How the Stress Response Governs your Emotional Responses

When looking to better understand and manage anger responses it is essential to factor in the stress response, that part of our brains responsible for keeping us safe or in other words responding when we feel under threat.

The human brain is immensely complex and intricate. Combine this with the fact that each and every one of us has unique experiences and identities which inform our brain’s responses you begin to see how managing one’s emotional life can be a delicate, if not downright problematic space.

When we think of stress we tend to relate this to external sources of stress such as social factors or life events, but stress also relates to emotional difficulties and biological factors too.

Understanding your stress response can be key to improving your anger.

The stress response is a function of the autonomic nervous system’s two means of operation:

  • the parasympathetic nervous system which maintains and restores balance in the body if it has been interrupted by a crisis
  • the sympathetic nervous system, which is the fight or flight mechanism designed to protect us from threat.

It is the sympathetic nervous system that is activated when your brain or body senses something is not right and responds with the emergency crisis response of ‘fight, flight or freeze’. Your natural response is to fight to protect yourself, run away (flight) or become immobilised (freeze). In recent times we can add in an additional response which is ‘appease’, and that is to pacify or soothe someone.

This ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response is designed to work for short bursts, and then reset itself back to calm via the parasympathetic nervous system.  Problems begin when the parasympathetic nervous system never gets to reset to calm.

This malfunction occurs when we live predominantly from a place of fear or negative beliefs such as fear of being hurt, fear of being rejected, fear of not been good enough, fear of being criticised, fear of being abandoned, fear of lack of support, fear of lack of money, fear of lack of safety… the list goes on.

When the psyche (innermost self) or your nervous system lives from this place of fear, the sympathetic nervous systems becomes stuck in the ‘on’ position which causes mayhem with your judgement, your health, your emotions and your ability to think and perceive events clearly. You are preoccupied with feelings of anxiety and are on guard for any act that confirms that you are under ‘threat’. You exist in a state of hyper-arousal, being overly sensitive, or ‘triggered’ to anything that confirms your maladaptive beliefs.

The key to not being triggered is to become your own expert at calming down and centring the sympathetic nervous system and strengthening the parasympathetic nervous system.