Reacting to Stress

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This past weekend while on a walk my converse slipped on a bank covered with wet leaves. Friends and I had a good belly laugh due to the sight and unexpectedness of it all.  If I relived that experience with out my friends beside me I wouldn’t have laughed.

As an infant we learn how to protect our body from falls, how to react to words or people’s tone of voice, and how to interact while in different moods. These are all learned behaviors.

Reactions to stress stem from learned childhood behaviors.

Let’s use stairs as a metaphor.  To our physical needs we need to balance on one foot in order to lift the other in motion upward or downward. Eventually both feet land on one surface.

Much the same, consider intellectual, spiritual and emotional actions to move forward. Learning how to master taking a step physically is multi-dimensional. It’s the same with with all lifestyle needs.

The following story illustrates two different reactions to physical, intellectual, spiritual, social and emotional learned behaviors:

One adult recalled that her father was a friendly, loud, active man who loved to play with her in a very active way when she was small, picking her up and tossing her in the air. Unfortunately, this woman was severely gravitationally insecure, so every time he did this she was terrified, and she hated having him come near her as she did not know when she would be tossed about.
Her father felt rejected by her response and eventually gave up interacting with her, resulting in a significant emotional distance between them.
She recalled one particular day, when in exasperation, her father told her, “You’re just no fun at all.” That rejection had a very negative effect on the client.

Past experiences effect how we react and manage stress.

The first reaction to her father’s idea of ‘fun’ was the daughter’s physical response, being gravitationally insecure. Her intellectual disconnect began with the chronic stress that she experienced with each moment of play with her dad (Ramos and Arnsten 2007). This effected her value, her interpersonal relationships, her sense of attachment, ability to bond with others, and the development of her social support system.

Behavioral reactions following stress have a domino effect.

Stress influences multiple lifestyle functions (Campeu, Liberzon, Morrilak, Ressler 2011). Cognitive flexibility is when the brain is functionally capable to overcome learned ‘rules’ through experiences. Not everyone is equal in this skill. (Lapiz and Morilak 2006).

Physical, emotional and logical states of being begins with awareness.

What signs trigger your your threshold for feeling safe?

There are specific activities (we refer to as occupations) necessary to move towards those feelings of being safe. These may cross over into different roles. For example, one day in your Employee role you’re feeling threatened by your boss at work, so you bridge your Friend role by making a phone call. These actions are driven by contextual factors. This example includes stage of life, relationships to time, culture and belief factors.

Context adds unique dimensions to individuals reactions.

Does your reaction to stress require a facade?

The response of silence may be a facade.

Challenge yourself today to listen to your body’s reaction to stress.  Listening is a form of acknowledgment that initiates reducing negative effects on your body. Once a contextual factor is identified begin momentum forward with a plan for managing that barrier to stress.

What’s one way you practice awareness that helped you get to the root of a stress barrier?

GIG Design | Physical Performance


DESIGN^touch | A teak sink isn’t the norm today. This design is an example of customs and standards for one’s unique physical needs.


DESIGN^joint & muscle | Integrating physical occupations (activities) with other occupations (e.g. work, friendship) improves cognitive flexibility.


DESIGN^interceptive | Learn your body capacities by connecting physical sensations to emotional behaviors. 
Lapiz MD, Morilak DA, Noradrenergic modulation of cognitive function in rat medial prefrontal cortex as measured by attentional set shifting capability. Neuroscience. 2006 Feb; 137(3):1039-49.
Ramos BP, Arnsten AF, Adrenergic pharmacology and cognition: focus on the prefrontal cortex. Pharmacol Ther. 2007 Mar; 113(3):523-36.
S. Campeau, I. Liberzon, D. Morilak, K. Ressler, Stress modulation of cognitive and affective processes, Stress. 2011 Sep; 14(5): 503–519.

One Comment

  • […] Stress is reality. From the moment we came out of our mother’s wombs we experienced stress from newness: bright lights, louder sounds and alarming sights…eeeks! Then the touch of a stranger? “Poor baby,” isn’t a helpful approach. […]