Can you control your stress? HPA Axis unveiled
When seeking to understand the inner dynamics of your mind, we come to a very interesting trio; The HPA Axis, which consist of the Hypothalamus, Pituitary, and Adrenal glands. Their individual functions are as follows:
Hypothalamus: A gland in the midbrain that is responsible for creating a chemical record of whatever you are experiencing. These chemicals are often called releasing hormones whose job is to travel and communicate to the Pituitary.
Pituitary: Known as the Master Gland to the ancients also located in the midbrain. The pituitary is responsible for producing various hormones that influence human growth, stress, and happiness. These chemicals are then sent to the adrenals.
Adrenals: Two glands that sit on each of the kidneys. Their job is to take the incoming chemicals from the pituitary gland and produce its own sets of chemicals, the most popular one being adrenaline which commands the entire body to enter a state of stress to ensure your survival.
We can have two types of stress.
1. Competitive stress like in sports.
2. Acute stress when someone is literally stressed out.
When the body is in a state of acute stress it will respond by doing one of two things.
1. Up Regulation. This is when the body creates daughter cells with the sole intent on absorbing the abundant amounts of chemical stress. Certain organs that are affected the most by the acute stress will develop these daughter cells also known as receptor sites. Again their sole mission is to drink stress chemicals.
2. Down Regulation. This is when the body has become so immune to the stress, the body needs more stress in order to respond.
Ask yourself the following question; If my daughter cells are not feed stress chemicals, what will they do? How will they communicate for more stress chemicals?
Let’s use a stressful relationship that can not endure 10 consecutive days of happiness as an example.
On the 9th and 10th day one of the parties start to reminisce about a past event in which the other person is perceived to have caused the person remembering a problem. Despite the 9-10 days of happiness, all of this is now out of the window the moment the hurt person remembers the past event.
The question becomes, where did the memory come from?
The adrenal glands which were being starved for 9-10 days with happy chemicals were not too happy about your happiness. In return, they sent an electrical impulse and chemical up the spine and in the bloodstream up to the Pituitary. The Pituitary tells the Adrenals to hold on as it sends an impulse to the Hypothalamus. Since the hypothalamus must have an experience in order to release its hormones, it sends impulses to the Hippocampus whose job is to store memories. The person now recalls the bad memory, which triggers the HPA in this precise manner creating what we call a Negative Feedback Loop.
There are a few keys to mastering this negative feedback loop.
- Become aware of your thoughts
- Become aware of your emotions and understand that emotions are feelings that are produced from your thoughts.
- Do not allow yourself to declare an event negative or stressful if it is not life threatening.
- Be careful on what you observe and how you identify with that which you are observing
- In the moment of stress, turn your attention toward something that brings you joy. This allows you cut through the negative thinking and disrupt the negative pattern.
- The mere fact that we can consciously choose how to process our thoughts gives us the ability to turn on or off the releasing hormone.