We as humans have evolved with a fight, flight, or freeze response to protect us from external threats. Did you know that this same fight, flight, or freeze response occurs even with perceived threats? Have you ever wondered what happens inside your body when you are in the grips of a perceived threat? And more importantly, do you understand the long term consequences of being under stress from a perceived threat? Our subconscious mind is not capable of evaluating a threatening situation in order to determine the degree or source of the threat. In other words, the signals sent out to our body are the same whether we are being chased by a bear or we have a deadline at work. By misperceiving our environment we fall victim to our biology. Stress is stress. We recover quite well from short term intermittent stresses, but long term repetitive stress can create havoc within our bodies, minds, and emotions, not to mention the ill effects it can have on our relationships with friends, family members and/or coworkers.
So what exactly happens in our bodies when we are under stress, and how can the use of hypnosis help? Let’s begin with a quick explanation of the HPA Axis in the brain. H stands for the hypothalamus, P for pituitary, and A for Adrenalin.
The hypothalamus is responsible for perceiving stimuli and deciding if it is a threat. It then sends this information to the pituitary gland.
The pituitary gland, the master gland, sends this signal to some 50 trillion cells in our body to coordinate all their behaviors.
The adrenal gland, the gland associated with fight or flight, thus engages the behaviors of protection. Here is where it gets interesting. It is here where our system is flooded with stress hormones. This serves a very valuable purpose if we really are being chased by a bear! When our systems are flooded by stress hormones, our energy is preferentially allocated to our arms and legs. Makes sense, we need extra energy in these areas to either fight, or run away from the threat.
But where did that energy come from, and what are the consequences to that part of our body? It came from our viscera, the organs in the cavities of the body, especially those in the abdominal cavity. When stress hormones are released in our bodies, the blood circulation to our viscera is restricted. Again, this is no big deal in the short term, but imagine what would happen to your hand or your foot if you restricted blood circulation in that area day after day, month after month. It’s not a very pretty picture!
With long term restriction in the viscera it is easy to see how many of us develop ulcers, digestive disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, menstrual problems, and so on.
In addition to energy (blood flow) restriction in the viscera, the release of stress hormones results in circulatory restriction in the part of our brains that analyze and make decisions. That energy is sent to the reflex part of our brain. I’m sure you’ve heard stories of someone in an emergency type of situation where they just reacted instantaneously, without thinking. Well they were right, they didn’t have to think, their reflexes took over. The problem with this, is that when we are under stress we truly are less intelligent. We simply do not have access to certain parts of our brain when our stress hormones have been released. Just ask anyone nervous about taking a test. Even though they studied and studied, if they are feeling stress, they often are not able to recall all of the information they need.
So how does hypnosis fit into all of this? What we perceive as a threat comes primarily from conditioned responses which were programmed into our brains at an early age, before the development of our rational abilities. Therefore, we often respond to situations as if they are a threat, even though our logic recognizes that they are not. This happens because, as stated above, the part of our brain that is triggering the stress response does so regardless of our rational thoughts.
For example, many people experience fear when faced with the task of public speaking. Even though they are well prepared, and know they’re not in any actual danger, and perhaps even volunteered to do the presentation, they experience fear, and in some cases even terror, just thinking about it.
Hypnosis is a very effective way to re-program those parts of our brain that engage in these conditioned responses, thereby giving us a new degree of control over our how we perceive life situations. If we don’t perceive an event as a threat, we don’t trigger the stress response. No perceived threat = no stress!
In addition to using hypnosis to re-program, or de-program, our minds from conditioned responses, hypnosis is a very effective way to train ourselves to deeply relax under any circumstance. By learning and practicing relaxation techniques on a regular basis, we can gain the ability to control our physiological response to stress. We can truly change our biology simply by learning how to relax no matter where we are or what’s going on. By maintaining a state of relaxation during a typically stressful situation, we disallow the adrenal gland from releasing stress hormones that often result in long term health problems. The health benefits of learning to relax are enormous. And the best part is, the more we practice, the better we get at it.
With the use of hypnosis any of us can become one of those people who glide through life as though in the center of a storm, acting as if nothing were happening at all. Of course we’ll still be able to respond appropriately to real threats, but we will no longer be victims of our biology.
If you would like more information about using hypnosis to reduce, or even eliminate, stress I offer a free 30 minute consultation, either in person or by telephone, through my hypnotherapy practice at Intuitive Hypnosis, in Portland, Oregon.