How does stress cause illness?
The human body is not just a biological machine that carries the brain around: the mind and body are inseparably linked, some even say they are the same. The mind profoundly influences the body through many biological mechanisms, including the nervous system, the immune system and hormones. Knowledge of this mind-body connection is important for understanding why we experience very real bodily sensations or physical health conditions in certain mental and emotional circumstances. It also helps to explain how working on the body can help improve mental and emotional issues.
It is easy to experience the mind-body link and many of its effects will be very familiar. For example, just remembering certain significant situations or past events, or thinking about future scenarios, whether they are positive or negative, can bring about physical sensations. These are not imagined, or ‘in our head’, but correspond to real physical changes in the body.
We have all experienced how a happy thought or feeling can make us smile and feel great in our body. We may get butterflies in the stomach when we’re in love, or experience tingling in the body when listening to a beautiful piece of music. These are examples of feelings we label as ‘positive’.
Stress: The fight-and-flight response
On the other hand, the feelings and associated physical symptoms linked to mental or emotional stress and trauma are usually perceived as unpleasant and ‘negative’. For example, feeling embarrassed about something can make us blush. Being anxious, such as before an exam, can make our stomachs churn and we may feel our heart racing. A sudden fright can make us jump or catch our breath. We can go red with anger, or pale with fear. In all of these examples, a mentally or emotionally stressful or traumatic situation creates specific physiological changes in our body, usually for a limited period of time. They are part of our biological survival program known as the fight-and-flight response. This vital system switches on automatically in any situation regarded as a threat, to physically enable us to either fight off any danger, or run away from it. It doesn’t matter whether this threat is emotional, mental or a physical danger, since our perception doesn’t distinguish between them.
Have you ever been in a situation, when your body reacted to a threat so quickly, that you didn’t even have time to think? This happens because our subconscious part of the brain works much faster than the conscious mind. In addition, during the fight-and-flight response the conscious thinking brain gets shut down. This is great during physical danger, when the body needs to react fast, but not so beneficial when the stress is mental, such as in an exam situation or as in most of the situations we encounter in modern life, which are not physically, but emotionally stressful. Overall, the activation of the fight-and-flight response reduces the ability to think rationally. Therefore, if you want clarity of thought, you must reduce your stress-levels.
Trauma: The freeze response
There is another highly significant biological response to stress and trauma, which occurs when a threat (physical, mental or emotional) appears completely overwhelming and shocking: it is the so called freeze response. This response triggers more primitive parts of the nervous system and has even more profound effects on a person’s long-term physical, emotional and mental health, since in humans this type of stress is usually stored within the body, rather than released.
However, it is possible to let go of even long-held tension in the body with Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), Matrix Reimprinting and Tension Release Exercises (TRE).
Disassociation: it’s too painful to feel
Sometimes the stress can be so overwhelming, that people experience a state of dissassociation, in which they feel numb and sometimes even outside of the body. This is a protective mechanism employed by primitive parts of the brain in extreme situations. Once used successfully, often in very early childhood, it will become the predominant coping mechanism in later life, even for much lower stress levels.
People can remain in dissociation for many years and may seem to be ‘calm and cool’ and functioning normally on a day to day basis. However, they may experience their life as dull and without joy or meaning. Also often, almost as a call back into the body, there can be chronic pain issues. It may be preferable to feel numb in the face of stress, however long-term it will prevent experiencing a fulfilled life.
The therapies and strategies I offer are designed to help you move safely out of dissociation and empowered into the fullness of life.
Beliefs and perceptions create a distorted reality
Overwhelming situations have such a huge impact on the victim, that their views of themselves and of the world become deeply distorted. Subconscious negative beliefs are formed, which insidiously go on to impair the rest of their lives. With Matrix Reimprinting it is possible to track down the source and nature of these negative beliefs and change them to more empowering beliefs.
Chronic stress: stuck in survival
During long-term exposure to some of the emotional stresses of our modern life, or with repeated or unresolved trauma, the associated physiological changes persist and the body’s response designed to be healthy and life-saving during short periods of physical threat, develops into chronic physical stress illness. There is a huge range of physical conditions linked to stress, with every organ system affected. It is estimated that stress illness makes up 80-90% of the workload of GPs (Family Physicians).
In addition, when the body is in survival mode, it doesn’t allocate resources to tissue repair. This means that chronic stress can lead to a vicious circle of declining health leading to increased stress and further reduced ability to heal.
Illness: The body keeps the score
It is not just present day stress that affects our health. From large studies we know that people, who experienced stressful and traumatic events during childhood, are more likely to suffer ill health later on in life, even if those events on the surface are no longer relevant in their lives. We know now that the effects of these experiences are still carried in the body many years later and they become manifest as physical and emotional difficulties.
Once the link to childhood stress is recognised, it is possible to unravel the effect these events had.
(Heading based on a book title by trauma specialist Bessel A. Van der Kolk: ‘The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma’)
Stress and trauma resolution through mind-body therapies
With mind-body therapies, the mind-body link is reversed and, through working with the body, mental and emotional balance and regulation can be achieved. One easy example for this is taking a few slow comfortable breaths in through the mouth, and out through the nose. This helps to relax and ground the whole body in the present moment and brings about a general feeling of calm.
Emotional Freedom Technique and Matrix Reimprinting also work via the mind-body link, but in a much more specific and powerful way, by addressing the root causes of physical, mental and emotional symptoms, no matter how long ago the stress and trauma occurred, to enable freedom from the past and a healthier and happier future.
Tension Release Exercises imitate the most natural physical stress release mechanism in the body: tremoring re-sets the nervous system and releases muscles, fascia and other connective tissues and organs.
Stress and trauma affect with equal importance our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing. The therapies I offer are able to address all of these four areas and allow me to tailor your treatment to your specific needs.
Self-regulation for self-healing
Through working with me you will learn many tools to manage your own physical, emotional, mental and also if relevant your spiritual well-being. I believe my clients are healthiest and happiest when they are empowered to trust again in their own capacity to heal themselves. It is very exciting when this stage is reached, since clients then stop being in survival mode and begin to really thrive and grow into their true shining selves.
You can read here what my clients say about their recovery.
Please feel free to if you have any questions.