Stress is something we all experience. Often on a daily basis. As a Psychologist I find it important to explain to my clients how stress works and how it impacts on our physical health. I frequently find when speaking to clients and informing them that the source of their pain or discomfort is stress related, they often think that it means that it’s all in their head.  However, I reassure them that their ailments are real.

So how and why does stress impact the body?

Well, from an evolutionary point of view, stress is your body’s reaction to a belief you are physically going to die.  If you could image in a prehistoric time when cave people had to go out to kill their food, often their food was bigger, faster and more deadly than what they were.  So if they weren’t fast enough to kill the beast or run from it, they were the one’s that would be killed.  Therefore, in order to ensure their survival, the brain had to prepare their body.

To do this, the body kicks in the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) , the fight or flight response.  The body needs tension in their large muscles to be able to move quickly.  For this to happen, blood needs to be pumped into those regions and the blood needs to have the oxygen to make the muscles efficient.  Therefore, blood needs to leave the non-essential areas and go to the large muscle, the heart needs to pump faster, blood pressure needs to increase and the body needs to breath faster to get the oxygen into the blood. Additionally, emptying the bowels assists in becoming lighter.

Now once the danger is over, either the beast is dead or the cave person has reached to safety, the Para-sympathetic Nervous System (PNS) takes over and everything returns to normal.

Unfortunately the problem today is that we seldom have to stress or worry about whether we are physically in danger, we worry about our finances, our future, the mortgage, relationships.  However, our physical response is still the same; we are worried that may lose the house, so our heart, breathing and blood pressure increases. With this, the concern regarding the mortgage may last weeks, months or years which prevents the PSN an opportunity to kick in and relax the body.  As a result, our body remains in a heightened state of ‘danger’ for prolonged periods, thereby, putting strain and tension on the body which manifests itself as aches, pains and serious health problems.

So even though your ailments may be stress related,  it doesn’t mean that they not real or are imaginary.  It’s just your body responding to a perceived threat or danger.

Understanding this can be an important first response to dealing with stress and learning how to develop helpful strategies to keep you calm.

If stress is something you are struggling with, why not seek the help of a Psychologist to help you overcome it. You can contact us on 6381 0071 to make an appointment.

Darren West

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