Victoria Telfer-Smith BSc (Hons). Counselling in Loughborough, near Leicester

Stress and how it can effect hormones

In times of stress our bodies are equipped for survival. Our fight/flight response will activate and our brain starts to respond from a different place. Stress can lead our brain to feel we are in danger and it will respond, which then makes our body respond.

• The adrenal gland produces adrenaline. Adrenaline inhibits us from utilizing the hormone progesterone. It also causes the pituitary gland to produce high levels of prolactin.
• The adrenal gland produces cortisol. However adrenal glands cannot make cortisol without progesterone, referred to as the ‘progesterone steal’ to manufacture stress hormones, therefore progesterone levels drop. GnRH is also inhibited.

• The pituitary gland releases high levels of prolactin (hyperprolactinemia). It can also cause a deficiency in the amount of progesterone produced after ovulation which can result in a uterine lining that is less able to have an embryo implant. Men have been known to lactate at times of high levels of stress.

Our mind body link is evident here and although we cannot see what is happening, we do see the results.

The part of the brain that responds to trauma is called the Amygdala, sometimes referred to as the reptilian part of our brain. It is with us since birth, and is about the size of a babies head! And doesn't change. Other parts of the brain grow around it during childhood. This part is responsible for survival and reacts automatically, to keep you alive. The only choice you have in response, is to react ready for trauma response. Even if it is a perceived trauma, like "I have an exam today" that is enough to set that part of your brain into action. Then it will take over the brain and other parts; like the pre frontal cortex, will be in a shutdown. Once the danger has passed, the response is no longer needed so the amygdala switches off. Then the pre frontal cortex' or thinking brain. comes back on line and is wondering what happened, or why we didn't fight back and just froze.

We can learn to calm that part of your brain, but first we need to become aware of the response. That means becoming aware of the trauma we have suffered, which is hard because sometimes we hid what we have suffered because of shame.

Breathing is an excellent way to calm that part of the brain, once we recognise we are in it. There is no special technique, other than deeply breathing in through your nose for a count of 4, or till you see your belly rise. Then breathing out through your mouth for a count of 4, it must be through your mouth, that is the action that calms the trauma response by slowing your heart rate. This is very effective.

This helps with night terrors, feeling disconnected, feeling rage, feeling confusion and ultimately panic. If you feel aware you do not react with panic, there is an other response to trauma, which involves a shut down of all emotions and a numbing of the sensations.

This system that I am describing is the PolyVagal Theory. There are two distinct states one relating to trauma response and the other to social state. They are called Dorsal Vagal complex and the Ventral Vagas complex, respectively. These states can be harnessed to help us deal with trauma and the after effects.

Shame becomes a trauma response because it is part of our primary survival. If we do not know what our tribe are doing, or accepting, we risk being an outsider and this has a massive impact on our survival. Think of the way we can feel if we are the only one in the office who does not watch the soap, it can be very isolating. Or the infamous episode of Friends, when Rachel starts to smoke so she could find out stuff, which otherwise would be unavailable to her.

I have dedicated a tab to shame, take a look. We need to identify shame, so we can harness it's knowledge, but also so we can control the overwhelm it can cause.

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