Stress: Is It All In Your Head?

When you feel under stress it can feel as though your mind is racing.

Maybe you are worrying about every possible thing that could go wrong or going over and over everything you need to do that day in your head.

The way we think about a situation plays a key role in feeling stressed – but is it all in your head?


The Mind-Body Connection.

Your thoughts and physical sensations in your body are more closely linked than people often give credit to.

We all know that there are certain thoughts that may bring about physical changes in our bodies.

  • If you are thinking about tasty food, for example, your body might respond with increased feelings of hunger, stomach rumbles or your mouth may water.
  • If you think about sex, well you know… *embarrassed blush*


When we perceive a threat, our body’s fight & flight response kicks into action.

The fight & flight response has evolved to keep us safe from physical danger by causing changes in the body to help us to run away or to fight a physical threat.

For example, if you need to get out of the way of a car, you will feel a rush of adrenaline, your heart will beat faster and your muscles will leap into action to get you safely out of the way.

However, just thinking about something you are worried or stressed about, will bring about physical changes in your body.

The physical changes can happen even when there is no immediate danger.


How stressful thoughts affect the body

Your body doesn’t readily differentiate between whether a thing is there in front of you or whether it is just a thought about a thing.

But why would our bodies do that?

Well, if we think about it in terms of your fight and flight response, your body is operating on a ‘better safe than sorry’ policy.

If you imagine an early human, wandering about with all the wild beasts, poisonous berries, other early humans trying to steal his nuts, the more trigger-happy his fight or flight response was, the better.

You are much more likely to survive and pass on your genes if you over-respond to danger than if you under-respond and just stand there trying to figure out if there really is a tiger leaping out of a bush at you or whether you are just thinking about a tiger leaping out of a bush at you.


Meanwhile, you are eaten by said tiger.


So what?
The upshot for us today, is that if you spend a lot of time thinking about stressful situations or worries about the future, your body will respond and you will feel physical changes that correspond to the thought.

  • Your heart may beat faster
  • Your breathing may become more shallow
  • You may feel tense
  • Hot and bothered
  • Shaky
  • Or a churning sensation in your stomach…

Your fight & flight response is adopting a better safe than sorry policy just in case you could run away from your work deadline or fight off the big meeting at work later that day.

The great news is that this works just as well with thoughts about much nicer things.

If you spend time thinking about relaxing on a beautiful beach, times you have felt confident, or imagining feeling compassion towards someone you love, your body will respond with that nice fuzzy relaxed feeling and slower rate of breathing.

You may notice a warm feeling in your stomach or chest or a rising expanding feeling of confidence, connectedness, gratitude or happiness.

Why not give it a try right now?

Step 1: First of all think in as much detail as you can about something that is stressing you out. Really picture it and imagine any sounds, sensations or smells/tastes that might go along with it.

Step 2: After a couple of minutes, take notice of your body and whether you feel tense, if your breathing rate is a little faster or your stomach is churning or if you feel hot or anxious.

Step 3: Think of a beautiful place. Again, add as much detail as possible about what you can see, hear, feel, smell or taste and after a couple of minutes notice how you feel in your body again.

Step 4: Notice what you feel in your body now. Have your shoulders dropped down a little; has your breathing slowed, have your muscles relaxed?

Your brain is amazing and your body is too!

Lemon Squeezy makes wellbeing easy!

Image Credit: Pixabay

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I am a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and EMDR therapist, mum of 2 awesome children and founder of Lemon Squeezy Wellbeing! I offer wellbeing workshops and guided relaxation sessions to workplaces in Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees.

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