Have you ever wondered why you get that queasy feeling before a test? Or why your hands get sweaty before an important presentation? There are three main parts of your brain involved whenever you are stressed or anxious, those being: the brain stem, the limbic system, which is formed of the hypothalamus, hippocampus and amygdala, and your frontal lobe.
The brain stem is also known as the ‘survival brain’ because it is responsible for keeping you alive. It is in control of your heart rate and breath rate, your body temperature, your sleep cycle, and your movement. When you are stressed, or having anxiety, the survival brain puts some bodily functions above all others: those which are necessary to keep you alive. These prioritized bodily functions include your heart beating faster so that you can intake more oxygen, which would be important if you needed energy to run or fight. Extra glucose is also transported to your limbs so that your cells can produce more energy and therefore you can be faster or stronger.
The Limbic system is also known as ‘the emotional brain’, meaning exactly as it’s title says; that it is responsible for regulating your emotions. When anxious, your emotions become much more intense as a warning system to keep you alert and help you respond to changes in the environment more quickly.
The frontal lobe is also known as ‘the smart brain’ and is in charge of higher functioning and deep thinking. This means it controls your communication processing, including reading, writing, talking and listening, critical thinking, and problem solving. When you become stressed or anxious your ‘smart brain’ does not receive as much energy as it requires because the energy is sent to other, prioritized parts of the brain, as your body will not have to solve an algebraic problem if you are in danger. This is why it can become hard to think when you are anxious or why you forget the answers to a big test on the spot even if you studied.
As society as a whole, and the technological world have evolved very quickly, our body and brain evolutions were not able to keep up with these changes, which is why sometimes, when our brain can’t keep up, it turns to stress. The same parts of your brain which would be would interpret if you were being attacked and chased by a predator also provoke the stress or anxiety you feel when walking into a test. The more and more this area of the brain gets activated, the stronger your body’s response becomes to stress.