There are two different kinds of stress; acute stress and chronic stress. Acute stress is necessary and is responsible for keeping us safe and signaling the body to heal. For example, when a car is coming towards us on the road, we get an immediate adrenaline surge that has us swerve out of the way quickly. Another example is when we touch something hot, we immediately pull our hand away. This short-term release of adrenaline and cortisol is necessary to keep us healthy and safe.
On the other hand, chronic stress, a state of being in which our bodies are constantly producing cortisol and other stress hormones, is detrimental to overall health and well-being. When someone experiences a traumatic experience, in childhood especially, but also in adulthood, the amygdala and hypothalamus are constantly engaged and on alert, as if the threatening or harmful experience is happening in real time. Under these circumstances the body, but especially the brain is constantly flooded with cortisol.
This constant exposure to cortisol is harmful to the body as a whole, including the brain.
Research shows that chronic stress impairs immunity by decreasing levels of B and T lymphocytes. Natural killer cells become less responsive. There are decreases of IgA antibodies in the saliva. Chronic release of cortisol damages and kills cells in the hippocampus (which affects memory among other things), which in turn affects our ability to learn and retain what we’ve learned. Supportive cells in the brain called, glial cells lose the ability to replicate and this deterioration further weakens the immune system.
So, in review, short term stress, what we call acute stress protects us and keeps us healthy and safe. Chronic stress is harmful to our health. That’s why it’s so important to identify any chronic stress we may be experiencing or have experienced in our lives and get help. Neurofeedback is an effective method of calming the amygdala and retraining it to pay attention to real threats, minimizing its sensitivity to normal, non-threatening situations.