It may be considered natural to think of stress as something brought on by a host of factors which exist outside of a person. Let…
A third of British employees are suffering from depression, stress and anxiety. That’s according to the survey done by PwC, a management consultancy firm, on 2,000 British workers in junior and senior roles.
What is stress?
Stress and anxiety often go together. However, stress is not necessarily a bad thing.
Stress is the body’s response to any kind of demand – be it good or bad. Our ancestors have used the onset of stress to alert them of potential danger, such as an imminent attack of a wild animal.
When we are stressed, our body switches to the fight or flight mode. It, therefore, leads to a surge of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol that prepare our body for physical reaction. Consequently, they cause a boost of energy, an increase in heart rate and breathing, diversion of blood to certain muscles, and shutting down on some of our body’s functions such as digestion.
What is anxiety?
Like stress, anxiety is another body’s response to what it perceives as stressful, unfamiliar, and dangerous. As a result, it gives us a sense of uneasiness, dread, or distress. In certain cases, anxiety can be a good thing as it, therefore, makes us properly prepare for situations and keep us stay awake and alert.
How Prolonged Stress and Anxiety Can Affect Us
Stress and anxiety are considered normal part of life. Especially when the stress is occasional and temporary. The emotions help us stay alert and prepare for things we are unfamiliar with. However, when we are stressed and anxious frequently, these emotional reactions can affect our daily living including our work, studies, and even relationships.
What Happens to the Brain When We’re Stressed and Anxious
When we’re stressed and anxious, part of the brain called hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) system is activated. This system triggers the production and the release of hormones such as the steroid hormones like glucocorticoids and the primary stress hormone cortisol. It’s the hormone cortisol that’s responsible for organizing different systems of the body in response to the perceived threat.
Aside from producing and releasing certain hormones, the activated HPA system also causes the release of neurotransmitters or chemical messengers such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine. These chemical messengers activate a part of the brain called the amygdala, which is responsible for triggering an emotional response.
Neurotransmitters, therefore, suppress the activity of areas of the brain responsible for concentration, inhibition, rational thinking, and short-term memory. As a result, this enables us to react quickly to the situation.
During a stressful and anxiety-provoking situation, the brain also releases a protein that helps modulate the stress and anxiety. This protein consequently decreases our sleep to increase our alertness and gives us a sense of urgency.
When There’s Too Much Stress and Anxiety
Chronic stress and anxiety can lead to prolonged activation of the acute physiological stress response. Furthermore, this can significantly impact our immune response, cardiovascular health, and negatively affect our brain.
Researchers from the Department of Neuroscience of Tufts University School of Medicine found out that chronic stress can trigger seizures. Although the mechanism is not yet fully understood, the study demonstrates a potential mechanism that leads to changes in neuronal activity in the hippocampus (part of the brain associated with emotions, memory, and motivation), making the subjects of the study susceptible to seizures.
Furthermore, a study by the Rotman Research Institute Baycrest Health Sciences notes the negative effects of prolonged activation of the acute physiological stress response in our brain. 
According to Dr. Linda Mah, the lead author of the review, pathological anxiety and chronic stress can have an impact on the structure and functioning of the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex.
“Pathological anxiety and chronic stress are associated with structural degeneration and impaired functioning of the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which may account for the increased risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders, including depression and dementia.”
To confirm beliefs, we need further longitudinal studies. However, this study suggests that pharmacological (e.g. use of antidepressant medications) and nonpharmacological interventions (e.g. cognitive-behavioural therapy) may be able to reverse the stress-induced damage in the brain.
How Hypnotherapy Can Help
Hypnotherapy is a form of complementary or alternative medicine that can also help people suffering from chronic stress and anxiety. A trained therapist uses different methods such as guided relaxation and focused attention to help a person achieved a heightened state of awareness (also known as trance). In a hypnotic state, a person can be more open to suggestion and discussion.
This form of therapy is often an aid to psychotherapy as it helps a person explore thoughts and emotions that hide from the conscious state.
As a hypnotherapist, I treat your mind, body, and emotions in one. By working with me, we will explore together the underlying emotions that feed your stress and anxiety and get right down to the source. Throughout the course of our hypnotherapy sessions, I will help you create a different experience on situations that trigger your stress and anxiety, therefore, helping to relieve you from these distressing emotions.
Published by Hypnosis in London on 21 September 2017, written by Malminder Gill.