I have recently been meeting many individuals who feel that as time goes by, life seems to be getting harder to live. This may largely be because we are overloaded with information and constantly being told how we should look, what we should say and how to act in order to be accepted by others. This is creating a lot of pressure for us to be a certain way in order to fit in. We live in a culture that is dominated by perfection and in the pursuit of this perfection, many of us feel that we should suppress who we are and what we want if it does not fit with these ideals. Hiding our true feelings, not being able to say what we need or feeling that others are not being genuine sometimes feels like a heavy weight pressing down on our chest. It may also feel as though we have something lodged in our stomach which we carry everyday and everywhere we go. This heavy load is like a constant reminder of the emotional weight that we are carrying.
The burden of not living authentically is a burden that not only affects our emotional wellbeing, but also affects and determines our physical health- and the shape of our bodies. We are often told to exercise and to eat healthily to take care of our bodies. This is great advice, however, many of us don’t realise that what we eat and how much we exercise is only part of the equation when it comes to our body’s physical expression. Studies have been showing that our body weight and shape is directly impacted by our emotional and mental wellbeing. This means that what we think, how we feel and how we choose to express ourselves can significantly impact our physical form.
To put it simply, our body’s peripheral nervous system can be divided into two; which are then further divided into the parasympathetic and the sympathetic divisions. The Sympathetic system is involved with the flight-or-fight response whilst the latter has to do with slowing down. The ideal bodily state for full metabolic power is the parasympathetic/ slowing down response. When our bodies are in a state of chronic stress, our fight-or-flight response is over-activated and this means that our nutritional metabolism can slow down anywhere between 20 to 80 percent as the body is more concerned with surviving any perceived threats than with aiding digestion. This means that if your body is chronically stressed, your body will feel constantly under threat and will burn calories, assimilate nutrients and digest food at an extremely reduced rate.
Changes in the function of the digestive system due to stress may result in spasms through the digestive tract and an increase in the amount of acid present in the stomach. This may cause several gastrointestinal difficulties. Poor mental health may also affect gut flora as the levels of beneficial bacteria in our gut starts decreasing.
Our external body is a reflection of the balance of our internal states. When we don’t express our emotions or when we are not true to ourselves, it is not only our mental health that suffers, but also our physical health. One of the best ways to prevent chronic stress is to express your personal truth and live a life that is not determined by what others think, but a life that you truly want to live and enjoy.
Claire Borg is a gestalt psychotherapist at Willingness. She works with adolescents and adults. She has a special interest in mental health. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 79291817.