Understanding stress and thriving emotions for better resilience

We all have stress emotions and thriving emotions. Most people, on hearing a thump or a bump, a clang or a rattle in their cars engine will recognise the sign or symptom of a problem its’ ability to run and perform well or potentially lead to a fatal event.

Yet, we learn to ignore our own human signs and symptoms until just before we fall apart and feel ready for the scrap heap!

This blog is about the signs and symptoms of stress, because the better we understand the what, why and how of stress the better we can recognise when we are not functioning at our best.

In turn, this allows us to remedy the situation before it escalates and becomes a dangerous threat to our mental health and wellbeing, let alone our ability to thrive and feel happy and fulfilled no matter what life brings.

1. We are all hard wired for survival, this is why we all have our automatic survival reflexes of fight, flight and freeze. The problem with ongoing stress is that they become stuck on “ON”, and we find ourselves in hyperdrive doing human, never able to deeply relax and feel the joys of being human.

2. These reflexes are housed in the most primitive evolutionary part of our brains, the Reptilian brain. This part of our brains has been around since the advent of the reptile some 250 million years ago! In humans it is called the brain stem and it oversees all the automatic body functions that support our survival. It works outside of our awareness. i.e., it is unconscious.

These body functions include our heart rate, breathing, digestion, pupil dilation, the release of hormones like adrenaline, and all our body functions that can change in an instant when we perceive a threat. All these functions happen automatically, and we are often never aware of them at all. Unfortunately, in the fast-moving world of 21st century this can often come into awareness after years of stress and the first we know is when we are told that we high blood pressure or are at risk of a heart attack.

3. Stress ALWAYS starts first in the body as an automatic, uncontrollable, reflex, physical response; no different to a knee jerk when our knee is tapped with a reflex hammer. We cannot control it being triggered. It then becomes an emotion and a thought.

4. For every emotion you have 50% is conscious and 50% is unconscious. We become aware of our emotions and thoughts after we have physically responded to the threat. Therefore, we can’t think our way out of stress. Stress in a brain stem response reaction while thinking is a cortical function.

The healthy way forward is to develop a resilience to stress so that we can re- regulate our responses quickly and effectively back to a fully function state. This is the healthiest way to deal with stress, to process it, not supress it or deny it because which keeps it active in our system.

5. Our primal stress emotions are Fight, Flight and Freeze. Our stress emotions fall under the emotions of anger, fear, guilt, immobilisation and isolation.

6. For each stress emotion, we have a positive thriving/ pleasure emotion. These emotions fall under the categories of motivation, excitement, courage, confidence, peace, and fulfilment.

7. Both the Stress and Thriving emotions are essential to our survival. They help us determine what to move away from and what to move toward in our lives.

8. Stresses in early life still impair how we function and feel today, even if you have forgotten all about them. This happens because many of those very early stresses form the templates of how we perceive the world to be, what is real in our world.