Are You Living with Stress?

8 Aug 2017
No Comments

How we can develop physical symptoms from mental health issues

Some years ago I undertook a post-graduate diploma in Marketing. It took 3 years of evening classes twice a week with progressive exams each year, the final exam included a case study in which I had to collate information and write a strategic marketing plan based on a real organisation. I remember those final few weeks running up to the exams well: not sleeping properly, with a tic in one eye and my jaw aching and locking in the morning due to excessive teeth grinding through the night. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

During this time I went to my doctor to sort out the lock jaw and he referred me to a orthodontist who took an imprint of my teeth and had a brace made for me to wear each night. I did this for several weeks and eventually the grinding stopped, the clicking and lock jaw eased – and I was left with a very slight over-bite, not noticeable aesthetically but if I try to cut a piece of thread with my teeth, which I used to be able to do, I can’t now as my front teeth don’t quite meet anymore. The brace had subtly changed the shape of my teeth.
Now, none of this is life changing stuff but a little annoying sometimes, especially since I now know that the poor sleep, eye tic and teeth grinding/lock jaw could have been sorted out very simply – by relaxing!
Of course I was stressed out by the exams, I had invested a huge amount of time and effort in them. But what would have made it easier to deal with at the time was changing the way I coped with the stress rather than firefighting the symptoms which is what all these things were, just physical symptoms of a mental health issue – stress.
Since gaining my DipM (thankfully I passed those exams) and working in marketing for over 20 years, I decided to try something new and, having experienced hypnotherapy over the years for motivation (following a major knee operation) and during two pregnancies, I thought it would be an interesting area to go into – and boy, has it changed my life! If only I had known then what I know now…
Anxiety and stress are very much a part of our human condition. Our cavemen ancestors lived in a constant state of heightened awareness or anxiety, not knowing where their next meal was coming from, if they’d be killed by predators or other tribes, if they’d return back to their own tribe after a hunt, all real life or death stuff. So it’s no wonder they lived on their nerves! They used anxiety to survive, it kept them alert and enabled them to forecast scenarios, gave them caution. Our ancestors, those early humans who survived in an incredibly dangerous world and the reason we’re sitting here today, became experts at managing their stress to help them survive.
If they let psychosomatic symptoms distract them, such as facial tics, lock jaw or lack of sleep, they were most likely killed during one of the numerous dangerous encounters they had to contend with in their day to day lives.  
But what’s that got to do with me, you might ask, I don’t need to ‘survive’. I know where my next meal is coming from, there are no dangerous wild animals waiting around the next corner to eat me, I have a roof over my head… In simplistic terms, our brains have developed over thousands of years, in particular our cortex, the ‘intellectual’ part of our brain and what sets us apart from other animals, but we still have the sub-cortex (known as the primitive or mammalian brain) whose primary purpose is to protect us.  
It is really only in the last few hundred years that our modern lifestyles have evolved where we have roof over our heads and food on the table (not everyone, there are of course many people living hand to mouth existences in poor conditions), it’s not quite caught up with our modern-day lives but our primitive brain is very clever. If it thinks that our life is in some sort of crisis or state of emergency, it will step in to try to help – unfortunately sometimes it isn’t very helpful! It views anything that could be deemed a ‘road block’, something stopping us getting what we want or interrupting the normally smooth flow of our lives, as a threat and not just a small threat but a matter of life-or-death! This could be something like running late for a meeting, or not being able to find a parking space, or sitting an exam. It will try to help by throwing out three fall back positions: anxiety, depression or anger.
Hence someone experiencing road rage when stuck in a traffic jam, or someone’s predisposition to depression during times of stress, or another person’s panic attack… in my particular case my primitive brain opted for anxiety and produced some physical symptoms that might have made me stop pushing on with the exams, the thing that was causing my stress – basically giving me an excuse to give up!
Those physical symptoms were all resolved in the end by the exams finishing, so the stress dissipated (except for the residual nerves that I hadn’t done well enough and might need to re-sit them!). Had I understood the mechanism behind the physical symptoms I might have managed my stress better resulting in lower impact.
Sometimes we struggle to see the wood for the trees so whatever we are facing fills our whole vision and we find it hard to put things into perspective. Had I failed my exams I would have just re-sat them, slightly painful but not a disaster. Ultimately everything passes and we do survive, despite how we react to them, and remember that these trials help to shape us, help us build resilience to face future trials.
In the meantime there are lots of therapies available to help us cope with immediate moments of stress, far better than working on the symptoms such as resorting to antidepressants or alcohol, sleeping tablets or painkillers. You might enjoy a relaxing massage, find solace in reflexology or try a talking therapy like hypnotherapy. As a clinical hypnotherapist and psychotherapist I now help people cope with their stresses whatever they might be, by working with them to identify where they want to be and the stepping stones that will get them there.
If you would like to know more about hypnotherapy and how it can help you contact Quest Hypnotherapy on 01798 344879 or email 

Share this post