How our brains respond to crisis
A death in the family, health problems, losing one’s job, divorce, abuse and even witnessing another go through hardships are difficult experiences. The ability to understand and reconcile our thoughts during times of trial can be complicated. If we’re already under chronic stress, these kinds of events can be devastating, leaving us with deep and profound feelings of anxiety, sadness, anger, resentment, fear and depression.
What goes on in our minds when we’re afflicted by these challenges? For starters, our body’s stress mechanism will always turn on; initiating a series of internal questions. We find ourselves asking sincere inquiries such as:
What did I do to deserve this kind of punishment?
What will happen to me and my family?
Where was God when all this happened?
Whose fault is it?
Will I ever be at peace again?
How can I move forward after this?
Our soul genuinely cries out for answers to reconcile what happened. Who can we turn to for these kinds of answers? In moments like this we crave the need to feel loved and embraced as we feel an immense amount of vulnerability. It is in these moments where we become aware that material possessions cannot provide the peace we need. We find ourselves getting closer to family and friends and prioritizing things differently – focusing on things that matters most.
If reconciled correctly, past experiences – including our own mistakes – become a great tool the brain uses for healing. If however, we’ve created the habit of running or hiding from mistakes and experiences, there will always be levels of chronic stress present that magnifies the emotional impact we feel when we undergo new hardships. In these situations we measure the damage of the current event by using information we’ve stored from non reconciled events in the past. The degree to which we’ve reconciled stressful and challenging situations dictates how well and quickly we’re able to bounce back from life’s trials. When we’re free of chronic stress, we stay mindful, genuine and see things as they really are – even under the most difficult of circumstances.
How chronic stress affects our ability to think can be traced back to how our brain works. Our brain is made up of billions of neurons with trillions of data points. One of the brain’s primary functions is to store information, sort it, generate calculations and measure risk based on available data – from both new and stored sources. We can count on this divine ability to get us through unpleasant times. It is the most valuable mechanism that exists and the greatest resource that each of us possesses. It provides light to our minds after we go through moments of darkness and despair. It’s as though our brain, through this marvelous ability, can sift and sort through false perceptions and lies to bring order and peace to our burdened souls. In these moments neurotransmitters such as dopamine and oxytocin are created in balanced amounts to bring feelings of hope and happiness into our lives. It is through these biochemical processes that we can sincerely proclaim that although it’s cloudy, the sun is still shining. Faith in our self and in humanity increases. As we embrace these feelings we become a better person.
If chronic stress is present, our brains cannot perform the functions to bring peace and reconciliation. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for our minds to heal. The steps required to properly reconcile events are blocked due to the large number of neurons that remain on alert. When stress is present they remain on alert until events are completely reconciled. It’s important to note that this is a condition that’s created over several years by an aggregate of both small and large stressful episodes that were never reconciled.
In order for the mind to heal, different parts of the brain need to communicate with one another. The limbic portion of the brain – which governs the conscious part of the mind – must be able to make connections with the other parts of the brain that store memory and information. There are connection points on neurons, called synapses, which join to other neurons that store information on similar subjects. Connections increase as information on a particular subject is spoken about, thought about, seen, etc. When this happens neurons find each other and make connections. As those connections increase, memory reinforcement takes place that increases our sensitivity on certain subjects, behaviors, actions, responses, etc.
This process is extremely helpful for learning through experience, academic improvement and developing skills. If we harbor and yield to unreal information however, true data that is available in our subconscious mind is blocked due to the excess amount of neurons on alert. Instead we continue to process information on the limbic portion of the brain, without the ability to draw upon all of the true data and calculations that exists in our subconscious. As a consequence, we’re not able to find solutions and answers to resolve issues before us. We remain in a state of mental paralysis, stress and despair. When in this state we continue to strengthen unreal perceptions that continue to trigger our stress mechanism. As stress is activated, the brain’s amygdala generates strong emotions such as anger, resentment, fear and anxiety. Under these circumstances our tendency is to feel victimized, hurt and alone. Sadness and anger intensifies, dopamine levels decrease and problems such as insomnia develop, making things worse.
Something to be mindful of when we encounter difficult circumstances is that our mind also calculates risk in order to protect us. If we are full of negative experiences that have never been reconciled, or fill our minds with negative reporting that focuses solely on headlines such as a bad economy, crime, war or other sorts of crisis, these items are saved within the limbic portion of our brain and creates stress. Focusing and exposing our self to purely negative information creates unseen effects that come to the surface when personal crisis arrives.
On the other hand, when we resolve stressful episodes or events our brains calculations of risk are used to provide answers to questions as the frontal area of the brain sends files with solutions. Although tough times will always still result in initial emotions such as grief or sadness, we can discern the light at the end of the tunnel as we remain in a state of awareness. If we’re suffering through crisis here are some tips to help uplift us:
Sleep well (7 – 8 hours)
Engage in Physical Activity or Exercise
Spend time with family and friends (avoid withdrawal)
Communicate with God daily (if you do not believe in God, spend time reflecting and meditating in the good things that you have received throughout your life, since the time you were born up until the present)
Getting your mind focused on things for which to be grateful is a powerful tool. The good news is that our minds can heal and be rewired if damage has been created due to prolonged negative thinking and stress. Each of us has a God given gift that allows us to be rescued when we’re in despair due to nonsensical choices. This gift is manifested through impressions. Every time we receive an impression, we would do well to act on it. The impressions we receive are explicit messages on how we should act. It’s been my experience that following the impressions we receive is one of the greatest tools we have to resolve stressful, as well as crisis filled events. It is through these impressions that we magnify our incredible brain’s capability to help us achieve our potential and find fulfillment and happiness.