Have We Become Desensitized to Stress?


It used to be we’d ask, “How are you?” and most people would respond, “Good.”

But today people ask, “How are you?” and the answer often is a long sigh, followed by, “So stressed.”

Have we just come to expect that we're going to be stressed every day?

Somewhere along the line, we’ve become resigned to being stressed—all the time. And adults are no longer the only ones who are stressed. Kids, even very young kids, will now say (and show) that they’re stressed, too.

Now while we all know how it feels to be stressed, we may not be aware of the subtle yet damaging ways chronic stress actually interferes with our daily life. For example, we’re more likely to revert to prior not-so-positive habits whenever we’re stressed. That’s why we can be doing great on our diet—that is until we discover we owe back taxes we hadn’t anticipated. Suddenly we’re reaching for that carton of ice cream.

And while it seems rather cruel, chronic stress actually generates a downward spiral of even more stress!  For example, chronic stress can shrink our hippocampus—the part of our brain that saves memories. So, when we can’t remember something for a test or presentation or anything we need to recall—bam!  We’re totally stressed, once again.

There’s more. If we’re already stressed, we’re much more likely to trigger our amygdala—the part of the brain that acts like a watchdog to ensure we’re safe. But here’s the problem. When we’re continually stressed, our amygdala is easily triggered even when there’s no danger.

Yet, since our brain thinks otherwise, it still sounds the alarm, telling the brain to release all kinds of hormones to prepare to fight or flee from that imagined impending threat. That alarm also signals the entire body to make a myriad of physiological changes to respond in kind.

But remember—there really wasn’t any danger. So now all that released adrenaline may turn into cortisol. However, elevated levels of cortisol can then interfere with sleep (and who isn’t more stressed from being up most of the night) and wreak havoc on our immune system (and who isn’t more stressed when not feeling well)? In other words, there are physiological reasons why we’re also so tired when we’re so stressed.

But the upside is  . . . it’s more than possible to enjoy life without chronic stress.

However, to make that statement a reality, we first have to understand how the brain actually works. Otherwise, we’re probably acting in ways we think are helpful and moving us forward—when, in truth, we’re just continuing to trigger a stress response in our brain—again and again.

Ironically, most of us can go through the entire educational system without ever learning how our brain works, let alone how it’s truly possible for anyone to change his or her current brain’s neurological wiring—at any age. Yet, it turns out we can greatly influence the kind of brain we have. (How cool is that?)

That’s why Brain Highways offers an entertaining, creative way to teach families all about the brain, as well as how to organize it so that it works optimally. When we then apply that information to our daily lives, the changes can be incredible.

For example, such knowledge about the brain makes it possible to remain calm even in the middle of chaos. It makes it possible to feel energized long after others have tired. It makes it possible to do more tasks, with more efficiency, in less time. It makes it possible to have positive interactions with others no matter how they address us.

And, yes, once the brain is working as intended, we also see great improvement in academics, focus, social interactions, coordination, anxiety, and many other areas we may have previously felt stressed about—especially when we didn’t seem to move forward.

But here’s the bottom line: The brain hasn’t changed how it works. It’s the same brain today as it was centuries ago. Yet, we have changed much of how we now spend our days—even though many of those changes are contrary to what our brain needs. Simply put, a brain that doesn’t get what it needs, day after day, is going to be stressed.

So now, more than ever, we need to reject the idea that it’s just “part of life” to be tense and stressed and frazzled and anxious much of our day. Now, more than ever, we need to learn how we can actually create a calm, energized, efficient, well-organized brain.

That’s why learning about the brain is not only fascinating—it can also be life-changing.

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