Our bodies are designed to handle many types of stressors. In fact, some types of stress, like exercise, create positive adaptations in the body. Our body is strong and resilient and is constantly working to find balance in its systems. This balance is interrupted when chronic stressors are processed through the unconscious emotional centers in the brain. This interruption causes imbalances that limit our ability to heal and can cause physical issues. The reason the physical issues occur is because the body’s fight, flight, freeze response in the nervous system processes an emotional threat as if it’s a real physical threat, which becomes a catalyst for health problems as the body ages. What can we do about this? Well, learning and understanding stress and the mechanisms affecting our health empowers our ability to correctly diagnosis, treat and resolve symptoms. In his book The Mind Body Connection John Sarno writes, “Acknowledging the important role of emotions in health and illness, medicine must reexamine its concepts of disease causation.” ― John E. Sarno, Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection
A 2014 study identified the top types of stressors that have an impact on the health as, “job pressure, money, health, relationships, poor nutrition, media overload, and sleep deprivation.” Whether we consciously perceive these as stressors or not, at an unconscious level our brain and body can react to these pressures, demands, and thought patterns. This response happens through a process that initiates in the Hypothalamus (part of the emotional center in the brain) and ultimately triggers the release of cortisol and adrenaline, which in turn cause harmful conditions and dysfunction in the body. These deeper systems and our ability to process stressors is developed early in life and can continue to affect our health as we age. When left unchecked over time, these processes can create symptoms in all physiological systems including memory, cognition, learning, immune system functions, cardiovascular system, gastrointestinal and endocrine systems, reproductive systems,and the nervous system. The symptoms can vary throughout these connected systems which all process at an unconscious level. As far as the brain is concerned, stressors can be either real or perceived, and the brain can still shift the state of the body from balanced to imbalanced depending. Chronic stress can affect the musculoskeletal system, creating states in which the body experiences chronic pain and symptoms. The American Psychological Association states, “When the body is stressed, muscles tense up. Muscle tension is almost a reflex reaction to stress — the body’s way of guarding against injury and pain. With sudden onset stress, the muscles tense up all at once, and then release their tension when the stress passes. Chronic stress causes the muscles in the body to be in a more or less constant state of guardedness. When muscles are taut and tense for long periods of time, this may trigger other reactions of the body and even promote stress related disorders.”
The body is complex with all systems, including the brain and its emotional centers, working as part of an interconnected network to react to real or perceived threats. These threats can include things from job pressure to childhood trauma and they can ignite our bodies stress response mechanisms. By better understanding the complexities and link between our psychology and physiology we can better diagnose and heal chronic issues. The inner processes leading to chronic pain and dysfunction can be healed by allowing our knowledge to guide us through working with our bodies and understanding our minds.
Here are some things you can start doing today to combat the impacts of chronic stress:
Kinesiologist, HealthFit Gym