The Ultimate Guide: How Emotional Stress Causes Physical Illness
Emotional trauma and stress are directly connected to ongoing physical illness and physical symptoms that most of us negotiate.
When we have an overwhelming fear episode, our body goes into a physical and emotional response we know as “fight or flight.” It means stress is raising our blood pressure, our blood sugar levels, and inflammation throughout the body. When emotional stress is overwhelming, our gut becomes porous, and our hormones become dysregulated. Most of our regulations pause, so most of our energy is available for hypervalent awareness. For short periods, this has no long-term effects.
However, if we are unable to recover completely from the emotional impact of the overwhelming fear or are in situations of constant distress, our bodies stay in this emergency response. Over time, when our bodies are continually being switched into “fight or flight,” we hit a point of no return. The body just stays in this emergency state and dysregulated system. This is where the long-term physical challenges come into play.
And long term “Fight or Flight” response represents a majority of our global population:
- People still living in war zones
- Domestic abuse
- Rape/ or sexual harassments (1-in3 persons are affected)
- Ritual abuse
- Childhood trauma
- Athletes who have pushed their body too far (the overtraining syndrome)
- Spiritual awakening, which can be a prolonged and overwhelming shock to the body/mind
- First responders in emergencies
- Any prolonged chronic physical stress
- Traumatic bodily injury: airplane crashes, mass shootings, lightning strikes, bombings, malnutrition, periods of starvation, a traumatic birthing experience
- Natural disasters
- Loss of a child or loved one
- Service in the armed forces, etc.
And for many of us, the stress of 2020 has added to this deregulated state.
Our body is alive; obviously, we all know that. The body also regulates, organizes, and drives itself.
We also know this.
We experience this every moment because we often realize that we have no awareness of our body at all, and we still drive home, digest our dinner, or walk to a meeting. The whole time our mind is in the clouds and when we become present we are a little surprised at where we are or what we are doing. So, your body is alive and engaged in an activity, without your mind being engaged in the same activity.
Even with all the scientific discoveries over the ages, we still only know a drop in the bucket about the vast systems of regulation and organization of the body. Regardless, you can sense it. You can feel the intelligence of your body. And when you are overwhelmed by fear, your body and mind need a little while and some tools to recover fully.
For instance, when you have a scare, maybe you get rear-ended, or your child has had a hospital visit, or some event gives you a good jolt, your body vibrates and holds that impact. And your body remembers, you might feel calmer a few hours later, but your body is still showing some signs of stiffness and tightness. You might not sleep well. Even though your mind has shifted gears or changed the channel, your body hasn’t. Because the body needs to recover, needs to calm down too.
Another example is a spiritual awakening. Post awakening you can have a very clear unidentified mind, but your body is still traumatized. Your body, including the energy or magnetic fields of each organ, bone, tissue, etc., are holding traumatic vibrations from your life. Our mind is not in control of that; our body is.
Signs of emotional trauma
- Spontaneous distressing recurrence of memories of the situation
- Ongoing nightmares and flashbacks
- Sweeping hostile generalizations and blame about oneself, others, or the world (e.g., “I am no good,” “All men are scum,” “The world is a dangerous place”)
- Overwhelming and constant feelings of shame, horror, anger, guilt, or fear
- Inability or resistance to experience states of happiness or joy.
- Active and ongoing self-harming behavior
- Hypervigilance or paranoia
- A very active “startle” response
- A very active “hide” response
In each of these cases or all of them, it means your body has not recovered from the emotional trauma, which can include physical trauma. But you can, and you need to recover, in order to regulate your body and all its vast chemicals again. Otherwise, we risk hitting that dangerous point of no return, your body is in flight or fight for too long.
Luckily, there are loads of recovery tools. In my longer 8-10 week classes, we go into lots of detail and practice with many sophisticated and deeply effective recovery tools. And especially in my class, Embodiment, we focus 5 weeks in itself, on mapping the emotional pain remaining in your system and creating a pathway of recovery based on your personal and unique wiring and your specific pain. However, there are lots of simple methods that are helpful to be aware of.
Complete list to recover from Flight or Fight and emotional stress
- Cold therapy: showers, ice baths, cold tanks, etc
- Hot therapy: showers, saunas,
- Release of gravity: float tanks, hanging upside down, laying down, water, etc
- Sunlight therapy: direct or indirect sunlight, frequency pulsation lights, sunbeds, etc
- A combination of cold then hot ( cold compresses and then hot expands, so a contraction followed by a big squeeze out is what creates the recovery)
- Food stimulants: coffee, Beer, wine, chocolate, ( usually the non-GMO, organic stuff in moderation equates to recovery)
- Hydration: drinking water, electrolytes, IV with saline, etc
- Touch: hugs, loving caresses, tender tugs, sexual orgasm, sensual massage, massage therapy, acupressure,
- Breath and oxygenating our system: Pranayama, Intentional Breathing, oxygen tanks, oxygen IVs, etc.
- Sweet: Sugar, honey, maple syrup, etc. (non-GMO, organic, in moderation equates to recovery)
- Restorative workouts: working small muscle groups, doing short cardio intervals, 1 min hard, 1 min chill for 10 or 15 mins, dancing, invigorating yoga, etc.
- Restorative stretching: Yoga, Chi Gong, fascia release, Feldenkrais, Pilates, etc
- Herbal remedy: including common homeopathic recipes like Rescue Remedy, Chaga and other mushrooms, various herbs like Tumeric or curcumin, cannabis, Chinese herbal series, etc
- Psychedelics: in microdoses, doctor-facilitated treatment series, etc
- Electronic or light pulses: stimulated at various soft tissues, the eyes, the brain, fascia, etc.
- Games: video games, board games, card games, word games (research has proven that inside of 24 hours of an overwhelming episode, games create a cognitive block to intrusive stressful thoughts helping the system to recover)
Understanding physical effects of unrecovered emotional trauma
In a nutshell, unrecovered trauma means low energy and/or hyper energy. And it means low or hyper hormone activity. As I mentioned, when fight or flight activates, there is no extra energy for the body, just enough to keep the lights on. Now the problem starts when the body switches on fight or flight too often, after a while it just stays on. The body won’t turn it off again, which means now you have only had this one state, emergency-only energy. That’s it, that’s your new normal.
This means you have very erratic, overstimulated, or very little energy in your battery. Perhaps you remember what it felt like to have lots of energy. Let’s say you had a 4 cylinder engine in your body, or maybe if you were an athletic or high-energy person, you had a 6 cylinder engine. But now you notice that you only have 2 cylinders or 1 cylinder, but sometimes it jumps up to 4 or 6, but then it's back to 1, and it's not regulating itself. In athletics, this is called Overtraining Syndrome, but it means the same thing.
It is better researched in athletes but still very inconclusive, but it is known that this Syndrome is a place you end up, not a place you visit and then recover and return to normal. It doesn’t turn around; it doesn’t recover back to the way it was. We know that some energy will come back over the years if there is excellent and efficient recovery, but it will never fully return to what was.
Because the body is alive, it has a memory, and it has its own governance. Trauma affects the body as much as the mind, and when that flight or fight has just finally had it and stays fully on, you have a different body and a different system to manage and heal and support.
Now, because the body is only working with “emergency-only” system s, a number of other ailments begin to creep in
Physical Symptoms of Emotional Trauma
Really the list is huge because we are so unique but erratic and dysregulated hormones can create all kinds of injury and chronic issues:
- Cold hands and feet
- Menstrual irregularities
- Challenged sexual interest and performance
- Joint, muscle, or tissues issues
- Metabolic challenges, digestion complications, and Autoimmune challenges
- Sleep problems or chronic insomnia
- Chronic fatigue
- Overly sensitive to environmental toxins ( the body is not eliminating well)
- Prone to falling down, clumsy and/or awkwardly bumping into things
- Knee, hip, feet alignment challenges
- Food allergies
- Joint or muscle issues including tightness or laxity,
- Anything that our hormones govern because flight or fight affects your hormone production.
So in the simplest terms, behind every dysregulated hormone response is a blocked buildup of emotional residue.
So, in order to recover from emotional trauma, we need to recover physically to help calm and restore the body, and we need to heal our emotional and mental states.
Luckily, there are loads of recovery tools for over or underactive mental and emotional states!
How to cope with intrusive thoughts?
- Cognitive reframing: Mentally reviewing the incidents to see it from a broader perspective, or an entirely different point of view, sometimes called “clear thinking.”
- Positive reframing: affirmations, mantras, or statements that are based on clear thinking
- Natural environments: walking in the woods, sitting near the ocean
- Group support: Groups of people that have the same intrusive thoughts and emotions
- Connection to a higher power: Church, spirituality, finding a deeper connection to your life.
Understanding how collective emotional pain affects our emotional stress
This overactivated state of fight and flight is also affected by collective energy fields of dysregulated or hyper energy.
For instance, can you feel the energy of overwhelming fear? You feel that energy because everything emits an energy field or signature. Your own body had a magnetic field; that is why some people are instantly attracted to you, and some people and deeply repelled. And visa versa. Another person is emitting energy, and it’s either comfortable and attractive to you or uncomfortable and awkward to you.
The earth’s magnetic field also emits and affects your energy. And other environmental areas affect the earth’s energy. Like when you walk in the forest, nature influences your energy. And if we build a garbage dump beside that forest or have a nuclear meltdown near that forest, that forest will be affected and start to emit a different energy field.
Now, if your energy field is already overactive, then it’s going to be even more challenging and painful to go to an event, say a rock concert where there is a big super activated field. But if you go to an event that has a big soothing field of energy, say a yoga or meditation class or the woods, your energy field will be affected differently, it will be soothed.
Think about a huge, busy, noisy ball game arena, or festival and parade. There is an energy being activated that affects you. Also a war zone, or refugee camp. But also a funeral, or if you visit a home where a lot of misery or abuse is occurring. But also if you visit a theatre where a lot of laughter has just happened.
You get my point.
When your own system is overactivated these environments can be overwhelming to the point of creating a large disconnection in your own system. A balanced energy system can feel when something is off base. But an unbalanced or dysregulated system can’t feel that as obviously but is deeply affected never-the-less. This is why some traumatized people are prone to falling down; their ligaments can’t feel where the body’s balance is, especially when in motion. When your own system is overactivated it's easy to disconnect from that system. When we disconnect from ourselves, we take unqualified risks; we move in slightly or aggressively violent ways to our own system. But when we are very connected, very sensitive, we act in integral ways or ways that are informed by our whole energy field’s intelligence and the energy field of the environments we inhabit.
So, emotional trauma is something we need to recovery for. But it can take years. But this is not a terrible thing; we could actually look at it as a kind of superpower.
Let’s examine the benefits of healing emotional stress and trauma; that is where you start to see the intelligence and the purpose of our amazing system or information and organization in our bodies.
Traumatized people’s superpowers
Pain is a magnificent teacher. For many of us, all the wisdom we ever gained and every transformation we ever won was because of pain. The cool thing about pain is that you are organically capable of transmuting it. And pain itself is a vast agency to transform it. That’s a fancy way to say pain is terrible, and it forces you to look for a solution to end that terrible sensation.
That is part of the organic capacity you have, and the amazing teacher it is. What I call the inborn agency of pain. The other part is that pain is not your natural setting. That is why it’s painful; it is not naturally occurring. It's a condition of extraneous effort and misalignment.
So, emotional pain can transform, and the cool thing is that when it transforms, it upgrades your capacity and your resiliency! When you have a heartbreak, you can fully recover and when that happens, you will be able to open to love again. Except now your ability to love has much more depth and breadth. And that means the love will be much deeper and fulfilling, you will have better boundaries and communication skills and most likely will choose a more naturally aligned partner to love.
The very recovery and healing create so many insights, and new patterns and overall create a larger capacity for love.
Sometimes, those with emotional trauma become lone wolves, prefer to be autonomous and responsible for themselves. This usually creates more individual growth and resourcefulness.
Also, those who have had huge amounts of emotional trauma can’t be easily fooled or easily swayed. They know their own minds and are going to look for real facts, reality, and be aware of invisible traps. They also tend to be pretty honest.
(Versus people with some trauma, but haven’t had enough pain that they have to find a solution, those dudes are usually dishonest, and tend to hide as much as possible.)
Often, people with lots of emotional trauma are resilient; they don’t take anything at face value, don’t get very hooked by small things, aren’t easily faked, and are therefore better at evaluating risk.
Also, very traumatized people are usually really fluent at taking risks.
As the saying goes, wisdom is born of pain. But so are joy and fulfillment; these capacities come on board when you transform pain. So the very deep, very cool humans have usually been carved out of emotional trauma.
The final recovery
We live in a culture and society that pressurizes us to be fine and pretend everything is okay. “Fake it, till you make it” “Smile and pretend you are fine!” Below are the actual signs that show up when you fully recover from emotional trauma:
- Willingness to be vulnerable and open
- Deep discernment instead of judgment
- Great fluency with personal Boundaries
- Clear and detailed communication, especially of personal desires
- Hugely responsible and accountable instead of rule-following
- A depth of wisdom that is unusual
- Effervescent playfulness and joy
- Very connected and intimate relationships
- Ability to perceive the details in the depth of a situation, not just the surface details
- Clear and aware mental states
- Ongoing communication about their personal challenges
- Willingness to appear imperfect
- Ownership of personal hangups and peeves
There really is magic, it’s not a fairy tale; it’s real and the most pragmatic magic is the reality that you can be wholeness and be held in true safety and fulfillment. But you have to drop the allegiance to suffering and pain. You have to be truly done with the fight and really willing to heal.
We can understand that our trauma is more than a tragedy. It is an insight, and even more than that, it is the deeper intelligence of life poking through our foggy mind veiled in fear-filled stories about the “problems.” It was like asking us to evolve past a primal fear belief system.
This is no easy task. It requires you to look very deep, to pierce through the story of what happened, and notice you survived. And at this moment, reading these words, you are safe. And even with all these physical and emotional challenges, safety is looking very deeply at reality instead of your ideas about how scary life is.
This is possible, and it is possible in a relatively short period of time.
Because it is true.
And the truth, or reality, will always be the most real thing about this moment.