Understanding the Stress Response

Our body’s normal response to stress is essential. It keeps us out of danger and keeps us alive.

However, when it is activated for a prolonged period of time this is when it can become detrimental to our health and wellbeing on both a physical and emotional level.

In the normal scheme of things we would have a fluctuating response to stressors. We might worry about something and get a bit anxious but then we chat with a friend or do something fun and the worry seems to dissipate.

Stressors vary from person to person as does the response to them but if they become prolonged, such as the worry of a pandemic or dealing daily with a difficult co-worker or a sick child, then we stop being able to adapt as well and the response starts to escalate. We move into the flight/fight stage of the stress response. We may become more fearful or suffer panic attacks and often can become more irritated or short tempered. As many of you will know, this is not a comfortable place to be in. Science shows us that not only is this uncomfortable emotionally but it starts to produce physical symptoms as well. Often at this stage the body feels like it is ‘buzzing’ there is a sense of vibratory agitation like the body is unable to settle. This may display as restless legs or the inability to relax.

It becomes harder at this stage to regulate the stress response and we can feel that we can’t see the wood for the trees. Hard as it may be this is a good time to seek support. Our Osteopaths all have extra training in stress illness (especially related to pain) or you may want to check out the NHS Every Mind Matters page.

Modern day life is stressful. Working whilst juggling a family, keeping a roof over your head and being bombarded by 24 hour news and the constant opinions of social media. Whatever your triggers are, they are real and your nervous system doesn’t know the difference between the threat of a bear attack or the constant threat of an alcoholic partner or the worry you might lose your job if you don’t work 14 hours days.

However, even if you can’t change your job or your boss/partner/child/dog (delete as appropriate) there are tools you can implement to reduce your stress response and incorporate them into your daily routine with help to stabilise your symptoms.

If everything gets ‘too much’, goes on for too long or we have suffered an overwhelming trauma, we can find that we are not able to adapt any more and we find ourselves in freeze. Freeze is both emotional, physical and somewhat metaphorical. The ‘I just froze and wasn’t able to help’ if you witness a traumatic event but also shutting down and withdrawing because it has just become too much. Not wanting to see friends, finding noise and light too over-stimulating, being in too much pain to do any activity at all and often wanting to sleep to shut the world out.

From an osteopathic point of view, the body feels very static and stuck in this phase – like it has lost its elasticity and stiffened up. The effects of this are quite widespread across the body which is why chronic and persistent symptoms often move and vary in intensity.

However, please don’t despair as we can help. As well as using gentle hands on osteopathy to help relax your body we have a wide variety of tools across our toolkits that can help you start to regulate your stress response.

Signs of Stress

Other Key Knowledge Toolkits

You may be interested in our other ‘Key Knowledge’ chapters within the Mindbody Toolkit: