Physical Signs of Stress and How To Respond Healthily

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It’s 5am and the alarm wakes you up suddenly. You reach out and hit “snooze”, drifting off for another ten minutes of much-needed sleep. Again, another ten minutes. Repeat. Repeat again. 30-40 minutes has passed before you finally pull yourself from the bed and start your day. Somehow, you’ve just ignored the “alarms” which were there to remind you, that it’s time to do something. Now you are in a rush, you jump in the shower, shovel in some breakfast and are out the door, all in flash. Day, after day, after day, after day. Sound stressful?


The stress response in the body is known as the “flight or fight” system. This system is activated in response to a stimulus that makes us need to take action. Like the sound of the alarm. Our Heart rate increases, our blood pressure rises, and the blood in our body supplies the systems that need the most attention to “get up and go”. This type of stress and response is helpful, the kind we need to give attention to the “alarming” moments in life. When we spend long periods of time in this stressed state, we can begin to feel effects of this unmanaged state. We may notice these signals, but keep plugging along at our usual pace, keeping up with the demands of our daily routine.

What if the alarms you’ve ignored day after day were the signals that your body gives in response to stress? Headaches, stomach aches, muscle tension, fatigue, or anxiety. We can easily ignore these signals. We can keep working through muscle tension, think through the headaches, keep pushing beyond the fatigue, and look past the anxiety. Our bodies are incredible; they keep going and carry us through immeasurable times of difficulty. Our bodies can withstand almost anything. We could go for miles, work for hours, and heal from injuries.

The body can just, well, handle it.

That is what most of us think.

The incredible thing is that just the thought alone, that we can handle it, can be part of the difference of whether we can, or we can’t handle it. Our thoughts can determine whether we find something stressful or not. It’s when we disagree or dislike something that we perceive stress. This realisation can be the tipping point between health and illness. Hide from it you say? Not quite. Though we may run from stress for a while, eventually our bodies tell us when it’s had enough.

So, what is stress? Physiologically speaking, stress  “is the response of the body to a stimulus, fear or pain, that disturbs with the normal physiological equilibrium of an organism.”

Fear or pain. Stress can be both physical and mental. Our thoughts are often first to blame when we realise stress. We THINK about how much we don’t like something. We hardly realise that physical stress, from our activities, from illness, and even our dietary choices can cause a disturbance in the function of our body. The pains and other signals of stress go far beyond headaches, and muscle tension. Long term stress can be associated with up to 80% of illness. shutterstock_162044975

Stress causes dysfunction of the signals throughout the brain and stimulates the adrenal cortex to secrete cortisol, which is responsible for many physical effects of stress. Elevated cortisol can disrupt the hormones responsible for our sleep cycles, the chemicals that regulate our mood and cognition, the hormones that modulate hunger and cause weight gain, it disrupts our thyroid function, and utilises certain sex hormones which leave us depleted unbalanced. It decreases immune function and speeds the ageing process. Long periods of stress can be the onset of illness in many cases.

Fortunately, we can support the function of our body’s systems and heal from the effects of stress. Managing stress can reduce inflammation, lower blood sugar, decrease pain, and reduce your risk for heart attacks, strokes, and cancer. Meditation, relaxation techniques and counselling can be helpful in the management of stress as well as certain herbs and vitamins. Vitamin C can be helpful in reducing the effect of stress by inhibiting the release of cortisol and preventing associated weight gain. B complex vitamins are also helpful by supporting adrenal gland function. Magnesium supports the cardiovascular system. Chamomile, Ashwagandha, lavender and passionflower can reduce anxiety and decrease the effects of stress.


We can take the time to listen to the cues our bodies give about how it’s coping with stress. Much like any other meeting we schedule, we need to schedule time for ourselves. Most of us feel that time to ourselves is selfish, or that there is something more important to handle first.  There is nothing more important than taking the time to listen to your body, and what it’s telling you. It could literally save your life. The alarms that our bodies send, though easily ignored, are bits of information our body is giving about its function on a cellular level. Don’t hit the snooze button- get up and take action.



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About the Author

Physical Signs of Stress and How To Respond HealthilyPierre Gagnon practised concentration and insight meditation intensively from 2010 to 2012, then went on to study meditation at Wat Suan Mokkh with the venerable Ajahn Po from 2013 to 2015. As well as his own practice, he has coordinated meditation retreats in the south of Thailand which were attended by more than 1,000 people.

Having a great passion in the field of neuroscience, he likes to integrate these concepts into meditation practice. He believes that much of our life is lived resisting and defending against internal and external experiences that people perceive as threats. Through the development of concentration and meditation, we can insightfully see that all experiences are harmless and there is no need to defend of contract around them.  Pierre has experience coordinating concentration and insight meditation retreats, teaching the relationship that exists between Buddhism and neuroscience.

About the Author

BochakornBOCHAKORN BOONSERM (MAAM) began her education in conventional medicine as a nurse, then shifted to embrace natural healing and integrative medicines. Her training and certifications abroad include: Nutrition and Western Herbal Medicines, Acupuncture and Moxibustion.

During her therapeutic sessions, she may also incorporate other aspects of integrative medicines when required, including: acupuncture, cupping therapy, moxibustion, nutritional, supplements and herbal recommendation.

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