How You Can Handle Stress Without Flipping Out

April 21, 2020

It may seem like losing it is literally your only option when you get stressed out, I mean it just happens before you know it right? Luckily there is another option and it’s actually just as built in as the fight or flight response we’re all too keenly aware of.


Quick Anatomy of Your Brain Based Stress Response

Stress starts in your limbic system which includes that hypothalamus, thalamus, amygdala, basal ganglia, cingulate gyrus and hippocampus and it categorizes the experience of an emotion or stimuli from your environment as a pleasant or unpleasant, safe or stressful.  

There are two main types of stress and so many causes of each type:

Physiological stress such as imbalanced blood sugar, lack of sleep, inflammation, nutrient deficiencies, etc.

Psycho-emotional including not having enough time or money, relationship tension, professional pressures and demands of parenthood, etc. 

Physiological stresses need to be dealt with at their root by improving blood sugar or getting more sleep, managing all sources of inflammation and normalizing hormone balance as examples. This is exactly what I do in my practice so reach out if you need help.


Hormones leaving you feeling confused, frustrated or stuck?

If you’re ready to clear up the confusion and mixed messages you’ve heard about hormones, diet and exercise; to feel at home in your body at last; and to be healthy and happy again, welcome.

Work with Dr. Brooke

As well I’ve written several articles that will help as well including these:

What Your Hormones Are Trying To Tell You

How To Find Your Unique Carb Tolerance

But emotional or psycho emotional stress, comes largely down to how you perceive it which is why two women can have the same experience and one is totally fine and another is totally stressed out. 

Mental and emotional stress is the perception of a threat to your mental or physical well-being, one that you feel – or rather you amygdala feels – that you won’t be able to cope with. 


Is Your Amygdala Hijacking Your Ability To Cope With Stress?

The amygdala (often called the emotional center of the brain) and the hippocampus, which helps you relate memories of past experience with current experiences, orchestrate this mental-emotional stress response. 

The amygdala senses a stimulus that could be a stressor, communicates with your hippocampus looking for a match between this stressful moment and previous stressful experiences. If it syncs up your fight or flight response is triggering via the HPA Axis (hypothalmic-pituitary-adrenal) axis causing a release of stress hormones including DHEA, cortisol and adrenaline.

This happens within milliseconds, much quicker than your rational brain and interprets the stimuli and before you can make a more conscious choice. This is why it’s often called an amygdala or emotional hijack, because it happens before you know it, making it feel out of your control.

On the other hand, if no danger is sensed by the hippocampus and the amygdala, your rational brain can give you input and you don’t go right into fight or flight but make a more conscious decision on how to deal with the stimuli, or matter at hand.

So while flying off the handle, losing your patience or temper, breaking down in tears or otherwise freaking out feels beyond our control, there is a small window of opportunity to let your conscious mind catch up. This is what the practice of mindfulness is all about.


But This Isn’t Your Only Option

Cultivating mindfulness through a daily meditation practice and going to mantras during a moment of stress provide that pause, that extra moment to take a breath and stop the amygdala from taking over.

Download the 12 Tangible Tools from Hangry by Dr Brooke & Sarah Fragoso

Fight and flight isn’t the only stress response. Women in particular have an alternate response to acute stress that’s known as tend and befriend. 

Women have evolved to naturally want to protect our young and our tribe, because of this we have this alternate, nurturing stress response at the ready as well. While women can for sure lose it during stress as well as men, research shows men tend to withdraw from the family and their relationships more during acute stress whereas women often nurture their children more (tend) and cultivate even stronger relationships with their community of women (befriend). 

This nurturing and cultivation of relationships is largely dependent on the hormone oxytocin (my favorite hormones as it’s an amazing antidote to cortisol). Oxytocin promotes social behavior and increases empathy and is a super power when it comes to managing stress. 

When we feel nurtured we feel more calm and peaceful and this comes from a powerful biochemical cocktail of oxytocin and opioids. As well, when we are connected to people through close relationships and friendships, oxytocin impacts our opioid system such that we feel less physical pain and less stress. (1,2)

What We Can Do To Tend & Befriend More – and Flip Out Less

Maximize Oxytocin

Check out this article for more but a short list of things that raise oxytocin and lower cortisol include physical touch (hugs, cuddles, sex, etc.), orgasm (alone or with partner), laughter, spending time with friends and family, smile and practice being in gratitude.


Encourage More Opioid Release

Opioids are released with exercise as well as with laughing and crying. Having a “good day” so to speak is vital to your stress response as we release opioids throughout the day when we laugh or experience joy or have a great workout, and on the flipside we can tank opioids when we feel stressed, scared or upset. Interestingly, crying releases a flood of opioids which acts as a safeguard to an upset. This is likely an evolutionary, protective stress response so let those tears flow. 


Practice Mindfulness 

Daily meditation is like weight lifting for your stress response, the more you do it the stronger you get adn the more easily you can stop the emotional hijack of your amygdala. If you’re not a regular meditator simply start with one minute, as we recommend in Hangry. Then simply add 1 or more minutes each week. As well, it’s incredibly helpful to have some guiding principles to live from to keep your wits about you as stress inevitably tries to pull you in a million directions. This is what the Hangry 5 Pillars are all about.

Download the The Five Pillars of Real Self-Care

Get this guide to the Five Pillar System from Hangry and learn the tools to have more health and happier hormones with less stress.

So while women do tend to carry an increased emotional burden vs. their male counterparts we also have some innate superpowers to cope with it in a healthy way that can help us really thrive under stressful situations. I know it’s hard some days, but you got this – you really do. You were made for this.



Dr Brooke Kalanick, ND, MS, LAc

Dr Brooke Kalanick is a naturopathic and functional medicine physician specializing in thyroid issues, autoimmunity, histamine intolerance, and women's hormone issues including PCOS, perimenopause, endometriosis and infertility. She is the best selling co-author of HANGRY: Balance Your Hormones & Restore Your Joy in 5 Simple Steps. She is also the co-host of the Sarah & Dr Brooke Show podcast. To learn more about Dr Brooke click here.

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