Further explanation of some words we use


Adrenal glands: structures on top of the kidneys which produce many “messenger molecules” like adrenaline and cortisol.

Adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol: the “stress hormones”; chemicals released into the blood which activate the body into a state of fight, flight, freeze or fold.

Amygdala: an almond-shaped area located deep in the brain. It first evolved in reptiles and was closely associated with the sense of smell. It is the “alarm centre”, and plays a key role in the processing of emotions.  The amygdala stores the memories which are associated with past threats. A minor trigger can send the amygdala into full alert – it is a “pattern matching organ”.  For example a car backfiring may activate past memories of a gunshot.

Autonomic nervous system: the part of the nervous system that controls involuntary or “automatic” actions, such as the beating of your heart and the widening or narrowing of your blood vessels. It consists of two parts, the sympathetic (drive) and parasympathetic – (calm) nervous system, which counterbalance each other.

Cortical thinking: using the “little grey cells” which form the outer layer of the human brain for logical reasoning.

Functional Symptoms: unwanted body sensations which are not explained by disease.

Homeostasis: the process of stabilising the internal environment of the body, for example keeping the sugar level of the blood within normal limits.

HPA axis: the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands work together with the limbic system to respond to threat by producing messenger chemicals.

Hyperventilation: breathing too fast and/or too deeply so that you blow out too much carbon dioxide. This reduces the acid level of the blood, and can cause a wide range of symptoms. The extra breathing response may be intermittent or longlasting and sustained.
Limbic system: a group of interconnected areas in the brain which include the amygdala, hypothalamus and hippocampus.  They regulate the autonomic nervous system and control hormone levels, particularly in response to self-preservation and emotional events. They are involved in motivation and memory.

Neuroplasticity: The brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the nerve cells in the brain to compensate for injury and disease, and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.

Parasympathetic nervous system: The part of the involuntary nervous system that slows the heart rate and increases digestive activity, putting us into “maintenance mode”.
Physiology: the way that the body functions.  This includes the methods of working of various systems, such as circulation or digestion.

Proprioceptors: sensors that provide information about the length and tension of muscles.

Sympathetic nervous system: A part of the involuntary nervous system that speeds up the heart rate, makes blood vessels narrower, and raises blood pressure. Strong stimulation results in “emergency mode”. When activated, it keeps our threat engine running, creating fight flight freeze and fold responses.

Synaptic threshold: a synapse is the space between two nerve cells.  Molecules called neurotransmitters are produced by one nerve cell and flow across the gap to attach to the other cell. When enough molecules have attached, the other cell will be activated. The number of “hits” necessary to trigger this activation is called the “synaptic threshold”.

Triune brain: The layered structure of the brain with the reptilian “autopilot” at the core, the limbic “lifesaver” and finally the logical neocortex. This structure arose through evolutionary development, with additional layers and adaptation of increasing complexity:  reptile, bird, mammal, and higher mammal leading to “homo sapiens” (humans)!