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The areas between the brainstem and cerebrum include the thalamus, key in relaying sensation information to the cerebrum and central to emotional experience; and immediately below that, the hypothalamus, which sets the body’s temperature and regulates the autonomic nervous system. The hypothalamus also controls the pituitary gland, which in turn controls many of the body’s hormones. These two areas (together with the amygdala and the hippocampus) collectively comprise the limbic system or emotional brain, making hormonal control and organ functions intimately entwined to touch, emotions, and memory.

Functionally, the nervous system has a conscious part, the somatic nervous system, and a part that deals with unconscious activities, the autonomic nervous system. Through this, the nervous system reacts to how safe we feel; when danger is perceived, the stress-response part of the system is turned on – the sympathetic nervous system, also called the fight-flight-freeze, in acknowledgement of the way an overwhelming stressful situation can paralyze us with fear. flight and fight response


The sympathetic system works together with its opposite, the parasympathetic, which encourages and promotes rest, relaxation, rejuvenation, and repair and is about conservation and building of resources for future use (where the sympathetic uses up resources for immediate survival). The two in tandem.

The parasympathetic system reduces the activities increased by the sympathetic system and stimulates digestion and sexual/reproductive functions. balance between parasympathetic and sympathetic system


It is the place where deep repair and healing are possible.


Holistic medicine modalities aim to increase parasympathetic function, allowing the body’s innate healing mechanisms to kick in. What we need for health and well-being are intermittent periods of stress between spaces of deep relaxation.

Its easy to see why our modern stresses are so dangerous to the body’s wellbeing. How many times in your life has it been appropriate or even possible to either fight or run when you have felt stressed? For most humans, stress comes in the form of overwork and loneliness; the derives perhaps from our childhood, personal isolation, trying to make ends meet to feed and shelter a family, caring for somebody else, or working in a highly competitive office.


Various things are triggered by a shocking or stressful event. The stress-response system gets switched on – we feel a sudden jolt as our heart rate increases and blood pressure goes up, and we go on high alert. Then, as the adrenaline enters the blood, we may become aware of a building level of anxiety or fear (or excitement). If the stressful event is short-lived, things can soon return to normal – the liver metabolizes adrenaline from the blood, stopping its activity. If we got to have a good cry, the tears would contain stress hormones, taking the pressure of the hard – working liver.


Sometimes the stressful event can’t be easily resolved, and then we get a second level of adaptation to stress, designed for longer-term situations. The hypothalamus tells the pituitary to release its hormone ACTH into the blood, which in turn causes the release of cortisol from the adrenal cortex. Cortisol mobilizes stored glucose so we can make lots of ATP for all the anticipated activity – running away from dangerous animals, for instance. It also powerfully suppresses the activities fo the immune system, in particular the inflammatory response – so, important for healing but very inconvenient if it happens in the throes of a life- threating situation. If you fall and injure yourself while running away, the cortisol will stop you from feeling the damage, hopefully enough to run to safety. Once you are away from danger the inflammatory response begins, allowing healing to occur. changes in levels of the stress-sensitive hormone cortisol and its effects


At the same time, the parasympathetic arousal that comes from feeling truly safe would allow the innate healing emotional release processes to do their work and we’d shake, cry, and tell our family and friends all about what happened.

The crying would allow the build-up of stress hormones to leave our bodies more quickly. Crying allows the body to excrete whole stress hormones, including ACTH and prolactin,  and the neurotransmitter leucine enkephalin, without the liver having to metabolize them first.

If you don’t get to recover fully from the stressful situation with full emotional release, or if the stress is ongoing, the continued presence of high levels of stress hormones in the body leads to many problems, including muscle tension, high blood pressure (therefore increased risk of heart disease), poor digestion and absorption (which leads to all sort of problems, with any part of the body not getting the proper nutrients), infertility and sexual problems, and hormone imbalance. The skin doesn’t get enough blood; therefore, it is not able to heal well or receive the nutrients it needs to continual repair and replacement of its cells, which can lead to skin diseases. The immune system is chronically working under par, leading to greater vulnerability to infections and diseases of immune dysfunction, including autoimmune disorders and cancers.


If chronic stress goes on for too long, it results in exhaustion – empty mental, physical, and emotional reserves. The adrenal glands become depleted, and we can no longer tolerate stress, leading to progressive mental and physical exhaustion, illness and ultimately collapse. effects of stress on the immune system


Here are a few suggestions:

Meditate – meditation can change the brain over time in a positive way. Meditation is as good as antidepressants for helping anxiety and depression. The brain shrinks less with age in long-term meditators; mindfulness-based stress reduction training enhances learning and memory, emotional regulation, and one’s ability to process, and decrease fear, anxiety, and stress (shrinking the amygdala) after only eight weeks. People report significant improvements in their stress levels. This kind of mindfulness has been shown to reduce anxiety even years after the initial training.

Meditation improves activity in the self-control regions of the brain, so it helps with recovery from addictions.

Nourish your nerves with a healthy whole-food diet, full of vital nutrients for health, which include the B vitamins, plenty of Omega-3s, and a good set of minerals, especially magnesium.

Sleep tight. The nervous system likes regular habits and plenty of rest, see previous post on how to improve your sleep.

Yoga Nidra and similar forms of relaxation practice are the perfect solution for a hectic lifestyle. Try to allocate time for yourself where you can take the time to focus on your body and let your body and mind relax.

Reduce stress – our bodies only have one physical response to something we experience as stressful – the fight-or flight response. This creates an immediate urge for action and you can counteract this with exercise, dancing, martial arts or other activity.


Reduce or, better still, eliminate caffeine and other stimulants from your diet. Caffeine is hazardous to health, because its effect on the body is to strengthen, and mimic, he effects of adrenaline. It keeps us in a heightened stress-response place, giving us the illusion that we feel energetic and ready for action when we are really depleted.

Detox from all unnecessary drugs and harmful substances. The brain is super-sensitive to toxins, so it makes sense to give it a real break.

It is cool to cry. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to allow yourself to cry. The hormone cortisol and adrenaline will be released and helps to reduce stress.

Do a media fast – avoid screens as much as you can. Try not to look at it first thing in the morning and make a point of a few "phoneless" days. Try to find a hobby which fulfills you.

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