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Julie Morley MNCS, Ad.Dip.CP, Hyp.dip
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Stress and anxiety
stress and Psychotherapy

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Evolutionary Explanations Part 2
Why we behave the way we do, during times of Stress

ANGER
At those who've hurt us. We feel this response because in our make up from our ancient passed, during the time of being physically threatened by a dangerous animal (as per our lizard mammalian brain) we need the anger response for energy so that we can fight to protect ourselves. This is part of the fight / flight/ freeze response. So if we're being attacked by something we get a huge surge of emotional anger then adrenaline to enable us to fight and even hurt the other person/ animal to protect ourselves.

So anger is a deep ancient response to physical, emotional or psychological threat or pain, and we generally feel we need to hurt the other person back because if it was an animal attacking us, that's what we'd need to do to survive. So as an emotional being, we feel emotional pain and still have a physical response to it. However in this day & age, we are not often physically attacked but distressed by our social, working or living situations. So the immediate powerful response to fight or run is less so than during an attack, but the response is the same. So we act out in behaviours to dispel the energy instead.

As humans, we can engage our thinking brain and use this to think up clever ways for revenge and this is usually driven by anger.  Some responses are reasonable and fit with what we expect from others in society yet other things that appear to be solutions can often appear out of character to others (and yourself) and are deemed unreasonable.  In extreme cases people have committed quite severe actions which are described as 'crimes of passion'.

BEHAVING DIFFERENTLY
People have different ways to cope with this nervous energy generated from our ancient nervous system which is telling us to 'do something' to get back to status quo. So this might look like ploughing our energy into work, Freud figured this was a sexual energy- libido, as it's often put into more sexual encounters, but we've since decided, it's just energy and it can be put into practically anything.

We might do a lot of cleaning and sorting stuff out, decorating or re-arranging our social life, family life, work life or surroundings. (This is how bad experiences can lead to a good outcome).  Other responses can include shopping (known commonly as retail therapy) or indulgences such as hair or body treatments, and other forms of spending on oneself. 

Here this is about being mindful of overdoing indulnges or depending on them to feel OK and that is about understanding that these things might be good temporarily, can be a great distraction but they will not ultimately solve negative feeling.
 
EATING & OTHER SUBSTANCES
Some people start eating or smoking more, starting or increasing drug & alcohol intake , eating too much or not eating and sometimes doing too much of the healthier options like too much exercise, work or sexual encounters. For behaviours involved in the intake of any substance there's often a few things going on. With food, one thing that is happening, we are attempting to feel normal and what can be more normal than eating? (,Or washing, cleaning and checking our surroundings are safe or organised. Of course extreme versions of this are obsessive compulsive problems). So eating carbs, can make us feel calmer. Carbs do calm us so instinctively this makes sense. Over eating can help us feel sluggish or sleepy and it can help dispel the negative agitated feelings of nervous energy when under stress or after a trauma or loss, so carbs or indulgence can be helpful if we keep it in check, because this is easy to over- do.
 
NOT EATING
Some people however eat less when they are responding to their flight or fight response. The blood is redirected away from our digestive system to our muscles (to run or fight) so a person can't eat as normal as they will feel sick and some people stay in this heightened agitated state. Depending on the person's history and psychological make-up, a person also punish themselves and restrict their eating in an attempt to deal feelings of guilt, rejection, abandonment and others which our lizard brain feels as a threat.
EXERCISE
Exercise can dispel some nervous energy and sometimes this can enable us to eat when we couldn't before, but too much exercise can be mis-used to self punish ourselves by restricting the comfort of eating or we can begin to ' enjoy' or prefer, the empty feeling . (This might work because if we've had a loss of some kind, we feel emotionally empty so feeling empty of food 'fits' and id more tangible, so it becomes easier to handle a physical empty feeling rather than a confusing emotional one).

ADOPTING HEALTHY COPING SKILLS 

You can't expect to completely eliminate bad feeling, but coping skills can help somewhat however, it's useful to ensure they remain pretty healthy as our human tendency is to over do things or become dependent (especially if something used to help but isn't now fixing how we feel).

So if you exercise, ensure its at a healthy amount and quantity and that you don't over-do it when you are doing exercise, so as not to do yourself an injury or burn ourselves out. It can be healthier to get some exercise based activity built into your lifestyle rather than having a bolt-on type of regime which is likely to fail and make yourself feel a bit of a failure.  So regular walking, getting out and about more, parking further away from a shop, walking up stairs instead of taking lifts.

TV, MOVIES, READING
If we watch a relaxing movie or TV program, be aware that you're not withdrawing and ONLY watching TV and doing nothing else in life.  If you stay in more than normal because you dont feel  like socialising, then ensure you don't avoid going out completely or avoid seeing helpful friends too long or too often.  Try to continue to do things with others and keep up the person to person contact, somewhere near the asme as you did before or sometimes a person may have to start from scratch and add people into their lives at this time.

On the other hand, if you find you're always out with others because you cant cope alone at home, be mindful of this too and ensure that you stay in sometimes, doing what you normally used to do AS WELL as going out doing reasonable things. 

Balance is the key on coping behaviours and cativities.

COMPUTER AND PHONE BALANCE
This section is being updated

SELF GROOMING
Self care is an important thing to keep an eye on for yourself. This relates to eating normally (regular small amounts if necessary ) and self grooming. So get up and get on is the key. Cleaning teeth, showering and bring dressed in clean clothes all adds to the feeling of normality even when you don't feel like it.