Stress and our Limbic System Part 1

This information I am sharing is taken primarily from the Anxiety and Brain Training Courses I took with therapist Julie Bjeland, (sensitivity expert and psychotherapist).

I included other research from : Queensland Brain Institute and a workshop I recently participated in on the topic of Brain Re-wiring with Brooklyn and Nick Hanna

The limbic system is the part of the brain involved in our behavioral and emotional responses, especially when it comes to behaviors we need for survival: feeding, reproduction, and caring for our young, and the fight, flight or freeze responses.

We have two parts to our brains. The emotional brain known as the limbic system and the thinking and rational brain known as the cognitive brain.

Julie Bjeland

The two parts of the limbic system I like to discuss are the amygdala and the hippocampus. The hippocampus comes in a pair, one on each side of the hemisphere of the brain. It resembles the shape of a seahorse and is essentially the memory center of our brains. Connections formed in the hippocampus also help us associate memories with various senses. It also is important for spatial orientation and our ability to navigate the world. The hippocampus is designed to help the brain learn new things.

The amygdala is located right next to the hippocampus. It plays an important role in our emotional responses, including feelings, like pleasure, fear, anxiety, and anger. It plays a significant role in forming new memories specifically related to fear.

Julie, points out that when our emotional brains are activated, our thinking brains basically go to sleep. This sets up a system that prepares our brains for the “fight or fight” response, which is designed to protect us. Research indicates that most HSPs spend more time in the limbic system (emotional brain) than non-HSPs.

What’s Happening in the Brain when we go into our Limbic System?

1) The amygdala becomes activated when our brains think there is something it is supposed to protect us from. It’s job is to help us run away if we are in danger or fight to protect ourselves (the fight or flight response).

2) It receives a signal that you are in danger, it sends signals to your body to release adrenaline, certain hormones, and more oxygen to your muscles, so your body can defend itself.

3) It happens fast so we don’t realize it’s happening. (This is not the “thinking” part of your brain, so it doesn’t actually know when you are in “real” danger or when you just “perceive” a threat.

Our brains do not know if we are “thinking”, or “actually ” in a certain situation.

Nick and Brooklyn

According to various studies our brains can not distinguish between imagination or our thoughts, and reality. To summarize, our brains will “believe” what we tell them!

If you don’t actually need to fight or run, then the amygdala has flooded you with adrenaline, hormones, and oxygen you don’t use! These elements build up and give you the feeling of being ANXIOUS.

When we experience symptoms of Anxiety, our brains are responding to the fact that it believes that we are in real DANGER! It feels awful and affects every aspect of our lives.

Nick and Brooklyn point out that when our bodies keep releasing stress hormones the limbic system malfunctions. It can influence several body operations.

92% of Chronic illness is linked to Stress

Nick and Brooklyn

  • autonomic nervous system (regulates involuntary physiologic processes including heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, digestion, and sexual arousal
  • circadian clock (the wake/sleep cycle)
  • hormonal system
  • adrenals
  • appetite/metabolism/weight
  • emotional health (anxiety and depression)
  • immune system
  • nervous system
  • gut health

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