It is estimated that over 40 million Europeans are suffering from stress in the workplace. A recent Examiner article stated that 91% of employees are sick with worry citing the psychosomatic connection between stress and physical illness. It is a well known fact in the hypnotherapy field that 80% of symptoms are psychosomatically caused by the subconscious mind and it is a watershed to find that current research is confirming this fact.

It is worth noting that:

  • Anxiety or depression comprises over 80% of all mental or addictive disorders
  • One in every four adults suffers from anxiety or depression
  • Less than 30% of those with anxiety disorders received professional help
  • Only 50% of those experiencing major depression received professional help
  • Only 40% of those who have chronic or mild depression for more than two years received professional help


The physiology of stress

“There are pervasive anatomic and biochemical links between the immune and nervous systems to explain the influence of mood on susceptibility to disease”

  • L. Marx quoted in Prevention of Work-Related Psychological Disorders


The body is often the first indicator that stress has reached the level of distress. It responds quickly to real or perceived threats. In the classic situation, if our senses tell us that our lives are in Jeopardy, the body gears up for immediate battle or speed. All internal systems respond: the heart speeds up, the breath becomes more rapid, muscles tense, eyes dilate, the gastrointestinal system disrupts digestive processes, nerves and hormones respond. By this “fight or flight” stress response, we instinctively gird for action.

Extensive research in several fields of medicine and psychology, including brain chemistry, neurobiology, immunology, and psychoendocrinology, attest to the body/mind connection.


Consequences of stress-overload

The hypothalamus cannot distinguish between a real or an imagined threat. Even though the bear was imaginary, your adrenaline and muscle tension are real. Your body responds to the perceived threat the same as it would have had a bear actually lumbered into the campsite.

Your body cannot distinguish between worry thoughts and the original catastrophe. Worry thoughts act as a repeat of the threat – a false alarm. This causes the body’s magnificent rapid response system to become its own undoing., because your worried mind keeps your body perpetually in high gear, muscles tense, ever ready to meet a challenge. Your body responds to repeated worrisome thoughts and emotions in essentially the same way as it responds to the original stressor. The internal emergency response system, to which we as a species undoubtedly owe our survival, breaks down.

People who experience repeated and unrelenting stress in their lives gradually lose the ability to downshift. The wear and tear on our system shows up in the form of cardiovascular illnesses, ulcers, tension headaches and panic attacks. Chronic irritability, impatience, depression and frustration lead to actual tissue changes and organ malfunctions. Over-secretion of gastric acid can lead to ulcers; sustained vasoconstriction (narrowing of the blood vessels) can lead to hypertension; and colon hyperactivity can lead to spastic colon or colitis. Other common stress –related disorders include insomnia, migraine headaches, back pain and diabetes.


How stress directly impacts the immune system and health

The mind influences the immune system via the nervous system. During the mid-70s, researchers at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry discovered this connection, and since then many experiments have shown the powerful impact of the mind on the immune system. This means that psychological distress can suppress the immune system enough to increase the risk of physical illness. According to a landmark study at Carnegie Mellon University, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, your risk of getting a cold or respiratory infection is directly proportional to the amount of stress you experience (Consumer Reports, 1993).

Suppressing the immune system can be far more dangerous that catching a cold. As I point out in The Fitness Option, the immune system – the first line of defence against infection, germs, bacteria and toxins in our bodies – is weakened by stress. Life paramedics rushing to the scene of an accident, the immune system’s neurotransmitters, lymph nodes and endorphins are first arrivals in the healing of an injury. But these powerful mechanisms are crippled by stress messages from the brain. Fear, depression, anger and other negative emotions depress the immune system. Bereavement, depression, loneliness and stress immobilize the natural killer cells within the immune system (O’ Hara, 1990).

On the other hand, mental messages of calm or joy have been shown to be biologically beneficial. Research at UCLA Medical Centre indicates that a peaceful or calm frame of mind frequently simulates production of interleukins, which are vital substances for the immune system that help activate cancer killing immune cells. Fortunately, an inhibited immune system can recover if the mind’s messages change distress to calmness.


The hypnotic response

Research on the physiology of stress shows the potency of managing stress through training yourself to elicit the mirror opposite of the flight or fight stress response: the relaxation response. The relaxation response reduces heart and respiration rates, blood pressure and metabolism via the hypothalamus and generates brain rhythms associated with peace.

You can learn to elicit the relaxation response through breathing techniques, progressive relaxation, guided visualization, meditation and biofeedback. The relaxation response is a proven counterbalance to the stress response.


Work stress triggers most migraines (Irish Examiner Article)

Stress caused by work is the most common migraine trigger, a study has found. It shows people are more prone to a direct attack in the ‘let-down’ period after a stressful situation, such as at weekends or while on holiday.

The study, conducted by the Migraine Association of Ireland (MAI) in conjunction with the Migraine Clinic at Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, involved more than 500 people, and found chocolate was the most common dietary trigger, followed by cheese and citrus fruits. Foodstuffs were a more important trigger for men than for women.

Director of the Migraine Clinic in Cork University Hospital, Dr Edward O’Sullivan, said one theory relating to trigger factors suggested migraine occurs because of an overactive nervous system.

“People with migraine are more vulnerable to certain irritating stimuli. When one, two or several of these occur, the person’s nervous system responds by activating a migraine attack.”

The study also identifies lack of sleep, irregular sleep, caffeine and, in women, the menstrual cycle as other key migraine trigger factors. The MAI recommends sufferers use a migraine diary for six months.

The study, ahead of Migraine Action Week beginning September 12, found 59% of people said their migraine patterns were directly linked to what they ate and 49% saw irregular sleeping patterns as a trigger.

More than 70% of women identified hormonal factors, predominately menstrual, as a key factor.

More information about Migraine Week, including information seminars in Dublin and Galway, is available by contacting the MAI helpline at 1850 200 378 or by at


Employees are sick with worry

A survey, conducted by Amárach Research and commissioned by the mymoney website reveals that 68% of employees have debt that threatens to overwhelm them with almost the same percentage having everyday expenses that exceed their income.

More than 40% of those surveyed admitted that they are not in control of their finances, with 67% unable to plan ahead or save for emergencies.


Signs and symptoms of stress overload

The following table lists some of the common warning signs and symptoms of stress. The more signs and symptoms you notice in yourself, the closer you may be to stress overload.


Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory problems
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Poor judgement
  • Seeing only the negative
  • Anxious or racing thoughts


Physical symptoms

  • Aches and pains
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Nausea, dizziness
  • Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Frequent colds


Emotional symptoms

  • Moodiness
  • Irritability or short temper
  • Agitation, inability to relax
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Sense of loneliness and isolation
  • Depression or general unhappiness


Behavioural Symptoms

  • Eating more or less
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Isolating yourself from others
  • Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
  • Using alcohol, cigarettes or drugs to relax
  • Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)


We use a combination of hypno-cognitive therapy and hypnoanalysis to find the cause and thereby eliminate the emotional effects.