers.
Effects of Stress on the Brain
There are many types of stress with various causes of stress. The only thing you can control is how you respond to stress. The body will have a physiological response.
Harvard Health illustrates the stress response as beginning in the brain. When someone confronts an oncoming car or other danger, the eyes or ears (or both) send the information to the amygdala, an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing. The amygdala interprets the images and sounds. When it perceives danger, it instantly sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus.
When someone experiences a stressful event, the amygdala, an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing, sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. This area of the brain functions like a command center, communicating with the rest of the body through the nervous system so that the person has the energy to fight or flee.
Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk suggests that you can have some control over the stress response. In his book, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, he explains, “If the amygdala is the smoke detector in the brain, think of the frontal lobes directly above the eyes as the watchtower.
Is that smoke you smell the sign that your house is on fire and you need to get out, fast…or is it coming from the steak you put over too high a flame? The amygdala doesn’t make such judgements; it just gets you ready to fight back or escape, even before the frontal lobes get a chance to weigh in with their assessment.
As long as you are not too upset, your frontal lobes can restore your balance by helping you realize that you are responding to a false alarm and abort the stress response.”
How can you use your senses to reduce stress restoring balance to the stress response? You have three different opportunities to get your senses into stress-busting mode: pre-stress, balancing the stress response, and post-stress.
Pre-Stress: Looking back at the potential types of stress, one example was work stress and one was financial stress. No one can expect a spontaneous layoff or a car wreck, but you can be proactive in the way that you live by reducing your level of stress daily. Eat healthy foods so that your body has the nutrition that it needs.
Exercise outside regularly introducing more serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter, into the brain. Being outdoor fuels the senses. Take a minute to absorb the beauty around you and engage with friends and community. Sleep at least eight hours a night and establish a good sleep cycle by going to bed and getting up at the same time each day.
Balancing the Stress Response: In the family stress scenario you have more control, but only a few minutes to defuse the situation. This was not the first time the sibling called and it’s time to be self-aware. You have a chance to take a deep breath and tell your sibling to call someone else.
You are not responsible for their poor decision-making. Your watchtower can turn off the smoke alarm and put the phone on do not disturb until morning. Reward your tastebuds the next morning by eating a nutritious breakfast. Focus on your priorities to complete your pathway to success.
Post-Stress: Whenever you have a health crisis it is time to take care of you. Like the scenario above, you can be doing your best to take care of yourself and still hit a speed bump on the road to personal health.Try some Les Mills Body Flow classes to become more in tune with the mind body connection. It is a combination of non-religious yoga, pilates, and tai chi. Get a 60-minute full body massage and get the lactic acid from the stress response out of the body. The oxytocin from the massage will reduce stress and boost the immune system.
Being self-aware and attuned to your senses is a life-long process. The five senses are potential portals of pain and bliss. The beauty of the senses is that they are pliable. If one is lacking others will attempt to fill in the gap. Explore your senses to find ways to engage them. Be present in your environment seeing, tasting, touching, hearing and smelling life. Allow yourself the time to get to know yourself and enjoy your gifts so that you can share them with the world.
For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. – Hebrews 5:14-15
“Praying”, Courtesy oof Ben White, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Sparklers”, Courtesy of Ethan Hoover, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Under the Pier”, Courtesy of Will Langenberg, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Happy”, Courtesy of Radu Florin, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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