Stress is experienced when the demands made of the body are greater than the body’s available resources to deal with them comfortably. These demands can be anything and include toxic substances in food, work pressures, relationship problems. When you experience stress there will be physiological symptoms, such as skin problems, digestive disorders, disturbed sleep. There may also be emotional consequences, such as irritability, frustration, depression.

One prevalent form of stress is what I call the frustrated fight-or-flight response. In response to perceived danger the body prepares to fight or flee. Blood drains from the thinking centres of the brain as blood is pumped to the major muscles; non-essential body functions cease; and cerebrospinal fluid recedes from the frontal lobes to the back of the brain, making rational thought almost impossible.

The flight-or-flight response is appropriate only if you are in physical danger. Emotional ‘dangers’, such as delivering a presentation or attending an interview, are far more common, and fighting or running would be very inappropriate.

If you were to fight or flee you wouldn’t be in a state of stress: you would be doing what your body is primed for. But if the body is on high alert, ready for action, and the conscious mind impels it to stay put and be cool, the fight-or-flight response is frustrated. A conflict is created between the demands of the body, which is prepared for action, and the dictates of the conscious mind, which prohibits such action.

The faculty you need most urgently when faced with emotional peril is not muscle power to fight or run but the ability to think. But in the state of frustrated fight or flight, the blood has vacated the thinking areas of the brain, and clear thinking is impossible – the mind has gone blank.

When the body is on high alert the digestive organs don’t function; the heart and lungs work extra hard; muscles are tense and flexed; thinking areas of the brain shut down. Imagine trying to function when your body is in this state for any length of time and the toll it takes. But it’s common.

Here’s one way to determine whether you are suffering from stress. Look in the mirror with head straight. If you see the white beneath your pupil in one eye, you are suffering stress. If you see the white beneath the pupils of both eyes, you are suffering significant stress. Find out what is stressing you and take steps to reduce your stress levels. Why not take a look now?

Adapted from The Therapist Within You: a Handbook of Kinesiology Self-therapy with the Pendulum, by Jonathan Livingstone www.therapycoaching.co

– Jonathan Livingstone

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