Awareness has the power to alleviate the negative health effects of stress.
Stress is the body’s response to a challenge or a threat. The brain encounters a perceived threat through one of the senses or triggered by a thought or emotion.
For example, imagine you are relaxing at home and you smell something burning and see smoke. You jump up and run to investigate; this is a stress response. Or, you’re relaxing at home and your mind drifts to your to-do list; there are so many things overdue you feel anxious and jump into action, this is also a stress response.
Our habitual response to stressful events form neural pathways in the brain much like a well-traveled trail in the woods. After a while we don't even think about it we just head down the path. On autopilot we can become unaware that a stressful event has occurred and may not notice our bodies reacting to it.
Our minds don’t differentiate stress and react similarly, whether the house is burning down or our to-do list has grown overwhelming. The amygdala, a part of the brain that plays a key role in responding to stress, is often referred to as the reptilian brain. This is because of its inability to discern a real threat from an emotional response to a thought. In both situations, it sends out an alert to the body to respond.
The body responds in many ways. It shifts resources away from non-essential functions, such as digestion and reproduction, to processes that are vital for surviving the threat. It does this in part by releasing powerful hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones send out commands to; release glucose stores (sugar) to fuel the muscles, restrict the blood vessels to increase blood flow and carry essential oxygen to the organs and tissues. All of this and much more