Hyperarousal is Not Sexy – The Mind Matters
By Patricia Lynn Belkowitz, C.Ht., EFT-CC
Are you hyperaroused? That sounds kind of sexy, but it isn’t. Hyperarousal or acute stress response is your body’s response to fear. What are you afraid of? The world can be a very scary place. We all have fears. Some of them are real. Some are imaginary. But the mind doesn’t know the difference between what we perceive as reality and what we imagine. The body doesn’t know the difference either. The body perceives imaginary fear and responds with the same reaction as it would to a real threat. Although our bodies are amazing, they are primitive and fragile. In order to protect ourselves, we are genetically wired to perceive danger and impending threats to our physical well-being. We are wired to act according to our perceptions in order to maintain not only our own body, but the genetic heritage of future generations. And we are also wired to recover from the fear and return to a state of homeostasis. It is a beautiful system designed to insure the basic survival of the organism – you.
Perhaps you know hyperarousal by another name – the fight-flight syndrome. It is a physiological reaction that happens in response to a perceived attack or threat to survival. In primitive times, if you confronted a saber-tooth tiger or some other beast, you had two choices. You could run as fast as possible to get away from the danger. Or, you could choose to find a weapon and put up a fight. Your body reacts to fear, perceived or real, with a discharge of the sympathetic nervous system, releasing norepinephrine and epinephrine to create a boost of energy and muscle response. Your body releases cortisol, which increases blood pressure and blood sugar. Estrogen and testosterone are released, along with the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin.
While all these chemicals are flooding your body, your heart rate accelerates and your skin may flush or pale. Your stomach and upper intestinal tract slows down or stops. Digestion is put on hold. Sexual functions are not functioning. Your blood vessels constrict and your pupils dilate. You may suffer from a relaxation of your bladder or your anal sphincter. You could suffer the temporary loss of your hearing. Your peripheral vision may fail; you only have tunnel vision focusing on the object of your fear. You may experience shaking. Your awareness is intensified. This surge is responsible for the super-human strength of a mother who lifts a car off of her child or a hero who walks into danger to save another.
This ability serves us well, but it has a cost. When we are on guard against a threat, our body’s natural defenses wear down. When we suffer from frequent stress – or when we frequently perceive life as stressful – an essentially healthy response to stress can become distress. The fight-flight syndrome bypasses our rational mind and moves us into the primitive mode of survival. Everyone is a possible enemy. We overreact from a place of distorted thinking and fear is magnified. When we are stuck in survival mode, our consciousness is focused on fear, not love. We are overwhelmed with stress and lose the ability to relax as we deal with a series of emergencies. We become skilled worriers, a condition brilliantly described by Mark Twain who said, “I’ve experienced many terrible things in my life, a few of which actually happened.”
All external circumstances affect how the body reacts internally to stress. In our modern world, driving in heavy traffic on the freeway can create the conditions that illicit the same response as being face-to-face with that saber-tooth tiger. Watching the evening news can create a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease. It can instill fears about an imagined imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. Fight has become anxiety. Flight has become depression. There is much evidence that a cumulative buildup of stress hormones can lead to disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and high blood pressure. Disorders of the immune system can create autoimmune diseases such as lupus and allergies and a susceptibility to infection and chronic fatigue.
And all external circumstances also affect how the body recovers from stress; the rest-digest response, or the relaxation response. When we make the effort to change our external environment (our perceived reality) by getting out of toxic, harmful relationships or soul-crushing jobs, we take action to make our environment spiritually safer. When we choose to change our perceptions of our reality – viewing our difficulties as events which make us stronger, wiser and better – our attitudes and reactions change.
The relaxation response is a physiologic response which you can create whenever you want. When you’re walking or doing a repetitive exercise, focus on a positive word such as “love.”
Practicing yoga can quiet the mind. Focus on the breathing can trigger relaxation almost immediately. Singing, chanting or prayer is beneficial. Being mindful of your life experience can be a form of active meditation which elicits the relaxation response. Walking on the beach listening to the waves or watching the flickering flames of a fire can be as peaceful as focused meditation. The important thing is to practice going within whenever you have the opportunity. With practice, everything becomes easier and more automatic. Practice now so you’ll be ready when you need it. You don’t throw yourself off a boat in the middle of a stormy sea to learn how to swim. You learn to take care of yourself in quiet and calm waters, like a lake with no ripples. A quiet mind opens up your perceptions. It makes you more aware of what is happening around you. A quiet mind helps you to make positive choices. It helps you to stand in your own truth. It frees you. You are strong and prepared; ready to handle whatever comes your way.
Patricia Lynn Belkowitz teaches life-changing tools to achieve self-mastery. She is a Clinical Hypnotherapist and a Shaman. For more about her practice, visit www.TheMindMatters.com.