The biological nature of stress

Transcript of the Feature Health Matters on Radio X  from 23 September 2013

Hi, I’m Tom Meyers, Osteopath and Stress Coach, and welcome to another episode of Health Matters here on Radio X. In Health Matters I take a closer look at the S word that has become one of the biggest challenges to our health and wellbeing STRESS.

This week I like to take a closer look at the biological nature of stress.

Last week I shared with you that Stress is a complex – pre-programmed – autonomic response to internal or external demands.

Or in other words it is a reflex that is complete beyond or cognitive grasp and seen from an evolutionary perspective it’s very old program. You wouldn’t believe it … but it functions in the same way as it did when we were still hunters and gatherers chasing or being chased by a sabre tiger.

So here is what happens.

The brain picks up signals from the outside through our senses but also from our thoughts. When these stressors are perceived dangerous, a fixed pattern of physiological and behavioral changes will take place.

Under the physiological changes are those that are increase like: breath rate, heart rate, blood pressure, mobilization of glucose and  muscle contractions.

Other systems will be made inactive like digestion, immunity, pain sensation or sexual arousal.

Think about it … would you like to have a nap or think of what you like to eat with your date when that sabre tiger is upon you? Mmm I surely wouldn’t.

Then there are the behavioral changes.

As the body prepares for an immediate primitive action there is no time or need for reflection, planning or experimenting but we do have to become selfish or aggressive. Remember this response is a remnant of our prehistoric ancestors.

All of these changes are not a problem when all systems go back to normal when the threat has passed… but our stress response is continuously being triggered especially due to the kind of stressors the we are experiencing today…

One can’t say that or prehistoric ancestors had an easy life. But their stress was physical and acute for which the stress response was evolved for.

What we experience today is the chronic bombardment of stressors from a very different kind…

Today we mainly face social and mental stressors,

want to fit 5 lives into 1

and we’re not respecting our biorhythm anymore with the 24/7 culture we live in.

In short… stress has become a nuisance because a conflict has arisen between our biology and the form of stressors that we’re predominantly faced with.

Oops… what do we do now?

Here I like to quote Robert Sapolsky from Stanford University and Author of ..’Why zebras don’t get ulcers’:

In brief he describes the problem and solution as follows…We’ve evolved to be smart enough to make ourselves sick. But the same thing that make us smart enough to generate psychological stress can be the same thing that can protect us.

And that is exactly what this program is all about. Sharing information so you can use that to reflect and help yourself  … as knowledge is power… and to give you practical tools,  that you can use wisely…to make you more resilient.

So lets build upon the conscious breathing exercise with a cycle of 6 breaths a minute that I shared with you last week.

What I like you to add to this exercise is a positive feeling.

The easiest way to do this is that while you relax into your breathing exercise you start to imagine that the sun warms your body. Even if it is a rainy day or the day is not going as planned…feel that sensation of warmth going through you.

Any positive thought made tangible into a feeling will do the trick. But it is important that the thought becomes a pleasant physical sensation.

 In another episode of Health Matters I will share with you why this physical experience is so important.

That’s it for today I’ll make sure this feature goes on to the website so you can listen to it again and please share it with your family, friends and colleagues…

I’m Tom Meyers have great week, … and I’ll see you again next Monday here on Radio X.

For more information about my work, workshops and presentations, visit


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