Stress – a Physical Issue?
Stress is not necessarily a bad thing. We all need a bit of stress in our life. It can help to get us going in the morning, it can help to focus us on a deadline and be more productive. But if we are subject to consistently high levels of stress, the effects can be far from useful. It can stop us sleeping, affect our performance and lead to long term serious health issues. In fact, the Health and Safety Executive estimates that 11.7 million work days are lost each year due to stress. The good news is that hypnotherapy can really help you to control your stress.
So what is happening in your body when you experience stress?
The short term physical effects of stress are an increased heart rate, increased rate of breathing, a churning stomach, often an intense and immediate need for the bathroom, sweating and possibly a panic attack. This will happen when for some reason our primitive emotional brain (our limbic system – the health and safety officer of the brain) perceives that we are somehow under threat. The perceived threat causes the release of cortisol (the stress hormone) and adrenaline, amongst other hormones, preparing the body for “fight or flight”. The threat our brain perceives may be real – an escaped polar bear charging towards us, for example. However, these threats may also be things like the credit card dropping onto the door mat, or the thought of your exams, and although we may feel like we want to, we probably don’t need to run away from these things.
As anxiety and stress starts to increase in our lives, our brain starts to perceive threat all around us all the time, and so that fight or flight response, and the associated release of hormones, is constantly being triggered, and our bodies are in a constant state of high alert – we become hyper-vigilant. We have constantly high levels of stress hormones in our blood stream, which can have long term effects on our mental and physical well being.
Weight loss is much more complicated than simply “move more, eat less”. When the stress hormone cortisol is released into our blood stream, our body believes that we need high energy foods, and so we crave sugary foods. However, it also encourages us to store fat rather than burn it, so continual stress can cause us to gain weight, and have more difficulty losing weight. Conversely, when our body has a lot of adrenaline, we can often lose our appetite and weight loss can be an issue (the diagnostic manual for depression states that one of the indicators of depression is a 5% weight gain or loss).
Digestion, Stomach and Bowel Problems
When the fight or flight response is triggered, it causes our digestion to slow down so that all our energy and blood supply can be directed towards our “emergency” responses. The lining of the stomach and gut can be irritated, causing nausea or inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome is exacerbated by the excess hormones, and stomach ulcers can be caused by long term stress.
Many people notice that they suffer more colds and general ill health when they are under stress, and they seem unable to shake these illnesses. This is because the release of cortisol affects the working of the immune system, which helps us to fight common bacteria and viruses. Longer term health conditions can also develop when the immune system is suppressed for a long time – auto-immune diseases, Chronic fatigue syndrome and allergies.
Blood pressure increases when the fight or flight response is triggered (as a way of helping the blood pump faster around the body, to get the blood to the muscles to allow them to run). Long term, high blood pressure is linked to strokes and heart disease.
General Aches and Pains
The Health and Safety Executive estimates that 8.8 million working days are lost each year due to musculoskeletal disorders – backache. When we are under stress, we tend to tense up – we “carry” that stress in our shoulders or our backs. This pain can cause us to become more anxious, which can create more stress and we find ourselves in the grip of a negative spiral.
All of us have a metaphorical ‘stress bucket’ that can easily fill. The more stress we experience, the bigger the load we carry, which can have a negative impact on our emotional wellbeing and our ability to sleep properly. For most people who are experiencing anxiety, stress or depression, a common factor is that they suddenly start to have problems with sleeping. When you start to sleep, your brain enters a specific state of Rapid Eye Movement, often referred to as REM. In very simple terms, this state often allows us to empty our ‘stress buckets’, but, if there is too much in your ‘bucket’, you may find yourself waking up and being unable to go back to sleep.
A major side effect of stress for many people is turning to inappropriate ways of dealing with their stress – drinking too much, taking illegal drugs, stopping taking part in all the things that used to interest us. These coping strategies can cause the effects of stress to become even worse.
It is absolutely vital that we look after our physical and mental well being. If you are struggling to control your stress, solution focused hypnotherapy may well be the answer for you. I offer a free of charge initial consultation, during which I will explain how the therapy works, and you can decide whether you think it is for you. Most people find their symptoms improve within 8 – 12 sessions. Please contact me to book your initial appointment, either by email, or call me on 07769 940894 for a confidential chat.