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Thriving or Surviving?

Are we being authentic – are we thriving or just surviving?

So, what’s going on in this mind of ours – why do we feel the way we do and how these thoughts and feelings impact upon our body and well-being?

When we have a constant flow of serotonin in our bodies we are feeling calm and in control, our body goes into what’s known as our “rest and digest mode” and hormones such as serotonin and endorphins flow freely enabling a feeling of calm and ability to cope on a day-to-day basis.

Should we perceive a threat or start thinking negatively, our brain thinks we are in danger and steps in to help us escape that danger whatever this may be, this is commonly known as our “fight or flight” response. Back in primitive times, this danger was a wild animal perhaps a tiger to fight off, but today the “tiger” is our jobs, our relationships, even the news with its constant alerts about COVID 19.

However, this primitive area of our brain has not evolved as fast as our modern world has to allow an understanding of this new form of threat or danger. To this primitive area of the brain, danger is danger – a state of threat, where we need to be obsessive, hyper vigilant and always think of the worst-case scenario in order to survive and be safe.

Especially now in these times of uncertainty and fear of the unknown, the threat response is heightened even for those of us who would not normally feel stressed or anxious.

When our body experiences this fear the amygdala, a small almond shaped section of nervous tissue at the centre of our primitive brain area is alerted. This triggers the “fight or flight” response in our bodies leading to the release of stress hormones throughout our body such as cortisol and adrenaline to help us escape our perceived threat.

Stress is a normal part of our daily lives; it can even be good for us. Overcoming stressful events can make us more resilient. Some adrenaline before an event such as an important speech or even a sporting performance can work in our favour, as it will help us to think faster and move more quickly.

Our stress response is only meant to be temporary to help us escape imminent danger. However, if we continue to have negative thoughts and worry the stress response remains constant, which can lead to chronic stress, e.g. stress caused by family or relationship issues, work, grief, or bullying which will affect us mentally as well as physically and impact on our sleep.

When we are in this fight or flight mode, our body is only interested in survival. All our “rest and digest” hormones have decreased as our body is only focusing on the organs necessary to keep us alive. During this time, our digestive systems and immune systems begin to loose their effectiveness, which is why many of us that experience stress can suffer from stomach problems or feel unwell, change in appetite and be more susceptible to illness.

When we are in this state we our ability to be rational is limited, we aren’t thinking as clearly as normal and we are always looking for the worst possible outcome and our ability to try and think positively decreases significantly.

The part of the brain that takes over when our stress response is activated is our limbic system – its our primitive brain. Its sole purpose is our survival on a day-to-day basis therefore does not have the innovative ability to recoginise the difference between what is real and imagination. If we are thinking about something bad happening then this part of the brain will react as if the event where happening for real and the stress response will be activated.

Even when we even have negative thoughts about the past (depression) or worrying about the future in terms of an outcome that hasn’t happened (anxiety), this part of the brain will treat this exactly the same way as if we have a large tiger in front of us about to attack.

We go into survival mode with stress hormones flowing through our body. The limbic brain area has the ability to override the intellectual area of our brain reducing the flow of serotonin and limiting our ability to think rationally and positively.

Instead as its priority is our survival from a “perceived threat” it will replace serotonin with adrenaline and cortisol to help us move fast, increase strength and remove any excess waste in order to get out of the situation as quickly as possible.

Therefore, the impact of our thoughts is huge. How we think impacts the physical make up of our bodies. If we are thinking negatively then we are sending our bodies into a stress response and if we do this consistently, we can put our physical and mental well-being at risk. Having an extended stress response can lead to depression, anxiety and chronic stress as well as have a negative impact on our physical bodies also.

Whilst this is quite a daunting thought to see how easily we can slip into a state of chronic stress and anxiety, it is also very liberating and motivating as we can use this knowledge as a superpower!

As Mark Twain said, ”I have lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened”

How many times have we thought about all the worst possible outcomes that an event or situation could have - a trip to the dentist, a meeting in work, a relationship break up that we thought we would never get over. Imagine the number of different negative situations we played out in our minds and how many of these actually happened. I bet there is a huge ratio, e.g. an upcoming dentist appointment where we go to the appointment and it is not as bad as we thought it to be. However in our minds we have attended this appointment 51 times in our head with 50 of them have been disasters. Imagine the imbalance of stress hormones that we had from the negative cycle of worry from this one event and how easily it is for stress hormones to accumulate over time.

However, with this knowledge we now have the ability to switch the negative thought processes around to work to our advantage.

Our primitive area of the brain does not recognise the difference between what is real and what is imagination and so becomes a superpower. We can use this to harness the power of increasing positive thoughts and visualisation to begin to imagine the lives we can to lead as a first step towards achieving this life. We can assess the negative chatter going on in our mind and understand where this is coming from. We can then begin to edit this chatter and start to look for the positive aspects in life.

Our thoughts impact on our emotions (feelings) and our emotions impact our behaviours. We can limit using this to our disadvantage and begin to use it towards our advantage to positively improve our over all well being.

If you removed a negative issue you are facing, how would you be thinking, what would you be doing?

Making small daily changes to our thinking can build up over time – our brain is a muscle too and like our leg and arm muscles we need to train and exercise this also in order to begin to return to good mental health.

What one small step can you take today?

So start asking yourself today – what are your “tigers” what have you been thinking about recently that is causing the worry and stress? write these down so you can see them. What are your thought processes around these “tigers” and ask yourselves – how many of these thoughts are actually true – how many have actually happened in the present moment.

Only from knowing and acknowledging what your issues are what is causing these feelings of stress and anxiety can you begin to understand how this is impacting you and your body. Only from here can you see what you don’t want in your life and start thinking about what you actually do want and begin to visualise what that might look like.

At Serotonin Solutions we work together to begin moving away from this cycle of negative thoughts where you start to imagine what you want for yourself and how you want to be thinking and behaving. We then start to develop solutions unique your circumstances enabling you to move you closer towards the positive future you want to achieve.

In my next blog I will be writing about how we can begin to start to train this brain muscle of ours to begin to move from fear and negativity to start seeing the positive aspects of our lives. When we start to do this, we are triggering our minds to begin to move from our survival state, our “fight or flight” mode into our “rest and digest” mode. This will increase the flow of serotonin in to our bodies so we can look towards improving our overall physical and mental well-being and achieving the goals we set for ourselves.

In the meantime feel free to access the available resources on my website that will help you start to understand more about why you are feeling stressed, depressed or perhaps anxious.

Using the simple steps within my Serotonin Solutions practice will help you start to break free from the negative cycle of worry and just survival on a day to day basis, and begin a journey back to your true self where you will begin to thrive and live the life you truly want to lead.

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