What’s Your Stress Response?



“Over time, the ends of your chromosomes fray, and as they fray, your DNA stops working as well, and eventually that could wind up ‘doing in’ the cell. There are now studies showing that chromosomal DNA aging accelerates in young, healthy humans who experience something incredibly psychologically stressful. That’s a huge finding.”

Dr. Robert Sapolsky

How does stress impact your health?

Dr. Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University has identified the activity of glucocorticoids as the result of stress that reduces the size of the hippocampus in the brain. The particular kind of stress affecting aging that can cause even our DNA to age faster is related to the experience of oppression.

This oppression is usually caused by being a part of a structure or a system that causes one to feel that “things are on top of me,” that a person doesn’t have control over their life being affected in major ways by a source other than themselves. It is the sense that all or most control and one’s fate rests unpredictably outside of one’s self.

This is certainly the case with traumatic events, but it also is the case with chronic stress over a period of time that results in the sense of being “oppressed” or “it’s on top of me, I’m not on top of it.”

There are certainly circumstances of oppression that exist in systems and cultures, but oppression can also exist as a matter of perception. The perception of freedom or control can be very idiosyncratic.

If we do not have a pretty rich and deep reservoir of positivity, the cumulative small events of life become stressors in themselves, or they become cumulative and we too easily begin to feel that things are on top of us.

Stress Meter

We can talk all we want about “catastrophizing” and “awfullizing,” and while that insight can be helpful, it doesn’t produce long-terms results unless we respond differently to negative events from having lived and developed what we call a “NeuroPositive™ life.”

This means that we become, over a period of time, wired to go to the positive in both feelings and thoughts. It builds upon already existing internal strengths as our major neuropathways. These are the super highways of the real or ideal self.

This takes practice.

We are not automatically positive in the face of small or larger stressors. It usually has to be learned.

Stressors grind at us because they are continual and always present.

Our NeuroPositive™ response to stressors can be elegantly simple, if we have learned it and it is wired-in.

We can wire it in by learning to pulse positive emotion.

Most of us never learned that we can grow positive emotion intentionally. Emotions are reactive indicators, but we can also control emotions and use them by choice. We have the power to decrease positive emotion and we have the power to increase positive emotion. We have just not been taught how to do it.

We have far more positive control over emotions that it not negative denial than we believe that we do. You can train your brain to go to a positive emotion with immediacy, you can make that positive emotion last (duration) and you can increase that positive emotion for long periods of time at will (intensity).

Immediacy, duration, intensity with positive emotion.

Welcome to The Emotional Gym.™



About the author

Dr. William K. Larkin
  • Sandra Lintz

    A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because her trust isn’t in the branch, but in her own wings. The Christmas holidays have presented me with some additional challenges for being positive but I did not stay in a downward spiral because, like the bird, I trust myself. I credit the work I do in the emotional gym. This work gives me wings that are available whenever I want them. I think the wings are called certitude. Some pulses of positive emotions such as peace or gratitude help me shake off feeling sorry for myself and help me move on. State of mind management allows me to be fully present, alert to keep things positive, aware of strengths and choices.

    The emotional gym work and the UpSpiral are effective when it comes to managing stress. In fact these go beyond managing stress and into the realm of getting more good out of life as a whole. If we assess a situation and find that our strengths, resources and skills are adequate to deal with a situation, the situation will not seem as stressful to us. The upward spiral rating tool is not just a tool for checking in and shifting upwards repeatedly, although it does that, it also creates a lean that keeps us living more consistently at higher positive levels. Positivity creates permanent physical changes in the brain, restructuring neurons, and creating new neuropathways. All of the bad news about stress means that managing stress needs to be a very high priority! Actually positivity needs to be the priority!

  • jeris hollander

    The impact of stress on our physical health and more generally, the field of psychoneuroimmunology, has been of particular interest to me for years. It seems many people underestimate the powerful connection between the brain/mind/body as it relates to our long term health and the aging process. There is a very clear reason why repeated negative thoughts, emotions and behaviors are so difficult to change – the habituation of negativity becomes encoded in us at a cellular level. But the good news is the same is true for the cellular encoding of positive emotion. The even BETTER news is that by learning the necessary tools to live in the upspiral, we can actively create these positive emotions, as opposed to the common misconception that we must wait for them to happen to us. We have to power to control our own perception, happiness set point, resiliency, and ability to cope more productively with stressful events. By utilizing our energy positively towards maintaining healthy, thriving cells rather than feeding the negativity that results in cellular degradation we are boosting immune function and increasing our potential for longevity.

    The more awareness I have brought to my own/mind and body, the more apparent this connection becomes. I can recall multiple occasions when I was faced with a stressful event and spiraled down the path of negative emotions for a period of time afterwards. Years ago I began to notice an association between the severity and duration of my negativity and my subsequent physical health. Low energy, body aches, stomach aches, headaches, colds and sometimes fever are some of the symptoms I have experienced due to compromised immune function following intense and prolonged episodes of stress, anxiety, and feelings of oppression. While physical illness does not directly coincide with all stressful events, I do believe that the experience of intense and extended feelings of oppression, loss of control and perceived helplessness have contributed greatly to particular episodes of decreased immune function. Once we understand this connection between our physical and mental well-being, and the tools necessary to live in the UpSpiral, we are much better equipped to manage our overall health.

  • Audrey Sloofman

    During the holidays I found myself, as many others often do during holidays, getting extremely stressed by simple things. I felt the holidays “were on top of me”. I was able to quickly go to the Emotional Gym and shift my perspective and began to feel more like “I’m on top of the holidays.” I was able to see other options that were less stressful. I was please to experience the results of having wired in my positive neuropathways so that I could access them more quickly and deeply.
    And I am please to know that not only did I create a peaceful, joy-filled, love-filled holiday season for myself and my loved ones, but I also avoided fraying the ends of my chromosomes, negatively impacting my DNA and making myself older faster! Now that is a great holiday gift!

  • Jodi Ana

    “If we do not have a pretty rich and deep reservoir of positivity, the cumulative small events of life become stressors in themselves, or they become cumulative and we too easily begin to feel that things are on top of us.”

    I can relate to this article on so many levels, because I have been on both ends of the spectrum. For anyone who has grown up in a very stressful environment, it can be easy to carry those patterns forward in life. Practicing positivity has changed my life and, I feel, has quite literally saved my life.

    Over time of practicing positivity, it and compounds (over time) and it builds up a kind of ‘bank’ of resilience, so people can ‘bounce back’ easier, after they hit a challenge in life (as opposed to getting stuck in a downward spiral of negativity). It also broadens a person’s ability to remain open to, and find, solutions. In a mind-set of positivity, a person will look more broadly for solutions and stay open longer to solutions and possibilities. It is such a beautiful and amazing gift that science is now proving that we have the power at our own finger-tips to change the structure of our brain, and that building this reservoir is a CHOICE we all have! How COOL is that??!!!

  • Dr. gloria wright

    Thank goodness I am diligent in my practice of positive emotions, thoughts and beliefs. For the past year I have had constant back pain. Not feeling up to par and my lifestyle being affected could have been a real downer. It isn’t that it makes me happy, but rather that I choose to continue to be grateful for what I have. When my daughter took me for a shot and physical therapy, it became obvious in the waiting area that I was indeed blessed to be as active as I am.

    I grew up with a mom who was a “worry wart.” So, seeing the possibility of catastrophes was very familiar. It was indeed a major learning curve to change this automatic negative response. And thank goodness my immediate responses are becoming much more “automatically” positive.
    I play bridge at a senior center and it very obvious that having positive responses is not the norm. As research supports, negative habits so influence our aging. It “appears” that I am much younger than my peers (according to their comments). I do believe a large portion of this perception is about my attitude. I have diligently and intentionally trained myself to truly and deeply have positive thoughts, feelings and beliefs.
    As Dr. Barbara Frederickson’s research shows, there is what she calls a “Broaden & Build” result. This means as we focus on being and living in a positive state, we can build a deep reservoir of positivity. When we are challenged with misfortunes and disappointments in life, we can draw from this well of positivity to carry us through the darker moments. It isn’t human to never feel down, but it is important not to dwell on the negative. We do have a choice in how we respond to life. How many times have there been frustrations and disappointments that eventually brought a silver lining. I just look for and claim the silver lining earlier.

  • James Beeman

    How your brain responds to stress is something that you can choose. The power within this statement is immense, because it underscores the fact that to become a victim is an intentional choice or to become a victor is also a choice. When we realize that there are only two directions that we can go – victim or victor – we begin to take responsibility for our decisions, our emotions, our thoughts, and what happens as a result.

    How your brain responds to stress is something you’ve developed strong neuropathways for as well. What this means, is that over time our patterns of feeling, thoughts, and actions start to become second nature to us and we don’t give them a second thought. However, the coaching methodology taught at the Applied Neuroscience Institute is extremely distinct in that it teaches specific strategies to reduce the stress response and grow the success response.

    Many of us are addicted to the stress response and don’t even know it. For example, a specific event happens and we interpret the meaning of this event to have a negative impact on our life, career, finances, or health. However, what ANI teaches is a way to not deny that some events affect us, but to minimize the impact of these events and to focus on so much more. The more of what we focus on is the positive, the peaceful, the joyful, and the loving.

    On the other end of the spectrum, the question is what is your success response? The answer to this question is an interesting one, because often when people experience success, they too have a stress or threat response to it. They are asking themselves questions on the side of their weaknesses. Questions that sound like, “Is it this easy?”, “Am I enough?”, “Do I deserve this?” Unfortunately, all of these questions focus on the resistance and not on the momentum. They focus on what the client doesn’t want, instead of what the client wants.

    Clients of ANI must first be clear about what they want, believe they can get it, and be open to how they receive. Generally, a stress response is going to come when a client doesn’t have one of those three items engrained in their brain.

Copyright © 2015 The Applied Neuroscience Institute