Knowledge Bank

Why work overload can kill us?

We know that allowing ourselves to get overloaded at work is one sure way to end up with a heart attack. But why is it? What happens to the body when the mind starts to stress out under pressure?

Part of the problem today is that human beings have not evolved sufficiently  to cope with the amount of stress that they’re faced with. This is because of a physiological reaction which biologists discovered in the 1930s — a mechanism known as the ‘fight or flight response’.

The ‘fight or flight response’ is a process of the nervous system which is connected to our more primitive, limbic brain. It comes from when we led a less sedentary lifestyle and may have had to cope with greater dangers in the wild.

Fight or flight response

Basically, the ‘fight or fight response’ snaps into action at the first sign of danger or threat, and it causes the body to go through some very fast physiological changes in order to provide us with the strength and energy to stand and fight, or else to use that increased potency to make ourselves scarce and fast.

It’s quite amazing the number of changes the body undergoes in just a matter of a split second when experiencing the ‘fight or flight response’. Here are a few:

•    heart and lungs pump much faster
•    skin goes alternately pale and red, as the blood vessels constrict
•    digestion slows down
•    adrenaline is released into the blood
•    energy nutrients such as fat and glucose are released into the muscles
•    tear glands are inhibited, and pupils dilate.
•    bladders relax
•    penile erection is inhibited
•    hearing ability decreases
•    ‘tunnel vision’ narrows down peripheral sight

But because we now so often undergo the ‘fight or flight response’ not in the forest or the wilderness, but in the office, shop or boardroom, and because it would be inappropriate to respond by fighting or fleeing, we’re often left with its residual chemicals floating uselessly around in our bodies.

After all, it really wouldn’t do to stand and fight the managing director for giving us too much work — there are laws about that kind of thing! — or even to flee a difficult meeting.  Sometimes, we can’t flee — for instance, we’re the only one with the necessary expertise to complete certain tasks and there’s no spare money in the budget for training up an assistant. 

It’s mainly for those reasons that stress has become such a problem in our society.

Interestingly, it’s been found that there is a marked increase in the performance of the immune system soon after the ‘fight or flight response’ has been acted upon.

Reduced immune capacity

Conversely, an unfulfilled ‘fight or flight’ opportunity can lead to a reduced immune capacity, and this can lead to all sorts of problems such as susceptibility to viruses and infections.

Other physical problems that can develop include constipation, anorexia, erectile dysfunction, difficulty urinating, and also impotency. Typical psychological responses to stressors are addiction problems, sleep disruption and an inability to maintain healthy social relationships with others, sometimes to the point of complete withdrawal.

As holistic health practitioners, we notice where stress takes its toll on the body, especially in the back, the part of of us which tends to hold most of our unexpressed emotions, frustrations or fears.

Various kinds of massage help — such as Deep Tissue Massage, Lomi Lomi Massage and even Aromatherapy, where the negative emotions can be healed by specific floral aromas which are custom blended to suit the body-mind-spirit of the individual client. Another great therapy for unblocking these stuck energies is Craniosacral Therapy because it’s so good at getting the body to relax.

We’ve lots more on here about great therapies which help with stress. To learn more about these de-stressing treatments, go to The Therapy Book.

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