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.

Comments 8

  1. A beautifully clear explanation. Many people are vaguely aware of the FF response, but too few know how to harness its power for themselves. I can only recommend the LP and Åsa very highly!

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      Thank you for your comment and support Francesca. And yes, it is exactly about that, about harnessing the power of the fight or flight response, rather than fighting against it. And that is something the Lightning Process does brilliantly.

  2. Interesting reading. Getting more excited to learn more and hopefully see a LP seminar in Sweden this summer.

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      I’m really looking forward to organising LP seminars in Sweden this summer. I hope to see you there Dan 🙂

  3. Interesting. I am constantly trying to react differently to things that stress me out or annoy me. But it’s so difficult! I remember a friend… err …. acquaintance who used to drive me crazy when we worked together. One day he said, in a very calm voice: “It’s your choice to get annoyed with me, you can choose not to be”… Which naturally made me even more annoyed. But some 20 or so years later I realise he was right (even though he provoked me on purpose…), and I am trying not to get stressed out or annoyed about stuff I cannot change. But it definately is a thing where coaching would do so much good! And it would make us all feel so much better! Looking forward to reading more!

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      Hi Karin and thanks for your comment. To be told that you have a choice whether to get annoyed or not is pretty annoying if the person doesn’t also tell you how to do that. How to respond differently.

      The author and researcher Joe Dizpensa said “Ninety-five percent of who you are by the time you’re 35 years old is a set of memorised behaviors, skills, emotional reactions, beliefs, perceptions, and attitudes that functions like an unconscious computer program.” Why? Because your brain doesn’t care whether you engage in “positive” or “negative” behaviours, it just wants to be efficient, wants to make life as easy as possible. And so you’ll continue to run patterns until you learn how to do otherwise. The Lightning Process is one way to rewire your brain, so that you can respond and feel how you would love to respond and feel.

  4. Excellent article. It’s essential to bring these issues to light if we’re to break free of the hidden impulses that influence our mental states, decision-making and bodily processes. I’m looking forward to reading more of your work in future.

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      Hello Jen, thank you for commenting and for your encouragement. There is so much going on beneath the surface, and because our conscious mind can only focus on between five and nine things at any one time most of what we do, feel and think is controlled by something (the unconscious?) much deeper, that we aren’t really aware of. It’s like outer space, but even more exciting.

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