Why Stress is Never About What it is About

What if I told you that every time you get stressed, overwhelmed or upset by something in your life, it is actually not related to whatever is going on in the moment.

Let’s take the example that you are feeling overloaded at work. It seems very clear that if you didn’t have so much work then you wouldn’t be feeling like you do. Stress always seems to be ‘caused’ by something not of your own making. But for a moment, let’s take the attention off the ‘thing that caused the stress’ and onto what happens in the body in a stressful situation.


We have hard-wired into us an ability to respond to threats or danger. It is a response that both humans and animals experience during intense fear or stress and is designed to help us survive. In the past it helped our ancestors survive dangers in their environment, but to us a danger can be any situation that is overwhelming, emotionally fearful, indeed anything that brings up stress, anxiety or even frustration.

During this reaction, adrenalin and cortisol are released, the heart rate speed up, digestion slows, breath becomes shallow and high up in the chest, all designed to give the body a burst of energy and strength. Only when the perceived threat is gone, do the systems return to normal function and we return to slow diaphragmatic breathing that promotes calm.

Take the example of a rabbit in the forest who is being hunted by a predator. Once the danger appears, the rabbit goes into survival mode or fight, flight or freeze mode. Its body surges with adrenaline and prepares to react to the danger. Only when the danger has passed and the rabbit feels safe again will it relax.

What is probably less well noticed is an occurrence that happens soon afterward. The rabbit, once the danger has passed can begin to shake or tremor. It is the body’s way of releasing the excess energy that it built up to deal with danger. When the excess energy is released and the tremoring has stopped, the body has returned to normal.

People respond in this way too. Have you ever found yourself shaking after getting a fright or having been in an accident, and have you tried to stop yourself from shaking. Allowing yourself to shake it out is the best thing you can do to as you are allowing the body use its own natural mechanism to recover balance.

If we are given the time to recover from a traumatic event – to ‘shake it out’ – we can return to full relaxation, full breath and we can move out of survival mode and back into full living. However if that process is interrupted or just not allowed to happen, (as children we didn’t always have the support we needed to recover from shock) the result is that a layer of tension gets stuck in the body. Over time this layer of tension becomes normal for us and we are even unaware that it is there.

No one has reached adulthood without having experienced some level of trauma in their lives. Traumatic experiences range from emotional, physical, sexual abuse, accidents, illness, bereavement or loss. They can range from low-level to serious incidences of loss or abuse.They can be a single episode or a continuous cycle of small events. Indeed, recent research has shown that being in an environment that is chronically stressful where there is never time to recover can have as much impact as one single catastrophic event.

The truth is that we always bring our habitual responses to stress with us to every situation in life. The moment you realise this is actually the moment you take back your power.

The result is a chronic level of tension in the body that has nothing to do with the present moment and everything to do with the unfinished business of the past. It can be hard to notice this in yourself because it could be that your reaction to a particular situation is out of character for you. It is only in certain situations that this response appears. The logic goes – ‘if I am normally a calm and unstressed person and it is only when this thing happens to me that I get stressed or upset, it must be the thing that is causing the upset’. The truth is that we always bring our habitual responses to stress with us to every situation in life. The moment you realise this is actually the moment you take back your power.


The good news is that there is a way that this chronic tension in the body can be released. And that is through our breath. Our breath is our most natural healing tool. By using a Breathwork (conscious connected breath) balance can be restored to the body and the underlying tension can be released. Our breath has the capacity to bring the unconscious tensions to the surface and release them naturally. The results can seem miraculous. A situation that in the past caused us great stress, loses its power over us because we have lost our capacity to respond to it in the old way. Instead of the old reactive response your body will use your breath to help you relax and gain presence and awareness around any emotional upset. You can give your feelings room to complete their cycle naturally, so you no longer need to avoid your feelings by tensing up or forcing them to go away.

To support the individual to access the tension in the body and unwind this tension and emotions associated with it, this kind of breathwork is usually done with the support of a trained facilitator.