1. What happens to your body under pressure?
Stress gives us the energy to fight or flee, which is pretty useful if you’re staring down a sabre-toothed tiger but not quite as productive in the lead-up to a job interview. Here’s what happens in your brain when you sense danger:
* The eyes and ears pass that information along to the amygdala, a jelly bean-shaped region deep in your temporal lobe involved in decision making and emotional responses.
* The amygdala decides the danger is real and sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. That’s the part of the brain responsible for the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which heads up involuntary body functions like your heartbeat, breathing and blood pressure.
* The hypothalamus cues a part of the ANS called the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for your fight-or-flight response. Often compared to the gas pedal on a car, it sets off the adrenal glands.
* The glands flood the bloodstream with adrenalin. Your heart starts racing, getting more blood to your muscles, and fats and sugar are released, providing you with extra energy. The lungs’ airways open to the limit so the maximum amount of oxygen gets in, which is sent to the brain, sharpening your senses and making you more alert. (Now, go fight that tiger!)
* Once the danger passes, another part of the ANS, the parasympathetic nervous system, is engaged. Much like your car’s braking mechanism, it has a rest-and-digest function that counters the stress response and gets your body back to normal.