How does stress impact the body?

Thanks to COVID and our “new lives” you might feel that the day just started and still you can’t focus, you are never fresh, you are not sure what day of the week you are on, exhausted but… haven’t done much. Sounds familiar? Watch out… you might be experiencing burn out 🤦🏻‍♀️.

Good news is that Psychoanalysis can help you deal with it. If you want to know more about psychoanalysis, a great place to start are my workshops.

For now, let’s just explore how burn out can impact us all and then you can decide yourselves if you want to… give psychoanalysis a try and… prevent it 😉.

What is … burn out? Burn out is a state of chronic stress that leads to:

Physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment; feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.

Unfortunately, if you think about those ‘symptoms”, due to the Covid Pandemic and the restrictions imposed upon us since March, probably most of us could say we are experiencing a bit of “burn out” in a way or another. Even if we still have a job and are relatively healthy, we all have, and are, experiencing certain social isolation, trouble with work-life balance and uncertainty.

BBC – November 2020 – “ Lockdown loneliness reaches record levels : 5% of adults – representing 2.6 million people – had not left their home for any reason in the previous seven days.” “Millions of people, young and old, are facing loneliness, isolation and separation during the lockdown.

As mentioned before, burn out is a state of chronic stress. Many times we have heard how bad stress is for the body. What does it actually… mean? Does stress physically impact our body? How?

Let’s start by the most evident: Cortisol. The main stress hormone, produced in the adrenal glands. Cortisol helps respond to stress and has many other important functions (control blood sugar levels, regulates metabolism, helps reduce inflammation, and assists with memory formulation). Suffering from chronic stress can lead to adrenal fatigue. The glands can stop working properly leading to hormones imbalances in the body. On top of that, overproducing cortisol as a response to what we are going through in our lives, has a very negative impact on other very important hormones: sexual and thyroid hormones. These hormones happen to play a key role in our health, vitality and youth.

Whether you want to have a family or not, the longer you can be fertile… the better! You might be surprised but sexual hormones, are not only present in the sexual apparatus but also are involved in other parts of the body and have important functions: Oestrogens (feminine) protect the heart; in the liver they regulate the metabolism of the cholesterol; preserve bone mass; in the brain, they maintain the body temperature, preserve the memory, regulate sleep and hence impact our behaviour and mood. Progesterone (masculine) , regulates inflammation and the immune system. Androgens are responsible for the distribution of the body mass (in men it accumulates around the abdomen). Changes in the level of these hormones can have a big impact in our physical body and mind. In menopause, women experience many nasty symptoms: raised cholesterol, osteoporosis, hot flushes, memory loss, insomnia, mood changes… These symptoms are related to the drop of oestrogen’s and progesterone and, in consequence, relative elevation of androgens. Menopause is something natural and yes, when it is going to happen it is partly related to our genetics. But… only partly: lifestyle and our PSYCHE… are also involved.

Chronic stress (and hence cortisol) also impacts the thyroid gland. This very frequently problem gland produces hormones which help regulate our metabolism. So… if you want to lose weight, or look good with strong hair… you might want to take care of this one. How does stress impact on the thyroid? Most of the times by slowing body’s metabolism. This is another way that stress and weight gain are linked. When thyroid function slows during stress, (T3) and (T4) hormone levels fall. Also, the conversion of T4 hormone to T3 may not occur, leading to higher level of reverse T3.

Inflammation is another quite “trendy” link between stress and disease in the body. There is “visible” inflammation : I hit my knee, it gets red and swollen, I can’t walk. It protects me from more severe injury. There is another type of inflammation: subclinical inflammation. It harms silently the body and can lead to sever chronic disease. Clinical inflammation is at the root of many organic chronic diseases from Alzheihmer, pain in the joints as stress elevates the level of uric acid (gout , rheumatoid arthritis), skin problems (dermatitis, eczema) to even cancer.

Stress can also trigger vertigo and balance disorders.

Traditional medicine uses drugs to fight inflammation. Gladly, research and experience show more and more, how lifestyle (diet, regular exercise and emotions management) are way more beneficial in the long term to fight inflammation and prevent disease. So is psychoanalysis.

More and more, research shows how natural supplements can be used to boost our health an overall wellbeing. A good example, would be Magnesium. Magnesium is a chemical element, a nutrient, essential for life: In the human being, deficit in magnesium is linked to a high number of conditions, including anxiety. The reason for that: Magnesium is involved in more than 300 chemical reactions in our body, including stability of the DNA, ATP (energy in cells) and metabolism of calcium among many others.

What causes Magnesium levelsto drop? Imbalances in blood-sugar levels and…STRESS. Magnesium is known as the anti-stress mineral. It is a natural sedative, relaxes the muscles and helps us sleep. The relationship between magnesium and stress works in two directions: stress depletes magnesium, but magnesium counteracts stress. Any stress, whether mental or physical, will deplete magnesium from the body.

I have already pointed out several ways in which stress can put at risk our health. Last but not least, stress can make you look …older and less attractive – and probably less happy. Why is that? Surely you have heard about “ collagen” and… anti-ageing. Collagen is a protein like Botox. However Botox is a drug (made from a toxin) and…. collagen is natural. Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body, 30%. It is the major component of connective tissues that make up several body parts, including tendons, ligaments, skin, and muscles and has many important functions. When we grow older , our levels of collagen decline. This is why our hair looks thinner, our nails are weaker, we have wrinkles… We lose elasticity and can get more injuries. Stress creates free radicals and deteriorates collagen.

I haven’t taken the time to explain you the many specific ways in which stress can impact our body to scare you (or bore you). I did it to show that… IT HAPPENS! Good news is that… with Psychoanalysis, you can PREVENT it. (Check my seminars).

Even traditional medicine, considers that all those imbalances and disorders can also be linked to anxiety and depression. (Although they cannot explain very well… how). Traditional medicine’s approach would be… “of course, she has hypothyroidism and despite her efforts, she gets fat… that makes her anxious and depressed”.

Psychoanalysis brings a new reality, opens possibilities which were not there before. Since Freud “discovered” the concept of Unconscious mind in the “Interpretation of Dreams (1900)”, we have to take into account that human beings are divided into conscious and unconscious mind. That unique “complexity” will for ever lead our lives. According to psychoanalysis, not only psyche and soma are linked, it goes even further: they are ONE. To psychoanalysis, the approach would be: what are the causes (stress) of that disorder (hypothyroidism) which has affected the mood (anxiety) impacting the soma (hypothyroidism)? Why is that woman anxious? Because she is anxious, she has sickened her body and suffers from hypothyroidism (what makes her even more anxious and depressed).

Life is life and there will be moments in which we will have to deal with stress, like the current pandemic.

A healthy lifestyle including anti-inflammatory diet; physical exercise, supplements, yoga and meditation… could definitely help us deal better with stress and minimise the impact it has on us. However, despite the effort and good will of patients, many treatments, diets and wellbeing plans… fail. Why is that? In order to understand it and be able to change it, we need to include the unconscious processes. With the conscious mind, with rationality we cannot understand that. We cannot transform it. Psychoanalysis is the right tool for that. It addresses the root of the problem, how we deal with stress, uncertainty, frustration, anger. It prevent us from getting sick. When we are in therapy, something different happens.

Under same circumstances not everybody gets disease. Disease is not random. We, as psychic subjects are involved in building health or… building disease. The pandemic is hard… and long. Choose to remain healthy and happy. Begin your psychoanalysis therapy!