Stress is a primal biological ‘fight or flight’ response that goes back all the way to the beginning of humankind. For the early humans living hundreds of thousands of years ago, the fight or flight response came in handy during instances when one stumbled across a wild animal and had to either outrun or outsmart the predator in order to live another day. Today, however, modern life does not always offer an opportunity to burn through the surge of energy that comes from the fight or flight response. As a result, stress causes profound physiological effects on the brain (as well as the body) that put you at a higher risk of developing anxiety. As a result, stress and anxiety often go hand in hand. The following article will explain some of the physiological effects that create the link between stress and anxiety. Read on to learn more.
Stress Causes Anxiety Triggering Hormonal Imbalances
Whenever we are under stress, the brain immediately sends signals to the pituitary glands creating a cascade of hormonal reactions that see the adrenals release an influx of cortisol. When in the middle of a dangerous situation, cortisol is actually a good thing. It causes a chain of reactions (release of a bout of energy, narrowing of the arteries, stopping of body functions that are not needed at the time, among others) that put you in a better position of resolving the situation. Once the situation is resolved, hormone levels return to normal. The problem comes in when you are continuously stressed. Chronic stress sees elevated levels of cortisol in the body.
Stress Affects Normal Brain Functioning
Aside from the brain damaging effects of cortisol, stress also affects 2 major parts of the brain: the hippocampus and the amgydala. The amygdala part of the brain, which is also the fear center, is responsible for the regulation of the ‘fight and flight response’ and therefore undergoes heightened activity when an individual is under stress. Therefore, if the stress is high or chronic, the amygdala remains at a constant state of hyper-arousal that creates a continuous cycle of fear and anxiety.
The hippocampus holds memories and acts as our central organ for learning. This part of the brain connects new information to old memories helping us to make sense of what is going on around us.
Heightened Stress Can Invoke Anxiety
In some instances, the manner in which we respond to an ongoing stressful situation can lead to anxiety. This usually happens when one develops an obsessive concern about an external stressor and how it is making you feel or how it can lead to extremely bad circumstances. For instance, someone in a high-pressure job can become so obsessed with succeeding or pleasing the employer that he/she develops a fear of failing. It can start with self-talk like ‘what if I don’t make the deadline’, ‘what if the clients refuse my proposal’, ‘what if my boss does not like this presentation’, and so on. This constant state of worrying about job performance then leads to the generation of internal stress that adds on to an already difficult situation. With this heightened level of stress, it then becomes very easy for someone to fall into constant state of anxiety especially since the cause of the stress is an everyday part of life.