We tend to think about the mind and body as separate entities, seeking help if our physical body is not feeling quite right. The same may not always be said about our mind, which is why our mental health is often neglected. But how about when it comes to our mind and body together – how are they connected?
Stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension, and it bridges both our mind and body.
Depending on the situation encountered, we may feel stressed based on the thoughts or emotions we have. Stress is often portrayed negatively, but it also has positive uses. It helps us to avoid danger, to meet work deadlines, or to survive that intense two-hour exam. But this is only effective in short bursts.
Stress can have a negative impact if it is prolonged. Let’s look at ‘Josh’, who experiences social anxiety. Josh is a university student, getting invited to various social events (Covid-safe I hope!). When that next invite appears, a series of thoughts immediately pops up:
The thoughts might go on or even start looping around. A lot of the thoughts are judging himself harshly. He makes interpretations, for example being called out by a former classmate and interpreting this as everyone thinking of him this way. There are also thought associations going on, where one thought leads to another; when Josh thinks of ’loser’, this takes him to another associating thought even though it has nothing to do with the current situation at hand. It just further fuels the thought spiral he is in.
Thoughts are powerful, as they can evoke real emotion in us. From Josh’s thought process, he may feel anger, fear, anxiety, shame, frustration, withdrawn, insecure, rejected…
From our January 2022 blog
post [https://confidein.care/how_am_i_feeling.php], we wrote about emotions and how they can affect our bodily functions.
In response to fear or a threat (whether it is real or perceived), our Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) kicks into action, preparing our body to respond. This activates various bodily systems:
For Josh’s situation, he may experience some of these physical symptoms in response to the threat he perceives from being in a social setting. He may find it hard to breathe, his heart could begin pounding, palms becoming clammy. He might have difficulties sleeping at the thought of being at these parties.
The body needs to regulate after this imbalance, which is the purpose of the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) to bring the body’s systems back into balance. Imagine that without this, the body remains overstimulated, leading to overall breakdown, such as the inability to function in everyday life and finding everything overwhelming. This may be happening to Josh, in that his SNS is overactive and his PNS is unable to readily regulate his systems.
It’s important to note here that the PNS responds much more slowly that the SNS. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense for us to respond quickly to a threat to protect ourselves.
An overactive SNS response can have a profound impact on our physical body, and this is largely to do with the stress hormone Cortisol. Being under constant stress can lead to various health problems, such as headaches, problems with digestion, difficulties in sleep, concentration problems, high blood pressure, or fatigue. This can be known as a psychosomatic condition, where psychological stresses adversely affect our physiological state and functioning.
Do not use this website if you are in a life-threatening situation. Call your emergency services.