During one of my seminars a participant asked, “How do I know if the fears I sometimes experience are real or just my imagination?”

This is such a good question. How often do you get upset, worried or afraid; and then find out, it wasn’t necessary?

Not that emotional discomfort is any kind of strategy to deal with a threat or resolve issues faster, but it does get your attention, and knowing whether you need to act on it is very important.

Research has shown that humans would rather worry about a situation that never comes to pass, than to not worry about something and be caught off guard.

That’s right; you heard correctly. Many people would rather proactively worry, than not at all!

How about you? Are you worrying more than you need to? Are you getting caught in an ongoing stress loop?


Imagine a gazelle being chased by a lion. Its heart rate increases along with its breath so that it has more oxygen and energy going to its muscles to run faster and outrun the lion.  

Your brain does the exact same thing in 2 phases.


If you’re being chased by a lion, what do you need?

  • Quick thinking
  • Strong muscles
  • Lots of energy

Therefore, you release the chemical adrenaline that causes a rapid release of glucose and fatty acids into your blood for energy. Your heart rate speeds up and your breath quickens to get more oxygen to make your muscles perform better.

These chemicals also accelerate your thinking processes so you can outsmart the lion – turn here, jump over there, hide here…

These reactions are your survival priority, and everything else in your body shuts down. In fact, your brain releases other chemicals to STOP certain regular life functions from working as they are unnecessary in an emergency situation.

What goes on hold?

  • Growth of new cells
  • Reproduction System
  • Immune System
  • Blood flow is reduced to ‘non-essential’ functions


If the threat that caused the release of adrenaline is severe or lasts for more than a couple of minutes, a chemical called cortisol kicks in. Cortisol keeps your blood pressure and blood sugar elevated to help you escape from the danger.

Short term, this isn’t a problem; but long term, it is.

When the perceived ‘threat’ passes, your body is supposed to release a hormone that counteracts the cortisol and brings you back to a non-stressed level.

For example, the Gazelle has outrun the lion who is exhausted and given up the chase, so the gazelle can graze again.

But as humans, we don’t shift back to a calm and centered state so readily.

Along with a tendency to perceive everything as a threat, we are also dealing with lack of quality sleep, poor nutrition and busy lives. This makes us even more predisposed to stress-based reactions and states. 

So if we misplace our phone, or we are running late for a meeting or we’ve had a misunderstanding with a co-worker or family member, then the stress levels continue, even if they aren’t life threatening scenarios.

When your cortisol levels don’t decrease to the non-stress levels, you are in a constant state of imbalance, resulting in stress and anxiety. Long term this has been shown to compromise your immune system and predispose you to physical and mental health problems, as well as other issues such as irritability, fatigue, lack of focus and memory loss.


Recognizing early symptoms of stress such as your shoulders tensing, your jaw tightening, your stomach fluttering, etc., can allow you to catch the response early in the process, before your brain becomes completely hijacked. 

Then you can implement some proactive measures to better determine if there is a concern to address or if your system was simply out of balance and requiring some self care.

Here are some quick brain intervention strategies:

  1. USE YOUR SENSES:  Describe 3 things in terms of size, shape, texture, and/or color to bring your attention back to the present moment.  This can  disengage the default mode network in your brain that gets activated when you’re worrying, daydreaming, or thinking about yourself, and instead activate your brain’s “on-task” network.
  2. STAND STRAIGHTER: Research shows that sloppy posture during high pressure tasks leads to negative thoughts and feelings vs. sitting upright which increases your testosterone levels (builds confidence) and reduces cortisol levels (relieves stress).
  3. CLENCH YOUR FISTS:  Your right hand activates the left side of the brain (verbal and logical) and your left hand activates your right brain (global and emotional).  By activating both sides of your body, you can create connection between both hemispheres so your attitude and perspective are more balanced.

Now that you understand how the stress response works and have ways to address it, you can begin to shift from stressed to blessed, anywhere, anytime!

To your Fit Brain and Fit Life,