• Dr. B

Don't Pull The Trigger

Hello Hilltop Family!

As we discussed in previous articles, we all have the same fight or flight responses that are pre-programed as part of being a being of Earth: our Innate responses that cause us to adapt to threats in our internal and external environment (heart rate increasing, breath quickening, muscle tightening, etc). But we also have different positive and negative fight or flight responses, or what I call trigger responses or trigger reactions, that happen as a consequence of the learned programs we have talked about before. These responses take your body out of the present moment and put it in the past... back to the core event(s) or when or where the learned program came from (obviously, not physically but in your mind). This is because your body cannot tell the difference between what is happening right now and a memory. Therefore, when you are exposed to a trigger or something that stimulates the learned program to activate within you in the present, it causes the brain to release the same chemicals (neurotransmitters, hormones) as it did when the core event(s) happened. Making your body think it is in the past, putting you into fight or flight mode and therefore causing the same internal and external trigger responses of the body that the brain reacted with when the core event(s) were present. Thus, beginning the process of wiring the brain to react that same way every time it is exposed to the same trigger. It's a survival, adaptation reaction the body does automatically: the quicker the body can respond to a trigger, the faster/ better it can fight or run away. Makes sense when we were in the position where we could be chased by a bear or some other wild animal often right? But today, this happens in response to our every day, modern stresses (work, kids, spouses, etc) and can lead to health problems because of it. It's not a normal state for us to be in all the time, our systems weren't designed to handle today's stress, so we are left to suffer (physically, mentally, emotionally, socially) if we don't maintain a healthy stress balance.

We think about trigger responses happening most often in soldiers with PTSD who experience real-like flash backs of a past traumatic moment after being triggered by something. But even people without extensive trauma also experience trigger responses only it can look more like being frustrated/irritated [the trigger response] when you are on time instead of early to an appointment [the trigger] because your mom was always late as a kid [the core event(s)- you got frustrated every time she was late] and other things like that.

We wouldn't have these learned fight/flight trigger responses unless there wasn't some sort of repetition involved over a period of time to allow the brain to wire to that repetition OR the event was so emotionally charged (intense) that it left that big of an impact in the brain that there was instant re-wiring; as in the case of the soldier with PTSD. Even just being left at daycare for the first time ever and thinking mom was never coming back can do this. But for most of us, our learned programs and trigger responses are established through repetition and most are well established by age 7, starting before birth during the 8th month of pregnancy. Think about how you learn how to tie your shoe or anything really... you repeat it over and over until it becomes second nature, until it becomes a habit or a program- until it becomes wired in your brain. Well what if that repetitive event was instead getting yelled at every time you made a loud noise as a kid? You would be programed to strive to refrain from making loud noises and would get anxious or worried the hammer was going to come down on you if you did, even as adults and the parent or whoever did the yelling wasn't even around.

Because of our higher brain function as humans, we have the ability to recall past events as if they are happening right then and there. Even if we choose to or not sometimes and even if we consciously know it or not, putting us in fight/flight mode each and every time we do so regardless. Exposure to the same triggers over and over causes the body to think it is in the past, right now in that core event(s) over and over (again, even if you are aware of it or not)... which stimulates the release of the same chemicals over and over... which triggers the same fight/flight responses of the body both learned and Innate over and over... Every. Single. Time. Because the brain has been wired that way. Unless you do something to disrupt the pattern or change the program (see the healthy stress reduction techniques I shared with you last time for some tools). But because the body cannot be in rest/repair mode and fight/flight mode at the same time, the more often your body goes into this fight/flight state (out of the present moment and into the past), the less resources are available to repair the body and help it heal. This as you can imagine, increases your risk of health crisis (disease, symptoms, injury). And for those of us who are in chronic fight or flight mode (because it is hard not to be in this modern world even without major traumatic experiences), that means we are at risk all of the time... even during sleep for some of us, when our body does most of its repair work.

For normal function of the stress response, for normal function of the overall body really, there has to be a balance between the parasympathetic system responses (rest and repair) and the sympathetic system responses (fight or flight). Your thoughts and your learned programs are one thing that determines which system you are in; negative ones bring the body into the fight/flight state and can actually alter your DNA (remember, the body adapts and does seemingly negative things on purpose to keep us alive). This is the science of Epigenetics or how the type of lifestyle you live determines health and disease by turning on or turning off genes, which we will discuss next time.

Remember, I am not a licensed therapist so if you are experiencing mental health issues or have had trauma in your life, please seek professional help. I actually encourage therapy as a way to keep your mindset positive and as a healthy stress reduction tool.

In love and light,

Dr. Brittany

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