The effects of chronic stress

Stress in and of itself isn’t a problem. Yes, you heard right! A healthy amount of stress can motivate us to reach for and achieve our goals. When a person is being over stimulated and their nervous system constantly aroused, however, this chronic stress state can damage their mental, physical and emotional health over time. Their nervous system can become unbalanced, disrupting the functioning of their immune system and other body systems. It’s crucial for our overall health to find ways to manage stress, to stop it getting out of control and damaging our health. This form of stress can unfortunately be a killer.

The stress response

When your senses detect something that you brain perceives as a threat to your safety or your life, a series of events is triggered. A part of your brain called the amygdala sends signals to the hypothalamus (also in the brain). The hypothalamus – which some people call the ‘master gland’ – tells the autonomic nervous system to commence the fight or flight response. It reminds me of the ‘Thunderbirds are go!’ command, if you can remember that old TV show! Stress hormones are released to create a host of physiological changes. Our senses sharpen to help us assess and respond quickly to danger. Blood flow to our major muscles increases in order to help us get away from the source of the threat. A whole cascade of events throughout the body quickly arms us to fight or flee. It’s an intricate and impressively coordinated operation.

Conditioned fears

Perceived threats are different for each of us, because we all have our own ‘conditioned fears’. These arise when we’ve associated a certain situation with a negative experience from our past. Our brains are meaning making machines, and they actually make associations all the time as a way of sorting data and creating automations as a way of saving space on our hard drive, in effect. Because the amygdala triggers a fight or flight response when it perceives a ‘threat’ to our safety (remember, it’s simply a perception!), it’s possible for someone to develop an overactive stress response when that stressor presents itself. This can easily happen when the person has experienced trauma, or has anxiety.

Enter the caped crusader!

Emotional Freedom Technique – which I usually refer to as ‘Tapping’ – is a simple and empowering system for addressing physical and emotional distress. I use Tapping with clients in a face to face Zoom session or in person in my office, to help you manage the impact of stress on your body and mind. The end goal is to help you to live a healthier and happier life by lightening or removing the burden you’ve been carrying around with you. As you’ll read in the research section further down, we can help people who are struggling with phobias, anxiety, trauma, anxiety and depression, and pain.

How you do Tapping

Tapping is applied by tapping or simply holding a sequence of acupressure points along energy meridians, to send calming signals to the amygdala – the part of the brain where the stress response originates. In a Tapping session with a client, my first aim is to understand the things that are causing you distress and disrupting your life, such as a trauma or phobia, or a difficult belief you have about yourself or something in your life. Before we do any tapping, we talk about how exactly your issue affects you, and we get right into the heart of the problem so we can work on it at source. Next, we tap together on a series of points on the hands, face, head and upper body while talking about the problem and how it’s affecting you. As we tap, people often feel physical sensations of energy moving, tingling, giggling, yawning, sighing or a release of some tears as the issue starts to resolve. It can happen very quickly, and sometimes as one issue fades away, another will present itself for attention. I call the process peel, reveal and heal because we’re all a bit like an onion with lots of layers!

The science speaks

Here is an extract from a paper by a leading EFT educator and researcher, Peta Stapleton (Bond University) and other researchers:

Origins: EFT, introduced by Gary Craig in the 90‘s, a brief exposure therapy that combines a cognitive and a somatic element, is based on the discovery that emotional trauma contributes greatly to disease. Scientific studies have shown that EFT is able to rapidly reduce the emotional impact of memories and incidents that trigger emotional distress. Once the distress is reduced or removed, the body can often rebalance itself, and accelerate healing.

Method/Pathophysiology: EFT works by a person tapping on nine of acupoints, while speaking aloud a specific, meaningful short phrase. A key part of the therapy is calibrating the intensity of either physical or emotional pain, which allows both therapist and patient a tangible scale by which to measure progress in pain or emotional distress reduction. According to the literature, imaginal exposure, paired with acupressure, reduces midbrain hyperarousal and counter conditions anxiety and traumatic memories.

Exposure therapies like EFT first elicit the midbrain’s anxiety reflex and then replace it with a relaxation response, in order to ―reciprocally inhibit anxiety. It is also indicated that manual stimulation of acupuncture points produces opioids, serotonin, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and regulates cortisol, the stress hormone. These neurochemical changes lead to reduction of pain, slowing of the heart rate, decreased anxiety, shutting off the fight of flight response, and regulation of the autonomic nervous system, as well as to the creation of a sense of calm.

Results/Benefits: EFT leads to reduced pain perception, increased acceptance, coping ability and health-related quality of life in individuals with fibromyalgia, has an immediate effect on specific phobias, on anxiety and depression, on psychological trauma and PTSD as well as in the trauma following coronary heart disease.

Further reading: ‘Clinical EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) Improves Multiple Physiological Markers of Health’


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