Thursday, October 22, 2009

Stress and the Mind/Body

Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens) has often been quoted as saying: "Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it." I have noticed that talking about stress might be a similar phenomenon. We talk about or busy lives, our work, relationship and family stresses. Stress is sometimes almost seen as a virtue – the more stressed you are, the more important or virtuous you must be. A lot of people talk about stress but few people do anything about it. While talking about stress undoubtedly helps to relieve some stress and support , validation and acknowledgement can go a long way, it doesn’t really get at root causes. Like a passing storm, other people simply cling to the hope that the stress will soon pass and blue skies will be on the horizon again soon, however temporarily. More worrisome however, are those people that don’t even notice their stress, or have become addicted or habituated to it. They are neither talking about the weather (stress) nor doing anything about it, but are likely being the most impacted by it.

Even a cursory glance at the research on the impact of stress on the body is enough to generate a stress response! With a stressful situation, our flight and fight systems gets activated so that we can effectively deal with real or imagined threats. However, if we don’t calm ourselves down relatively quickly, our health can be impacted significantly. Many of us have heard the rather cruel anecdote about a frog’s natural response to being put in a pot of boiling water (stress) is to jump to safety. However, if the frog is put in a pot of water that is gradually heated up, the frog will fail to jump out of the hot water, and die. This points to a more insidious type of stress –not those real but dramatic life events such as a relationship breakup, job loss, or the death of a significant person in our lives—but the everyday stresses that we sometimes get more or less accustomed to.

So do you want to know about these effects on your health? I think that this information can be helpful if people use it to think about making changes in the way they live. Otherwise, it may just become another stress in an already stressed-out life. Stress impacts our immune system and makes us more vulnerable to illness. Stress ages us by the wear and tear it takes on our bodies. Stress Impairs cognitive performance, suppresses thyroid function, creates blood sugar imbalances such as hyperglycemia , decreases bone density, decreases muscle tissue, raises blood pressure, lowers inflammatory responses in the body, and increases abdominal fat, which is associated with a greater amount of health problems than fat deposited in other areas of the body. Some of the health problems associated with increased stomach fat are heart attacks, strokes, as well as the development of, higher levels of “bad” cholesterol.

The significant factor in stress is not the stressor itself but the way that people respond to stress. The same stress may be experienced by one person as a small cloud in the sky and by another as a typhoon. Counselling can of course help us not only with strategies to reduce stress in our lives but also with changing our reactions to stress. Talking (or writing) about stress and not repressing our emotional experiences is an important first step. In fact, not talking about feelings and stress, as well as a lack of social support, have been shown to be characteristic of many people diagnosed with cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and the onset of all chronic illnesses.

The analogy between stress and talking about the weather has one important difference. Mark Twain seems to imply that merely talking about the weather is somehow not constructive. With stress however, even talking, writing or expressing yourself about what stresses you is effective in reducing the health impacts of that stress. While we can have little impact on the weather by talking about it, talking about stress can open the door to solutions.

Stayed tuned for further ideas and solutions for dealing with stress .

Warm regards,



Gabor Mate. When the Body Says No- The Cost of Hidden Stress. Knopf, 2003.

No comments:

Post a Comment