Christian Stress Release

What is Stress Really – What This Means for Your Life (Recap) (Part 10)

Woman leaning over laptop with her hands on her head, stressed out

Stress is a simple little world that means so many big things in your life. But do you know what it really is?

We’ve spent the last 9 posts (the science ones) talking about what stress really is.

 

Most people know that stress is awful, but they don’t always know what it is, why they have it, or how to get rid of it. This series called “What is Stress Really?” is here to help answer those questions for you.

Today, I’m going to recap it all for you, in a digestible way, to help you understand how it all can help you find peace in your mind and body.

If you missed the previous posts, you can find them here: Intro; Good Stress; Bad Stress; Fight, Flight, Freeze; Your Brain; Your Nervous System, and Polyvagal Theory (1 of 2), and Polyvagal Theory (2 of 2).

What Does This All mean for Your Life?

What is Stress?

In my first post, I introduced you to stress and the Stress Spectrum.

 

Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain that you experience from the challenges that come your way in life. This means that it’s your brain and body’s way of reacting to the challenges satan throws at you.

 

The Stress Spectrum details the 4 different levels of stress that you’ll experience in your life as you react to these challenges.

The stress spectrum includes 4 types of stress from good stress to bad stress

Good Stress

The first two stages of the Stress Spectrum are known as Good Stress. 

 

Really? 

 

Yes, really.

 

These 2 stages are the stages God designed you to live and thrive in daily.

Rest & Digest (No Stress)

Rest & Digest is the technical name of the 1st stage, which is No Stress. This is your baseline for peace. It’s the state you’re in when you’re lounging, napping or in a deep restorative sleep.

 

As you guessed, it’s where you find rest, recovery and restoration. This not only includes your mind but your body as well. And it’s in this state where your digestion finally kicks on and is working to properly digest all of your food. (In any other stage you’re not actually digesting food properly, which I’ll mention again later on).

 

When anyone comes to me about stress, this is the stage I work to get them back to: peace.

Movement & Exercise (Low Stress)

Movement & Exercise is a name I made up for the 2nd stage, which is Low Stress. (It didn’t have a technical name). This is the stage of your positive activity in life.

 

In Movement & Exercise you are up, active, living your life the way God has asked you to. It’s when your body is physically upright and moving in a healthy way. This can include standing up, moving around, working out, etc. It’s in this state that you’ll be serving others and worshiping Jesus in your life.

Bad Stress

The second 2 stages of the Stress Spectrum are known as Bad Stress. These are what you’re probably referring to when you talk about stress. They’re also called Survival Mode, and are only given to you from God to help you survive danger in this world. 

 

When I say danger, I’m meaning all kinds: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.

 

But often times, you’ll get hurt in life, and your brain will get impacted in what I call a “glitch”. These glitches are often referred to as anxiety, insomnia, depression, trauma, PTSD, etc. When you have a glitch, you’re brain will think there’s danger trying to hurt you when there’s none. And it will put you into one of these 2 survival mode stages irrationally.

 

That is your stress.

Hypervigilance (Moderate stress)

Hypervigilance is a name I made up for the 3rd stage, which is Moderate Stress. (It also didn’t have a name a technical name). This is the stage of precaution.

 

In Hypervigilance, you’re going to be on guard, alert, apprehensive and cautious about things. You’ll be attuned to every detail of your surroundings, in a heightened sense of awareness. And you won’t be very trusting of anyone around you.

 

God designed you to have this state to suss out if danger is actually around you trying to hurt you. Before you flip into Fight or Flight to survive, God gave you this state to determine if that extreme step is actually needed.

 

When you’re in danger, this stage is amazing at helping your survival brain figure out what’s best for you in that moment.

 

When you’re not in danger, you’ll be on alert for no reason, often pushing others away. You’ll be on-guard, edgy or moody, not trusting of others and not trusting that activities are a good thing. Your brain will be convinced danger is lurking when it’s not, leaving you scared.

fight, flight, or freeze (high stress)

Fight, Flight or Freeze is the technical name of the 4th stage, which is High Stress. This is the stage of Survival Mode.

 

Fight, Flight or Freeze is when your brain determines that danger is about to attack, and you need to survive. It takes you on a wild journey physically, mentally and emotionally to keep yourself alive.

 

Fight is when your brain says “yes, I can fight the danger and beat it (win)”. Your brain will shift your body out of the state of peace, into a state of aggression.

 

Flight is when your brain says “yes, I can run away from the danger and outrun it (win)”. Your brain will shift your body out of the state of peace, into a state of extreme avoidance.

 

Freeze is when your brain says “no, I can’t fight or run away from the danger and win”. Your brain will shift you out of the state of peace into a state of shut down. Truly, it will shut your body down completely into a frozen (somewhat paralyzed) state, to keep you from moving.  (If you can’t survive a fight or chase with your opponent, you’ll need to endure their attack. Flinching in any way might bring about more hard, making things worse. By being as still as possible, you’re more likely to survive.)

 

Again, when you’re in danger, these 3 parts of High Stress are amazing and can truly save your life.

 

But when you’re not in danger, they create the mental health conditions you’re trying to get away from. These states are the conditions you’re suffering with when you’re in a panic/anxiety attack, trauma trigger, PTSD or depression. I’ll come back to this in a bit.

Why Did God Design Your This Way?

Now that you understand the 4 stages of stress, we need to answer the question I’m sure you’re asking:

 

Why did God design you this way?

 

God knew that the world would fall. He knew that sin would enter and hurt His creation. And He knew that they would need help protecting themselves against this evil to last more than a day.

 

This is where we talk about anatomy: how God created you, to help understand why He created you this way.

Your Brain

God designed your brain with 3 main parts:

 

  1. Brain Stem (reptilian brain)
  2. Limbic System (mammalian brain)
  3. Neocortex (human brain)

 

Your Brain Stem (also known as your reptilian brain), is meant for survival. It’s your instincts that keep you alive. Your Brain Stem’s main job is to control what stage of stress you’re in: Good or Bad. It’s called the reptilian brain because every animal (from reptiles on up the hierarchy of God’s creation) has this part of the brain.

 

Your Limbic System (also known as your mammalian brain), is meant for feeling. This part of your brain controls emotions, memory, dreams, imagination, and pain (like trauma). It’s called your mammalian brain because every mammal and human has this part of the brain. (This is why you relate emotionally to your dog or cat).

 

Your Neocortex (also known as your human brain), is meant for thinking. This part of your brain controls rational thinking, reasoning, logic and conscious awareness. It’s called the human brain because it’s unique to humans. Since you are made in the image of God, you have the awareness of yourself and God in your life.

 

When you’re in the stages of Good Stress, these 3 parts hum along optimally, running your life beautifully.

Your Brain in Good Stress

Diagram of the 3 parts of the brain - brain stem (surviving), limbic system (feeling), neocortex (thinking).

Your Brain in Bad Stress (High Stress)

Diagram of the 3 parts of the brain when stressed.

But as soon as it detects danger, it will flip you into one or both of the stages of Bad Stress. Once in these stages, your Neocortex will go completely offline.

 

God knew that you didn’t need to think about how to survive, you just needed to do it. So He designed you with an off switch to your thinking brain to help keep you alive.

 

When you’re in danger, this is amazing.

 

When you’re not in danger, but triggered irrationally with that “glitch”, you have no cognitive function. You can’t think straight, keep track of anything, or keep up with your commitments in life.

Your Nervous System

God designed your nervous system with so many moving parts, but one in particular is responsible for your stress. Your Autonomic Nervous System (or ANS for short). You can remember this by calling it your “automatic nervous system”, because it does it’s job atomically in the background.

 

It’s split into 2 parts: 

 

  1. Sympathetic (where all of your activity comes from)
  2. Parasympathetic (where all of your inactivity comes from)

 

Both of these parts of your nervous system have healthy and unhealthy states, that coincide with the 4 stages of stress. Healthy is the Good Stress, unhealthy is the Bad Stress.

  •  

Sympathetic

When you’re in Sympathetic (activity):

    • Healthy = Movement & Exercise (Low Stress)
    • Unhealthy = Fight or Flight (High Stress)

Parasympathetic

When you’re in Parasympathetic (inactivity):

    • Healthy = Rest & Digest (No Stress)
    • Unhealthy = Hypervigilance (Moderate Stress) and Freeze (High Stress)

As I mentioned earlier, when you go into these unhealthy stages, your brain shifts your body into an overdrive mode. I call this “hulk mode” or “beast mode”, because it allows you to survive danger at incredible levels. But it also changes your body drastically to do this. 

 

Here are some graphics of the difference between Rest & Digest (healthy Parasympathetic), and Fight or Flight (unhealthy Sympathetic):

Your Body in Rest & Digest (No Stress)

Diagram of the anatomy of the Autonomic Nervous System in the state of Rest & Digest, and all the organ and bodily system functions in this state.

Your Body in Fight or Flight (High Stress)

Diagram of the anatomy of the Autonomic Nervous System in the state of Fight or Flight, and all the organ and bodily system functions in this state.

Your Vagus Nerve

In the last 30 years, researchers have discovered the main nerve in your nervous system that’s responsible for your stress. It’s called your Vagus Nerve, and it runs from your brain down to your gut. Along the way it connects with all of these organs and bodily systems shown above. 

 

The vagus nerve’s job is to send the signal of what state to be in to each organ and bodily system. When your brain says “Rest & Digest”, your vagus nerve tells your body to do all the things you see on the left. When it says “Fight or Flight”, it tells your body to do all the things you see on the right.

 

Here’s what it looks like:

Diagram of the anatomy of the Vagus Nerve, the main nerve of the nervous system, and all the organ and bodily system functions that it is responsible for.

Living This Out (Polyvagal Theory)

God has given us so much incredible information about our brains and nervous systems since this first understanding of stress. As I just mentioned, the Vagus Nerve is knew information, and it truly changed everything in our understanding of stress and how to turn the Bad kinds off.

 

This research is called Polyvagal Theory, which just means “the many functions of your vagus nerve”. It expands our understanding of how your body shifts you between these 4 stages of stress. (Actually, it expands stress into 6 stages in total, but we’ll get into that some other time.)

 

For now, what Polyvagal Theory has done, is give a deeper understanding into the extreme ends of the spectrum. 

Extreme Ends of the Stress Spectrum

Rest & Digest (No Stress) got renamed to Social Engagement. It’s the state where you’re at peace, engaging socially with your friends in a restful manor.

 

Fight, Flight or Freeze got split into 2 stages:

 

  1. Fight or Flight, the sympathetic side of your nervous system for activity
  2. Freeze, the parasympathetic side of your nervous system for inactivity

 

It discovered more about what your body is doing physiologically when you’re in these different stages. This helps to understand why your stress is so visceral, being felt in your body. And why so many hacks at reducing stress don’t always work.

 

Polyvagal Theory came out with this chart to show these changes between No Stress and the 2 High Stress stages:

Chart of the 3 stages of stress in the Polyvagal Theory

It really sheds light into conditions like anxiety and depression doesn’t it? If you have trauma or PTSD, you’ve most likely lived Fight or Flight, and maybe Freeze as well. 

 

This chart is a great resource to come back to again and again as you struggle with mental health conditions. The more you understand what’s happening and why, the less shame you tend to carry around struggling in these ways.

 

For the mental health community, this research brings so much light into understanding how to heal the mind and body. Specifically from things like trauma and disease. 

So What Does This Mean for Your life?

The science of stress can be overwhelming, but there’s a beauty in understanding it.

 

First, when you understand what’s happening, you feel less helpless, and therefore less hopeless. Having no idea why you’re not ok makes it all worse. It can often lead to feeling broken beyond repair and trapped. Knowing why you’re struggled helps give your heart a reminder that this is temporary. Scientists understand it, and know how to help heal it.

 

Second, when you understand what’s happening inside of you when you’re not ok, there’s a lot less shame around it. When you have no idea why you’re struggling, it’s easily to believe the lies of satan that you’re broken beyond repair. But when you know why you’re stressed, you know his lies are lies, and you don’t have to believe them.

 

Thirdly, it can lead you closer to God. When you understand how God created you, you know your struggles are just “glitches” in your brain from satan. We all have “glitches”. They’re like our battle scars from this epic battle we’re fighting on earth. These “glitches” aren’t part of God’s creation that He messed up. He designed you perfect. Knowing this can bring so much peace in your heart about Jesus’ creation of you (your brain and body). And help you rest in knowing that He is who He says He is: trustworthy.

 

God never created you to be stuck. He created you to thrive in this life. Knowing what thriving looks like compared to stress, can shed so much light onto where you may need help.

Resources for Your Stress

If you’re looking for help in turning your stress off, here are 2 amazing resources for you:

 

  1. Stress Release for Christian Women Membership – An on-demand library of mental health techniques designed to pull you out of these states of stress. It’s here to help you turn off your stress in the present moment (bring you back to Social Engagement).
  2. Practitioner Directories – Lists of therapists and trauma coaches to work with 1-on-1, to heal your mental health struggles. These sessions are for healing the pains of your past (like trauma, anxiety, depression, etc.), so you stop getting triggered.

 

You deserve to rest in the state of peace in your mind and body. Don’t let stress get in the way of that. Getting help is how we combat the devil here on earth, silencing his attempts to steal, kill and destroy us. And always, always, look up and pray. Jesus is the best therapist/Counselor/healer you’ll ever have.

 

I’m praying for you ♥︎

   – L aura

Want Laura On Your Blog?

Hey Beautiful Lady,

I’m currently moving across the country and unable to give the weekly podcast, blog and newsletter emails the attention they need and deserve. As such, I’m postponing them until Tuesday (6/4). If you need help healing, you can find links for Practitioners here. I’m praying for you 🤍

Laura