Whether you perceive a threat or a major challenge that is going to change your life in a good way, the response of your body and brain looks similar. Your heart beats faster, your breath quickens, you feel very anxious, and all your muscles get tense.
Yes, this can happen to you when you feel in danger, but it also can happen when you get a big promotion, for example.
In both types of situations, what makes you feel on edge is called stress. And it is something we are all dealing with.
Stress is not always triggered by something bad. Your wedding day, for example, is certainly a happy moment, but it usually comes with a lot of stress attached. Also, what one person finds stressful may be different from what another one finds stressful.
Beyond that, there is real and imagined stress, but both of them feel the same.
The truth is that we all feel stressed from time to time. But this feeling should be temporary. When you feel stressed all of the time, when stress becomes severe, frequent, or prolonged it can cause huge damage to your physical and mental health.
But what is stress and why do we feel it? How can we manage stress to live a happier life?
In this new Stress Management Series, Ted Ryce will explain what is stress and how it affects our health. In the first part, he will reveal what are the different types of stress and what actually happens in our brain when we experience stress.
In the second part, he will explain how we can assess stress, the simple questions that you can ask yourself to help you determine if you are too stressed, and recognize areas in your life where you might need to improve. And in the third and final part, he will reveal how we can train our brain and body to experience less stress and live a healthier and happier life. Listen Now!
- What is stress and how does it affect our health?
- Can good things cause stress?
- Eustress vs. Distress. Negative and positive stress that cause similar physiological reactions
- Real stress vs. imagined stress
- Rethinking Stress: How you think about stress matters
- Acute stress vs. chronic stress
- The effects of stress on your body
- What actually happens in our brain when we experience stress
- How exercise reduces stress and anxiety
- And much more…
RTF 90: Help, I Need A Break! How To Manage Stress & Finally Get Your Life Back
74: How To Control Your Unwanted Emotions & Stay Focus During Stressful Times | Real Talk Friday
57: The United State Of Stress I Real Talk Friday
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Podcast Transcription: Stress Management Series: What Is Stress And How It Affects Our Body and Mind with Ted Ryce - Part 1
Ted Ryce: Have you wondered recently what the hell’s going on with people? Why are people so on edge? Why are people so easily triggered? Is it really because of the reasons they give? For example, if you’re on the left, you might say what’s wrong with the United States is systemic racism or the patriarchy or capitalism, or corporatism. If you’re on the right, you say it’s the loss of traditional values. It’s that people have become too entitled, people need Jesus in their life or some form of religion, to give them some meaning.
And guess what? There are elements of truth to all those arguments. But today, we’re going to discuss what I believe to be the underlying problem, because one thing that human beings do is we bullshit ourselves, we make up these logical reasons, when really, it’s the emotional feelings that we have that are driving what we say.
And we rationalize our feelings, we come up with complicated, philosophical discussions about it. But really, it comes down to a feeling. And this feeling what we’re talking about today, the underlying problem, the root cause of modern ills, if you will, can be summed up in one single word: stress.
And today, we’re kicking off the stress series. Part one is going to be about what stress is. Part two is going to be about how to measure it, how to know whether you’re under too much stress. Part Three is going to be what to do about it. And make no mistake, in America, we’re facing a national mental health crisis that will have serious consequences on our health, on our society for years to come.
Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted everything, our work, our education, our healthcare, our relationships, the economy. But the truth is, if we’re honest with ourselves, and we do need to be honest with ourselves if we want to move forward in a positive way, regardless of your political beliefs here, regardless of anything else, we need to be honest. And we were struggling before then. It’s been brewing for a while.
Is 75% of the population overweight and obese simply because that we have hyper palatable foods, just because there’s snicker bars in the checkout line? I don’t think so. I don’t think so. I think it goes a lot deeper, folks. We can blame it on hyper palatable foods, for sure. And there’s some truth there. But that’s why you ate 10 Snickers bars instead of three? Come on, we’re not being honest about our stress.
We love to look at the biological side, we love to look at, oh, it’s hyper palatable foods, so it’s our genes. Oh, there’s an appetite dysregulation in my hypothalamus. Those are important things, for sure. But what we don’t want to talk about, we don’t want to talk about the psychological issues we’re struggling with.
And we’re starting to have a conversation on the national level about the social issues that we’re struggling with. But still, we’re not quite able to get to what I believe is at the heart here, and again, that is stress. And in a survey conducted in 2021, by the American Psychological Association, 84% of adults said they experienced at least one emotion tied to prolonged stress in the prior two weeks, with the most common one being anxiety.
Does that sound familiar? And 67% of people said that the challenges the United States is facing is now overwhelming. In fact, there’s been an interesting shift in the past four or five years that the American Psychological Association, in the time that they’ve been doing this survey on stress, people have reported their stress being driven by work, family life and money, to reporting that their stress is being driven by national level kinds of issues.
In fact, the survey, the most recent one, the one in 2021 survey shows 81% of respondents cited the future of our nation as a significant source of stress, and we’ll talk about that later. Because, I mean, how are you going to affect the future of our nation, right? Making nasty posts on Facebook, calling people names. We’ve got to have a conversation about that and what that’s doing to our stress levels, what it’s doing to our relationships, what it’s doing to all those things that help us stay healthy, not just physically healthy, but emotionally healthy.
And what I’m going to argue here in this series is that we are, not entirely a nation of emotionally unhealthy folks, but we’re getting there, you know, we like to talk about the obesity, we like to talk about people not exercising enough. Again, all those biological factors, but we need to have this conversation about this psychology. In other words, the stress, that’s what it comes down to with psychology, and also the social factors.
So, there was some good news in the survey, about 9 in 10 adults say they hope the country can come together in unity. And it seems that the majority of Americans, and you probably feel this way too, regardless of your political affiliation, you want to move forward and solve the issues together. But why can’t we do that? And again, if I could sum it up in one word, folks stress.
And if you are listening right now, and you think now, “Ted doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Stress? It’s not that simple. It’s more complicated.” Keep listening, I like to challenge because we, again, rationalize our feelings, we make up complicated, philosophical arguments for what is really just, I feel bad, I feel sad, I feel anger, I feel hopeless. And what are those negative feelings? Those are actually I guess, emotions. But it all comes down to this single word, “stress”.
So, let’s talk about how stress is impacting our health. So, while I hope you found some of the statistics I shared interesting, you probably didn’t need to know them to know what your stress levels are, or that a lot of Americans are having trouble handling their stress. We can feel it, right? And some questions I began to ask when I started studying, really diving into stress is what is it? And how does it affect our health?
And it’s something I’ve talked about over the years, but this is going to be next level, explanation and understanding for you. So what is stress? Well, whenever we go through challenges, run into problems or experience setbacks and threats, we get stressed. For example, life was normal and then there was a pandemic and now you’re wondering, okay, well, how am I going to work from home?
How am I going to get the kids to school? Like, how is homeschooling the kids? How is that going to work? What do I do to keep myself and my family safe? Do I wear masks? Do I not wear masks? Do I get the vaccine? You’re worrying about all this stuff you didn’t have to worry about. But by the way, it is a mistake to think that stress only appears in negative situations. We also feel stress when we experience good things.
For example, have you ever planned an amazing vacation and you’re kind of stressing out packing for the vacation? Or maybe you got a promotion at work, or you bought a new business or expanded your business, and there came new stress with that, or have you ever had a child? I haven’t had a kid yet, but I know there’s a lot of stress that comes with that. Again, that’s not bad stress, per se, but it is stress.
And we’re going to be talking about the difference between the two. Or I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane, that was stressful, but it was awesome. I felt amazing for days afterward. So, stress can be good. It can also be bad. And when it’s positive, there’s a name for it, it’s called eustress. And in case you’re really nerdy, and I don’t know, want to bring that up at a cocktail party, but if it’s negative, it’s called distress.
So, the thing to note here is that eustress and distress cause similar physiological reactions. The big difference is emotional. Eustress makes you feel motivated and satisfied. Again, when you get really nervous for a talk and then you give a talk, I mean, how do you feel after? How do you feel? Again, I felt amazing when I jumped out of the plane.
And distress makes you feel threatened and intimidated or just bad. For example, let’s say you’re watching the news, you see another example of injustice in a viral video. I just saw a terrible video of these three kids beating the crap out of another kid, and I got so triggered by watching it, it makes me super angry seeing it because, first of all, there was no context to it so I have a limited understanding of what went on.
But what you see is terrible. And when three kids are savagely beating down one kid, I mean, man, it brings up emotions. So that did not help me watching that video, it left me with higher stress level and made me feel bad. And of course, when you feel bad and you start telling yourself the story, “Oh, the world’s bad. I mean, if this can happen in the world, then the world’s bad, right? So easy trap to fall into.
And by the way, it’s not always easy to tell the difference between them. For example, when I have my group coaching opened—now I’m only doing one on one—I’m not sure if we’re going to open up the group, we might again, but in my group coaching, there were a lot of people who I talked to who were extremely worried about signing up to the program, right? Because it was a substantial financial investment for them.
And then on top of it, it’s a substantial amount of work to do. You’ve got to change things up. And I don’t mean work like they had to work out more than they already were working out or anything like that, there was a lot of mental work to do. You had to actually learn about food, instead of just doing intermittent fasting or cutting out carbs, you had to actually learn things.
It was like going to school. It’s like getting your MBA, your executive MBA. But after the program was over, they told me how it changed their life. So that’s an example of how it can be hard to tell. I remember a conversation with one woman. She’s like, “Oh, my God, oh, I feel so intimidated and nervous.” I’m like, ‘Well, what is it that you don’t…? Do you trust me? It’s cool if you don’t, I just want to have an honest conversation with you. Do you trust me? What is it that you don’t trust here?”
And she’s like, “No, I trust you. I’ve been listening to your podcast for years; I think I have a good idea of who you are.” And I said, “Well, do you feel like you’re going to do the work?" And she said, “I’m already working out. I’m already paying attention to my food, so it’s not going to be… You’re telling me that it’s going to be easier than what I’m doing?” Because she was doing a strict diet? I said, “Yes.” And then she said, “Well, I don’t know what it is.”
And then so she ended up joining, she had a game changing experience. Personal example is when I gave my first keynote speech in Hershey, Pennsylvania, to the network of executive women, I got nervous, aka stressed, preparing for that talk. A part of me didn’t want to take on the talk, part of me wanted to quit to avoid the discomfort I was experiencing. But after the talk, I felt like a million bucks, even though I got paid thousands for it, you know?
And I got treated extremely well. I mean, it’s like, why am I doing coaching? You know, I love doing coaching. But I don’t get treated like a rock star in coaching. I treat my clients like rock stars. I liked being treated like a rock star. And I can’t wait to get back and doing more talks and keynote speeches because it provides that level of stress that I don’t get from coaching. I don’t get nervous talking to my clients. I love my clients. But I don’t get nervous talking to them.
Hopefully, those stories were helpful to you. Stress can also be real or imagined. What do I mean? Well, humans have the unique ability to stress out about things that will never ever happen. For example, were you stressed out about the end of the world in 2012 like a lot of people, or y2k? Remember y2k, everybody was freaking out and then nothing happened, and 2012 came around, guess the Mayans were wrong. Or maybe we were wrong about the Mayans, I don’t know.
I lived in Mexico for a while, and anyway, so I don’t know where I was going with that. But we start imagining how something’s going to be, “Oh my god, this is going to happen and that’s going to happen. Oh my gosh, what if that happens?” And you know what, our stress levels go up. But that thing never even happened. So we just spiked our stress for something that—we use the power of our imagination to stress ourselves, right?
Or watching news, another example of it. I mean, the news isn’t real in the sense that it provides a very imbalanced perspective. I mean, think about all the bits of news that go on every day in the world, all over the world, and how many are you exposed to? And, you know, I’ll let you answer this question.
But why do news outlets, whether it’s a major mainstream outlet like Fox News, or CNN, or some online rag, as I guess you would say, why are they choosing those topics that they share with you? What is the purpose? What is that? Why are they choosing certain topics over other topics?
I’ll let you answer that question. I think you’re smart enough to figure that one out. Why do I talk about stress? Why am I not talking about garden, you know, why am I not talking about something else? We’re all concerned, am I too stressed? And stress, I hear stress is really bad for you. And I do believe it’s important. It’s not just a hot topic. But it is a hot topic, too, so best of both worlds.
So again, another interesting fact about stress is how you perceive it matters. For example, do you get a flat tire, and is it a big enough deal to ruin your day? Because then it’ll probably ruin your day. And this isn’t just pop psychology, either. This idea is based on the theory of stress and coping from the 1980s. In other words, stress is as much about how you perceive what happens to you, as it is about what happens to you.
And for those of you who don’t, or haven’t been listening to this podcast for that long, I lived in Southeast Asia for two years, I lived in Thailand, I lived in Vietnam, I lived in Bali, spent some time in Cambodia. Let me tell you, you see people in much worse situations. I’ve seen people in really, really tough situations, especially in Cambodia. And things that don’t exist in the United States.
I mean, they just don’t exist, maybe in a rural place in the middle of nowhere. But the level of poverty that exists there is really sad. But people have a different perspective about it. And part of it is their religion, by the way, they’re both in Cambodia and Thailand, strong Buddhist cultures. And let me tell you, changed the way that I looked at things. It changed the way that I looked at what’s happened to me in my life.
So regardless of whether a stressful situation is positive, negative, real, imagined, blown out of proportion, because of your sensitivity, it still triggers the same cascade of stress hormones that produce that familiar feeling. Your heartbeat increases, your muscles tense, you start to sweat, and your attention becomes focus. This is the fight, flight, or freeze response. And it’s something we’ve all experienced.
And scientists believe that it developed as a survival mechanism to react immediately to life threatening situations. As you’ve experienced, the hormones and neurotransmitters flood your body fast when you get stressed. So, let’s say you’re driving home from a party and you’ve had a couple too many, but you still think you’re okay to drive, right? You’ve never done that, and I’ve never done that.
And then you see some police lights start flashing behind you, the siren goes off, and the cops coming up behind you fast, what happened? How long does it take for you to start getting nervous and start thinking about, “Oh my gosh, DUI, how much is that going to be? How is it going affect my life, I’m going to lose my license?” And then the police car speed, pulls into the other lane and passes you, and he was responding, or she, whatever, was responding to a different situation, a different caller, had nothing to do with you. And you wipe your head but you still experienced that stress.
So unfortunately, the body can overreact to stressors that are not life threatening, such as traffic jams, deadlines at work. And typical problems that we face in our families; kids not doing their homework or not finishing their food or causing typical teenage problems. And scientists have learned a lot more about how and why the stress response happens as well as how chronic stress can affect our physical and psychological health. So, let’s talk about that a little bit.
So acute stress versus chronic stress. What’s the difference here? Well, acute stress is just short-term stress, like that example of the cop car coming up behind you and then it drove away. And then you got stressed for a short period of time, but then you laughed about it afterward, whew, and you probably said to yourself, if you’re like me, “Oh, I’m never doing this again. I got off this time, but I’m never doing this again.”
Well, that’s acute stress, or working out is acute stress, or getting stuck in a traffic jam, that’s an acute stress, and it doesn’t happen all the time, it happens and then it’s over.
But a chronic stress is different. Imagine you’re in a toxic relationship, where you’re constantly arguing with your partner, or you work in a toxic environment, where your boss is one of those micromanaging people that need to be in therapy but won’t go to therapy. Or you live in a high crime neighborhood where violence and break ins are relatively common.
These are all examples of acute stressors that happened chronically, so it turns into chronic stress, right? One argument with your partner is not going to be a big deal, but if it’s—well, this is the fifth argument you’ve been in today, and it happens every day. Well, that’s not a relationship, you should...Well, I should tell you that, you should consider strongly whether a relationship with that much stress is a relationship you should be in. Okay, I don’t want to go off on a tangent here because I feel like that’s a big one.
So, listen, when it comes to acute stress, the body is good at handling it. As the stress goes away, your body comes back to baseline. Because when you are stressed, your blood pressure rises, heart rate increases, breathing rate increases, levels of muscle tension will increase, hormones and neurotransmitters, adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine or noradrenaline get released, and then after the stress goes away—by the way, lifting weights is like this too, right?
But after the stress goes away, your levels return to normal. After you have that tough talk with your partner who you’re in love with, after you give this speech, after you leave the gym, you move on with your day. At least that’s how it should happen if you’re a healthy person physically and emotionally.
In fact, by the way, many health experts I’ve spoken to define resilience as how quickly you recover from an acute episode of stress. Like, how fast do you come back to baseline? You do a workout and you feel trashed for the next day, well, that’s you’re not recovering from that workout so well. You get into an argument and you’re just ruminating about that argument for a day or for two days or more.
So how physically healthy and emotionally healthy you are, and maybe even socially healthy, you’re not going to suffer from those types of things, the more healthy you are, the quicker you’re going to recover from an acute episode of stress.
But the body isn’t so good at handling chronic stress. And over time, chronic stress gradually increases your resting heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, levels of muscle tension so that now you have a new normal.
Chronic stress creates a new normal inside your body, and this new normal can eventually lead to a host of health problems, including chronically high blood pressure, heart disease, chronic pain and depression.
And just to be clear here, when we’re talking about stress, we’re talking about how the outside gets inside. How does our environment, how does your partner being angry and getting into an argument with you or a traffic jam, how does that get inside to raise your blood pressure and to make it chronically high so that you’re a person who now has high blood pressure? Well, when we talk about stress and its effects, we’re talking about how stress influences your brain. Simply put.
And when it comes to your brain, there are a few key areas that are important to know. Now look, I’m not going to give you some in depth textbook explanation, you can read more about these areas if you want, after this episode, but I’m going to give you some basics and explain them in a way that I think it will be easy to understand and remember.
So you’ve got your thalamus, and your thalamus sits on top of a structure in your brain called your brainstem. It’s what’s considered to be a very primitive part of your brain. And it’s responsible for processing sounds, images, anything coming in through your five senses. It’s like the bouncer at a club. It decides, all right, who gets inside, who stays out?
Because think about how much stimulation you have all day long, how many people you walk by, how many telephone poles did you drive by if you are driving right now to work and not home-officing it, how many telephone poles did you drive by? You don’t know, because you weren’t paying attention. You’re probably thinking about your whatever, your mortgage or your what’s going to happen today, or who’s going to win a sports game or whatever it is that you’re thinking about.
So the thalamus decides what gets into your awareness, what stays out. And then you have your amygdala. Now you’ve most likely heard of your amygdala. But by the way, you have amygdalae, you have two, in other words, and they are two almond-shaped parts of your brain that pick up where the thalamus left off. So once the information gets in, into your thalamus, the amygdala starts to interpret it.
And Dutch psychiatrist Bessel Van Der Kolk, who wrote the amazing book, The Body Keeps The Score, calls the amygdala, the smoke detector, because it functions in a similar way. This alarm system alerts us swiftly and unconsciously when something is a threat. And you have your hippocampus. Your hippocampus is something I’ve talked a lot about before, and we’ll talk about it quite a bit right now. Not quite a bit, but I want to give you some important information.
It’s part of your emotional processing system as well, your limbic system, and its associated with memory. So this is how it works. You have senses, you have got your eyes, you’ve got your hearing, you’ve got your smell, you’ve got your feelings—well not feelings—you have tactile, like, you feel things literally, so, “Ooh, I cut myself.” And then your hippocampus lets that in, then your amygdala says, “Well, how bad my cut? Am I going to bleed to death? Or is this a paper cut? And it just hurts.”
You know, why do paper cuts hurt so much, but they’re really not dangerous? That’s a story for another podcast. But now we’re at your hippocampus. And your hippocampus relies on past memories and experiences to interpret the threat. So, “Oh, yeah, I’ve been cut like this before, it’s not a big deal.”
So interestingly, many folks talk about the amygdala as being the center of stress, “Oh, it’s your alarm system, and oh…” right? And it’s an important part. But what seems to be even more important, if not, at least as important is that your hippocampus seems to be the thing that gets affected the most. For example, have you ever been through something and you’ve had flashbacks?
Or let me ask you this? Why is it so easy for you to remember where you were during 9/11? I remember everything from that... Well, not everything from that morning, but I remember what I was doing, where I was, whose house I was at. I was on my way to work, went to a client’s house. I remember so many things. I remember listening to Howard...
Why can I remember all that? But what did I have for dinner three days ago? I’ve got no idea. Well, your hippocampus, folks, and if you’ve ever had flashbacks from the negative experience, hippocampus. And what’s really interesting about this because I’ve had PTSD, or have PTSD. Still not quite clear from what I’ve been told by the various therapists that I’ve talked to, but I certainly had these symptoms.
And one of the reasons why I looked into this, so check this out. This is fascinating. And this is an example of how genetic/...Well, what would you call it? Yeah, genetics plays a role in our experience of life. So, for example, a study found that people with severe PTSD had smaller hippocampi. And that might not be that interesting, except that this study also looked at only people with twins, where the twin didn’t have PTSD.
And both twins had smaller hippocampi, but one had PTSD and the other did not because there’s something they had been through in their life. And this led to researchers hypothesizing that a smaller hippocampus may be the sign that a person is more likely to develop PTSD after traumatic experience.
Conversely, a study published in the journal, Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging shows that larger hippocampi or people with a larger hippocampus, it improves the likelihood that treatment will have a positive effect for people with PTSD. Are you starting to see how it’s not as complicated as the social—the stories about what we’ve been through? Do you start to see like, “Oh, well, if I have a smaller hippocampus, I’m not only…”
I think we can extrapolate; it would be interesting to have this conversation with the appropriate expert. But wouldn’t it be interesting if people with a smaller hippocampus, not only are they more susceptible to PTSD after say, a tough event, the death of a loved one or something like that. But this area, how big it is, not only affects whether you’re going to have severe PTSD, but also how you respond to stress in general.
And this other study found that people with larger hippocampus, they have a better treatment outcome. Now, look, I’m sharing these studies. It’s not a ton of studies. We’re still figuring this stuff out, but it’s pointing at clues. The evidence is mounting. And one more thing about the hippocampus, then I’ll shut up. Guess what’s been found to grow new neurons in the hippocampus, or in other words, make the hippocampus bigger?
That’s right, detox celery juice. And let me give you my promo code for 10% off. I’m just kidding. I’m talking about exercise here, folks. That’s right, exercise appears to be the single best thing that you can do for your brain. Multiple studies have found that both resistance training and aerobic exercise has been found to increase the size of your hippocampus, as well as improving your memory.
Now, we’ll talk more about that when we come to part three and coming up with a blueprint to handle stress better. But are you starting to see how this is really important? There are two other key brain structures. So, we’ve talked about the thalamus, that’s the bouncer, what gets in your awareness, what stays out. And the amygdala, okay, once it’s in your awareness, what is it? How much of a threat is it?
Then you have your hippocampus, which is the memories. Okay, well, what can we remember about this threat? Like say the cut example that I used, what can we remember about this threat? And it seems that if you have a smaller hippocampus, you might seem to perceive things. I’m not sure how that works exactly, but it seems that you might be more— evidence suggests that you’re more susceptible to PTSD and even severe PTSD, so you’re probably more susceptible to stress in general.
And, yeah, and exercise makes that hippocampus grow, it makes it healthier. Think about all the kids that we’ve taken exercise out of school we’ve take in PE out of school, and force them to learn things that they’ll never use. So hopefully, if you’re homeschooling your kids, you’re getting them to run around and get exercise.
So, then we have our hypothalamus. Now we talked about the thalamus, now we’re talking about the hypothalamus. So, when the amygdala and hippocampus work in tandem to declare a threat, right, the amygdala is like, ‘Okay, is this is a threat?” Hippocampus is like, “Yeah. What do we remember about this? How big of a threat is this from what we’ve experienced in the past?”
The hypothalamus, quickly sends a message down the brainstem, it’s the thing that activates your autonomic nervous system. In other words, it’s the thing that sends you into fight, flight or freeze mode. And then the last part that I want to talk about is your prefrontal cortex. I know it’s a lot of brain stuff, right? So, your prefrontal cortex isn’t part of your limbic system.
Well, let me put it like this, you know how you can speak languages like English, and you can understand what I’m saying right now and you can think about abstract things. You can set goals, when you’re about to say something to the partner that you love, you’re, [mumbling] “you know what, honey, I love you,” right? You can stop yourself. And when you were about to say something, you know, isn’t going to go over well.
Or you see a social media argument, you’re about to go, “Oh, God, I’ve got to get in this comment. I need to say something.” And then you stop yourself, you say, “You know what, what is leaving this comment and getting all the notifications and getting into an argument, what is that going to do? I’ve got to take the kids to school and then pick them up, or get all this work done, or get this new deal,” whatever it is that you’re up to.
So that’s what your prefrontal cortex does. And when you’re healthy again, physically and emotionally, and you’re not exposed to a threat, your amygdala allows the connection of your prefrontal cortex with other key areas like the anterior cingulate—I apologize for all the neuroanatomy here, but just in case, you’re one of those people who likes to learn this stuff--and it enables you to do all the cool stuff that your brain is capable of.
But guess what happens when your smoke alarm is triggered, aka your amygdala, it knocks your prefrontal cortex offline. And you’ve experienced this. Have you ever not been able to hold your tongue and you said something you regretted? I remember I was in an episode of road rage, right? Unfortunately, I’ve been in more than I’d like to admit about myself. I tried to let this guy go past me and he took too long.
I waved him by and he took too long, at least for me at that time, right? I had no patience. And so I just pulled out in front because he didn’t react fast enough because he was driving his convertible. Just you know, riding around Miami Beach, enjoying his life. And I was stressed out dude at the time. And then he started honking at me, like I asked him to go and then I pulled out in front of them, like I had no problem, you know?
And then we got into it, we pulled over, and it nearly led to a physical altercation. How stupid is it? And it was just partly a miscommunication, partly me being on edge. And I remember the guy said, “You’re an animal,” because I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t explain myself. I couldn’t say, “Hey, man, listen, I asked you to go but then you’re like... I don’t know if you’re on your phone or what you’re doing, but you didn’t go so I went. I’m in a rush. You don’t seem to be in a rush.”
But I could barely talk, and that’s why. So, if you’ve ever been in that situation, or if you said something extremely rude that you regretted, now you know why, your prefrontal cortex was knocked offline. When you get too angry, knocks offline, when you get too sad, it gets knocked offline. And because the prefrontal cortex, it helps you regulate your behavior.
And when we’re talking about stress, what we’re really talking about here, how to regulate your feelings, how to regulate your thoughts, how to regulate your behavior. And if you are chronically stressed, you just can’t do that. In fact, chronic stress leads to issues controlling your emotions, controlling your behaviors, as well as leading to a state of what’s called hyper vigilance.
That’s that feeling where you’re constantly on edge. If you know that term, walking on edge eggshells, if you’ve ever been that person, which I’ve unfortunately, people had to walk on eggshells around me when I was in my 20s or various points in my life. Now I try to let people know you can’t, you know, it takes a lot to bother me, except on Twitter when someone says that their metabolism is broken or carbs make them fat, then I get triggered, right?
Because it’s just like, “No, God damn it, please stop saying carbs make you fat.” You know, it’s like, “Carbs make me fat.” It’s like you’re eating a doughnut, it’s half fat, okay, all the calories are coming from like, half the calories are coming from fat. It’s just tough on me, folks. But that feeling where you’re constantly on edge, that’s hypervigilance.
And the thing that I’ll say just very briefly, because it takes a while to create changes in your brain to bring you back down. And we’re going to talk about that. But you can’t just have one good night’s sleep, so if you feel like it…And this can come from a lot of different angles, folks. Maybe you’ve been through, you know, my brother was murdered, my sister committed suicide, my dad just died, I’ve got a lot of heavy stuff I’m carrying around, it can come from something like that.
It can also come from burnout at work. It can also come from growing up/living in an environment that’s dangerous. It can happen if you’re in a toxic relationship and you just won’t leave, right? It can start to change your brain, it can start to change your ability to regulate your emotions, regulate your feelings, your thoughts, regulate your behaviors. And that’s what we’re talking about here, all right?
So, I’m going to stop now, because we’ve talked about a lot. But I want you just to keep in mind that it all comes back to this, it all comes back to, we’re all trying to do the things that we know we need to do to accomplish the things that we want to accomplish. Because we’ve all got goals, we all want to make great things happen in our life, whether it’s you want to make a lot of money, or maybe you want to give back to charity, whether you want to raise amazing children and be the supermom, superdad, whatever you want to do.
Whatever you want to do, it takes a functioning prefrontal cortex. And I’m guessing that you know you need to do a lot of things to make this life. I mean, we only got one shot at life. And you know you’ve got plans laid out and you know there’s a lot of work involved, but you’re not motivated. Well, not motivated for me is too much stress, okay? There’s no motivation. You’re crushed by stress.
And oh, well, I can’t stop myself from overeating. You’re saying you’re stressed, right? I am really upset about the world and where it’s going. It’s like, really? Have you ever read a history book? Do you ever see some terrible things? We’re living in the best time ever. So, when someone says that, it’s like, “Oh, that person is stressed,” right? Because your opinions about the world aren’t true, and they aren’t false either, they’re just opinions.
And we can make arguments and we can get into complicated philosophical discussions about right and wrong and all this other stuff, but the reality is, what is your stress level? Because people who have their stress levels intact, their prefrontal cortex is working well, their smoke alarm isn’t going off, just because they microwaved something, right, you know, like super sensitive smoke alarm.
And their hippocampi are good sized, or being maintained because of exercise, you know, what I’m saying? Are you picking up the pieces that I’m putting down here? Are you getting what I’m trying to say here? Because this is, we’re really talking about how to be better versions of ourselves by controlling our—not controlling, right, because you can’t control whether something gets you angry.
You see some racism or something terrible happened, you’re going to be upset, but are you able to think about it in a way and put it into context where you don’t get stuck in the downward spiral, right? Or do you get stuck in the downward spiral? Whether it’s something political that happens or whether you lose a parent, you get stuck in the downward cycle. That’s what was happening to me a little bit after my dad died, and I saw it happening, I had to pull myself out. So what are we talking about here? We’re talking about doing the things we know we need to do so that we can live the life that we want. That’s what managing stress.
If you look at it the way I’m sharing it with you, if you look at it this way, if you learn how to manage it, I will help you live the life that you want. And through being aware of your stress, through knowing how to measure your stress, and having a blueprint of what to do.
So hope you enjoyed today. And stay tuned for part two, where we’re going to talk about assessment. What are some of the things that people have used to assess stress levels?
How are scientists thinking about this? What can we do that doesn’t involve extensive testing of unusual biomarkers, and some of the others like serum noradrenaline levels, you know what I mean? Like, what can we do that doesn’t have to do with really expensive testing equipment or getting tests at your doctor, you’re going to come and ask them, “Hey, I want this test and that test?”
They’re like, “What do you want that for? Insurance isn’t going to cover it.” It’s like, “Yeah, but can you just do it, man?” So anyway, that’s what we’re going to cover part two, and part three, we’re going to get more tactical and talk about things to do to take action on. All right, so hope you’re excited as I am. This is a game changer. If you listen to me, if you put this into play, it will change your life.
All right, that’s what it’s about. In other words, how will it change your life? You’re going to be able to have more control over your thoughts, your feelings, and ultimately your behavior so that you can live that legendary life.
Stay tuned for next time. And I’ll speak to you on Friday where we’ll talk about something on Real Talk Friday. All right, speak then.
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