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Our Brains are Hardwired to React; How to Train for Calm

Our brains and bodies are built to react. Thousands of years ago, when we faced dangerous situations, we needed a huge physical surge of energy to quickly fight or flee from a situation in order to survive. This reaction is called the "fight or flight response," and today, this primal brain reaction remains deeply engrained in all of us.

Because our brains have a difficult time distinguising between an actual physical threat and the daily frustrations of our current busy world, our bodies are frequently and unnecessarily physiologically triggered. This stress response shows up differently for each of us. For instance, we may find ourselves yelling when we're stuck in traffic or when our kids seem to refuse to listen. Or our hands may start to sweat and our hearts pound when we anticipate something stressful, like having a difficult conversation at work or with a loved one. Moderate levels of stress are often positive, as this helps to motivate us and prepare for what's coming next. But at times our stress response can feel overwhelming and end up getting in the way instead of serving us. And if we have a constant stream of stress in our lives, this physical reaction can linger and prevent our bodies from recovering and recharging fully, resulting in burnout and fatigue.

But there is good news! Even though we can't change the hardwiring in our brains, we can upgrade the software by increasing our self-awareness and our skills to manage stress. Once we learn to better recognize what brings on our stress triggers, we can train our minds and bodies to react with less intensity.

Would you like to learn more about our primitive built-in stress response and how it plays out in our current world? Click on the image of the brain to watch a short, humorous clip called "The Happiness Trap: Evolution of the Human Mind" by psychologist Dr. Russ Harris to learn more about this topic.

Possible next steps to bring more intentional calm into your life:

  • First, ask yourself, "Why is it important to me to learn this new skill?" and write down your answer. It is helpful to post your goal and reason somewhere so you can see it every day.

  • Explore methods to bring calm that work for YOU. This may include learning to deep breath (especially during times of stress), learning to accept and push back on automatic thoughts that trigger our stress reaction, and/or reprioritizing the number of tasks and demands in our lives so our minds and bodies are less overloaded.

  • You may have a list of activities you've used successfully in the past to bring calm into your life, and you just need to focus and reactivate thes habits. In this case, set a daily practice goal to practice with a specific time, place, and a length of time that works for you. Stick to it for at least 30 days, which is the minimum time we need to build new habits.

  • If you would like to learn more, visit the online Wellness Studio by clicking on the following link:, where you'll find more information and classes on wellness.

Like this topic? Please share your own experiences on how you effectively manage your stress reactions and bring calm into your life so we can learn from each other!

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