A fire, your brain, and stress … how are all three of these related?
Noticing a fire in your school or office building, you would pull the fire alarm (or call 911). The alarm alerts a fire station to send their trucks. In the mean time, everyone evacuates the building because the only necessary business is safety. Simultaneously, this same drama is going on in your brain.
The brain’s hypothalamus detects a threat (fire) and sounds an alarm, alerting the adrenal glands (station) to send out hormones (trucks) such as adrenaline and cortisol. The cortisol shuts down (evacuates) all nonessential body functions, focusing your energy on survival. This is what we call the stress response.
Stress effects your brain’s hippocampus (memory), amygdala (emotions), and prefrontal cortex (planning, execution). If your body remains stressed over time, those areas of your brain can eventually suffer damage. The amygdala will become too large, the hippocampus shrinks, and the prefrontal cortex can lose its ability to extinguish the fear response.
Article by Jacqueline Marshall, licensed clinical professional counselor