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The MBD Podcast #007: Healthy and Pathological Stress

The MBD Podcast #007 can be listened to HERE on PODBEAN ;-)

By now, most people understand that Stress is an integral part of our modern daily life! In fact stress has been a part of human life since the beginning of time. It is an integral part of living, and being a part of the biological, physical world.

From the moment of conception, throughout all of our lifetime, we are experiencing a ‘push-pull’ and ‘expanding-opening’ process and a ‘contracting-closing’ process. This is the Yin-Yang, duality nature of life.

Everything is, in effect a duality. Everything we see and understand and experience in this lifetime is a version of / exists on the spectrum of duality.

These experiences are not separate, they are not complete opposites. But they are different perspectives on a continuum, which is actually a cycle of experience that moves seamlessly from one experience to another.

So a way of thinking about that is the way we experience a 24 hour period. We move through a whole daytime, and through that daytime we experience a morning, an afternoon and an evening.

Inside of that daytime we are able to comprehend and allow our mind to think of different periods of the day. To be able to place ourselves in a memory, or an aspect of our experience that reminds us of what it is to be awake in the morning, of what it is to experience an afternoon, and to experience an evening.

Everyday we awaken to re-experience this ‘truth’ of life, which is that we do not remain in any way ‘still’.

Experiencing Moments of Time

Time is the aspect that measures our individual units of experience. But in the same way that we blink between each moment of a scene before us - our blinking divides up moment os how we are seeing things, and yet that experience of looking and seeing the scene before us is a continual experience for us - even though in reality it is divided by many blinks per minute. We may be moving our head to survey different directions, we may be observing different perspective. But our experience of ourself as being in ‘time-space’ in our reality - is an experience of a continual singular flow of experience.

We don’t have to try to think about how we put those images between blinks together, we don’t need to think about how we have moved between different perspectives (unlike the editing of a real of film in an old cinema cutting room)!

Our experience of life is consistent, it flows from one moment to the other. Even though in reality, we can also look at that and see that it is made up of lots of individual units, which might be thought of as individual aspects or moments of the flow of experience.

Therefore when we move through this 24 hour period, we unconsciously move in this flow, which takes us through from each aspect of the day, into the next part.

This ‘flow’ of time is a truth for us - we don’t have to think of each moment of the day as being opposing, or opposite another part of the day.

If we are in flow - in the way that we think that our ancestors used to be - without artificial lighting or heating, when we had to move through the natural flow of the day, then we are in flow with nature.…

Our bodies have been built (or evolved) to be in this close ‘cycle’ with nature. With light and dark. With warmth and cold.

Therefore our experiences of life are affected by these external influences we move through on a daily cycle.

Stress as the ‘natural’ Impetus for Action

Stress has always been a part of the cycle of life!

Form the moment that we open our eyes - there is an aspect of stress which lies behind the ‘impetus’ for us to get up and move through our day.

The rise in cortisol and the adrenal hormones which flood the body with the hormonal signals which wake the body up in the morning - tell it to move, tell it to act!

This is part of the circadian rhythm. It is part of our natural human ‘connection’ to the dawn, which is heralded by the change in light, the change in ions in the air, these are all powerful and unseen signals that our bodies have been interpreting and understanding for many years.

And these signals, when we are connected into that innate flow and connection to our environment, these signals can begin these cascades of chemicals and will initiate the impetus - the signals ‘to move’, ‘to live’. To expand from a place of rest, introversion and stillness - and to wake and move out into the world and to experience that world by moving out - through exploration, through doing, through activity, through interactions with our families and our social life and in our work environment. Whatever it is that is motivating us to get up and get out and on with our day.

Stress as the ‘fight & flight’ Impetus for Action

We understand these hormones as “stress” hormones precisely because they do initiate action within the body. But of course, often in modern language when we talk about stress, the over-riding idea that is being focused on is a ‘negative’ stress. The approaching tiger scenario that initiates the “fight and flight” response that is part of this inbuilt survival mechanism. It is integral to keeping us alive. Going back to the cave scenario - and the connection with the circadian rhythm and the initiation of those impulses to get up and out and to initiate activity were important in terms of ‘safety’. To defend the family from animals or other tribes that might come into your territory or space. These same hormones are implicated when our stress responses are initiated when we find ourselves under attack or in danger. In those scenarios, the same hormones flood the body in far greater amounts than those steadily released for ‘normal’ activity levels.

This flooding allows us to access huge reserves and resources to fight, to run away or to go into a freeze response, which takes the body into a different set of hormonal responses.

These different hormonal releases are important to recognise - as they are important for us to understand our biological ‘imbalance’ - this can give us some additional insights into whether our imbalance is a sympathetic or parasympathetic response to stress that may eventually be manifesting as a dis-ease.

It is important to recognise that stress can be a healthful, expanding and normal experience in life. Without these stress in everyday life we do not expand our experience - we do not grow.

So stress is essential for growth.

If you look at a newborn child that cant walk or talk or understand the world around it. That child is placed in an ever expanding world of experiences. Some of which can be very stressful - you will see that sometimes a new baby will not always know how to respond. Sometimes it has to take a moment to .realise if the new experience is 'safe'. If it is "ok" or not. Every time a child is faced with a new experience they are making decisions on this level. It is sometimes hard for us to remember that everything in their life is new to them - literally every new experience is a huge chance for learning and growing...

As their body develops a child has to learn to walk, to balance, to coordinate their limbs individually and in synchronicity. To understand language and what it is to be in the world and to interact with people. For babies, many of those daily experiences are ones of stress. But it is not a negative stress - it is the stress that pushes the growing child to their limit, and then again - further beyond that limit, expanding what it is they can currently do.

As adults, we are not unlike children - that is, if we continue to develop ourselves!

Beyond this limit of where we are - we can push ourselves to go further, become better, move better, understand or communicate better.

Internal & External Stresses

Because of internal pressures to make ourselves better, or due to external stresses/pressures - from outside of us (if we are being pushed to be or do better) - through one or other of these mechanisms we are being pushed to our limit.

When stress is of the healthy kind, it is often associated with emotions of exciting, inquisitiveness, persistence and is a type of self-exploratory stress, where we can repeatedly take ourselves to our limit, and then even push ourselves a little beyond that limit. For stress to be healthy, we then need to take a period of rest!

The rest must be equal to the level of stress we put ourselves through. It can take time for the body to physically rest and repair after a physical workout. The mind needs to achieve a state of balance and calm after a psychological or mental workout. The rest and repair period needs to be at least equal to the stress period - and requires the body to complete the full healing cycle before once again going into stress.

After this we can again push ourselves into another ‘stress’ state.

Because of this constant ‘exercising’ of what we want to be “better at” we do, over time, become stronger, get better, to understand and communicate better.

We learn…

We understand…

We grow…

We expand..

This is a natural part of life - this is a natural part of growth - whether physical growth from child to adult; whether mental growth, through study phases, through our jobs, through techniques we learn, when we learn an instrument, when we learn to drive a car. We are initiating new experience, which at the beginning we have to think about really carefully - concentrating on how we move our muscles - how we are moving our brain our legs our arms our fingertips. Whatever muscle that is - we have to concentrate on that. And whatever it is - with practice, those things can often become easier for us - and sometimes even become part of our second nature - our INNATE ABILITY.

But we didn’t start from that place - We developed and expanded into that because of our persistence and our growth through these experiences of stress.

One of the words we can use for this growth is resilience - it is really a fact that we are expanding our ability to ‘cope’ - we are able to cope with more difficult ‘concepts’ if we have spent time exercising our brain and our understanding; if you are a body builder you will have expended your effort and energy on increasing your muscle mass, therefore your resilience of your muscles will have expanded and your ability to lift heavier weights.

If you are an athlete, you will have expanded your ability to push yourself to your own endurance limits. Your ability to push against your own inner limits, against time, the distance you are travelling, expanding your endurance. These are aspects of increasing your personal resilience - and expanding personal growth.

Pathological stress is a very different type of stress.

It is a stress that does not allow for a “full recovery in terms of our healing or ability to regenerate. It is often implicated when we have continual and persistent levels of stress that we don’t have time to recover from. I.e. the periods of stress (above) are longer than the periods of regeneration.

Or the stress itself is stronger than our current level of resilience is .

Equally, we can have a combination of both of these.

We can have both an intense stress that is beyond our ability to cope with PLUS an ongoing, unrelenting stress that we are not getting the time to heal, or recover from.

Any combination of these experiences of stress - may be in one particular area, or in many different areas of our life - for example…

Pathological Stress

When we layer these multiple stresses together - we can quickly find that our resilience lowers to such a state that our bodies ability to heal and restore balance becomes severely impeded. This is the experience we recognise as “Pathological stress”.

Pathological stress may mean that we experience immediate and initial stress - but that we will CONTINUE to experience those feelings of stress - and not recover. Persistent and consistent stress will inevitably lead to signs and symptoms that will begin to affect us in one or more levels areas of our life.

We may begin to see levels of mental stress. We may begin to see levels of emotional stress - and ultimately if those stress levels are not resolved through the mental or the emotional level of the body to find a solution or a balance - then ultimately the body will begin to show that imbalance through physical dis-ease!


“Incomplete” - 3:30

By Alanis Morissette

From the Album ‘Flavors of Entanglement’


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