How chronic stress affects your health

Whenever we are exposed to a threat our bodies respond with lightning speed and release a bunch of hormones that activate the fight or flight response (also known as the stress response or physical emergency response). It is generally thought to be a mechanism that has evolved to allow animals, including humans, to instantaneously react to any dangerous situation without the need for thought or preparation. Without the fight or flight response we wouldn’t survive, but it also wreaks havoc on digestion, sleep, cognitive function and immune system function.

If your life is at risk then it’s hardly the time to sit down to a three-course meal, have an afternoon nap, or work on your Ph.D.

The hormones that activate the fight or flight response include adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol and dopamine. Together they have an immediate, and very noticeable, effect on a wide range of body functions such as heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. The result is that your limbs become turbo-charged so that you can either fight or run away from whatever is threatening you. This sudden surge of hormones makes you incredibly strong and it’s because of this that we sometimes hear stories of people displaying seemingly super-human strength, such as a parent lifting a car or even a tractor to rescue a child.

But the power that is channeled into your limbs must come from somewhere, and your body steals this energy from other areas, such as your digestive system, your immune system, your ability for complex thinking, and your ability to sleep. And it makes perfect sense, because if your life is at risk then it’s hardly the time to sit down to a three-course meal, have an afternoon nap, work on your Ph.D. or heal a broken leg.

In our evolutionary history threats to our survival were mainly immediate and physical, like a tiger threatening your village, and the outcome was usually determined pretty quickly; you either became tiger dinner or you and your family managed to escape. In fact we probably have the fight or flight response to thank for our continued survival as a species, because without it we would be forced to rely on time-consuming cognitive processes, and in an emergency there simply is no time for that. But the fight or flight response was not designed to last for very long, and this is where many of our troubles begin.

A great number of people today live with elevated levels of tiger-fighting hormones, triggered not by wild animals but by any combination of stressors, such as emotional stress and worry, anaesthetics, viruses, chemical toxicity, and drinking too much alcohol to name a few. If your nervous system thinks it’s constantly fighting tigers you may end up with chronic health issues; such as digestive upset, reduced immune system function, brain fog, pain, insomnia and other sleep issues.

It’s not always possible to eliminate the stress of everyday life, but what you can do is learn how to change your response to them. The Lightning Process teaches simple and powerful techniques that directly reduce the surge of tiger-fighting hormones in your body, enabling your nervous system to return to its optimal state.