When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress

Gabor Maté medical doctor, transformational speaker and  and bestselling author  shares client’s personal stories in which  that emotion and psychological stress play a powerful role in the onset of chronic illness. 

When the Body Says No is an impressive contribution to research on the physiological connection between life’s stresses and emotions and the body systems governing nerves, immune apparatus and hormones. With great compassion and erudition, Gabor Maté demystifies medical science and, as he did in Scattered Minds, invites us all to be our own health advocates.

The average unwell 21st century professional has adrenal fatigue, high blood pressure, sleep deprivation and mind – gut blockages. High- anxiety triggers fight or flight stress hormones to flood the body, negatively disrupting balance and harmony. This cascade of stress-related conflicting thoughts and feelings,  and hormone surges  happens in seconds.  

Our sympathetic nervous system, the “fight or flight” system that takes over when we’re stressed.  Behind the wide range of both physical and mental reactions to stress are a number of hormones that are in charge of adding fuel to the fire.

Your body is constantly changing as it mirrors  and exchanges its atoms and molecules with the rest of the universe.   Trillion cells in the mind/ body are constantly “talking to each other”  as they keep your heart beating,   food digesting,  toxins eliminating to protect the body  from infection and or disease, and carry out the countless other functions that keep you thriving. Neuro-scientific studies  show  that nothing holds more power over the body than the mind.


Gabor Maté at the Breath of Life Conference 2017 from on Vimeo.

Physical sensations: Body, thinking  feeling behaviours are chemical reactions: neuropeptides that  travel throughout your body and hook onto receptor sites of cells and neurons. Your brain takes in the information, converts it into chemicals, and lets your whole body know if there’s a threat (fight, or flight)  or something to  celebrate.


The Impact of Trauma:

Trauma or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder:  a life threatening event  to one’s life or physical integrity, such as accidents, surgery, sexual abuse, war, mass violence, police brutality, bullying, domestic violence, being raised in an addictive family. Trauma can have also been determined to be positively correlated to long-term exposure to extreme poverty emotional, and verbal abuse.

Trauma can be grouped into four key components based upon the individual’s response to the traumatic event. The four components include:

  • Hyper-arousal. Individuals experience increased heartbeat and breathing, agitation, interruptions in sleeping or eating patterns, tension, etc.
  • Constriction. Often when we experience and react to a life-threatening situation, hyper-arousal is likely to occur which is usually accompanied by constriction in our body and distorting our perceptions.
  • Dissociation. Dissociation is one of the most common and subtle symptoms of trauma as it allows the sufferer to separate themselves mentally from the painful and traumatic experience.
  • Freezing. When fight and flight responses are thwarted, we instinctively move towards a fixed or immobility response as a last ditch effort to avoid further pain or distress.

Following a traumatic experience, we all respond and react in different ways, at different times. After experiencing trauma, people may go through a wide range of normal responses. Reactions to trauma can extend beyond the person directly experiencing the event to those who have witnessed or heard about the trauma, or been involved with those immediately affected. Many reactions to trauma can be triggered by memories of the event, persons, places, or things associated with the trauma. However, some reactions to trauma may appear completely unrelated to the traumatic event or experience.

 Trauma Triggers:

  • Body aches and pains
  • Extreme feelings of panic or anxiety
  • Interruptions in sleeping and eating patterns
  • Increased drug or alcohol consumption
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feelings of nausea
  • Chronic fear
  • Bursts of anger or rage
  • Hype-rvigilance
  • Flashes and or recurrent visual images of the event that feel real
  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in activities and life itself
  • Grief
  • Nightmares
  • Self-isolation
  • Minimisation or denial of feelings or significance of event
  • Avoidance of people or places that may trigger a memory of the traumatic event
  • Detachment
  • Emotional numbing
  • Shame
  • Suicidal thoughts or ideations
  • Cognition issues

Unfortunately, some people will experience a trauma event at some point in their lives, and as a result, some will experience debilitating symptoms that interfere with daily functioning. Many people who have suffered a traumatic event or suffered from long-term exposure may repeatedly re-experience the ordeal in the form of flashback episodes, memories, nightmares, or frightening thoughts, especially when they are exposed to events or objects that remind them of the trauma. Untreated trauma or PTSD can cause psychological distress the sufferer is living in a hyper-aroused state. 

People suffering from the latent effects of Trauma or PTSD may have a co-occurring mental health issue such as one or more of the following:

  • Anxiety Disorder
  • Depression
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Phobias
  • Substance Abuse
  • Co-occurring Disorders

When considering traumatic events and individual responses to those events, it is important to not only recognise the importance of immediate intervention to mitigate symptoms but also help those suffering from trauma and PTSD develop strategies to manage symptoms, limiting the possibility of symptom re-emergence.

This is possible through the practice of mindfulness  meditation, developing your “mindfulness leadership muscle” will actualise  a life changing  skills-set – everything   you need to know love and happiness in the immediacy of daily life. May you be happy, healthy. love your thoughts and be comfortable with uncertainty. 

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. Addiction Awareness  addresses anxiety and stress. Feeling overwhelmed? Trying to normalise off-the-scale anxiety and stress is challenging, to manage without support. Stress impacts the immune system and disrupts the bodies nettle healing responses. You may eat organic food, meditate like a monk, believe you are a mystic without a monastery, perform totemic tai chi/yoga such is the power of conditioned thinking.

However, until one learns to train the mind to look with, managing stress-realted burnout will be unsustainable. Evidence based neuroscience  informs us of the biofeedback changes within the brains complex circuitry systems that occur when a person is meditating.

Awareness is the conscious knowledge of experience—both physical and mental. This is in contrast to the automatic, subconscious responses discussed above.

Attention is he ability to remain aware of internal and external stimuli occurring in the present moment. Mindful individuals are able to bring their attention back to their original target of focus whenever their mind begins to drift away. Intention is similar to sustained attention, mindful individuals are also able to continue to return to present moment, remembering their daily intention, i.e to focus in the present, rather than the past or the future. Acceptance involves experiencing thoughts, feelings, interactions and other stimulus without judging them as being bad or good, desirable or undesirable, petty or important, etc. Instead, the thoughts and observations are accepted as they are, without distorting or suppressing them.

Awareness  rejuvenates the mind/ body ability to self-heal. Reduce stress. Prevent illness from developing. Clients receive training in how to reconnect – addiction manifests as disconnection – be fully engaged in one’s life. Resilient. Compassionate, empowered authentic, connected and in community.

At the heart of addiction is unresolved painful emotional states. Mindfulness Leadership is a holistically integrated whole-person health initiative designed to inspire, and exponentially generate resilience, self-esteem, empathy and compassion.

In essence, mindfulness leadership can over time and practice teach us how to be more resilient. Mindfulness transforms overthinking into reflective order. The natural effect is reducing stress, and engendering self mastery.

We are living in a state of accelerated change  and stress-related illness is on the rise. Addiction and mental healthcare issues are often embedded with trauma. An addict historically had to “hit rock bottom” before seeking help with their addiction.  That “rock bottom” was raised in the 80’s when cocaine and alcohol addiction resulted in people bottoming out much younger.

Today very young children are showing signs of digital dependency, food addictions, whilst teenagers are choosing not to just experiment with recreational drugs now they are getting addicted.

In may instances of traumatic childhood experiences addiction is more than a coping mechanism, it is a way of surviving trauma which  is  a  stimuli response  to a traumatic experience, event, or an incident that threatens one’s own life or the bodily integrity of another in close proximity or relationship to you. In order to qualify as a traumatic event, the element of threat or harm to life or body must be present. Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs diagrams the map for raising healthy children. 

A compassionate person possess a wise and an open heart. Their intention is  to connect with humanity, practice non-violent communication, cultivate compassion and loving kindness all the while avoiding the pitfall of being hooked into chaos that defines the critical mass. 

Addiction  was  about disconnection from my authentic  self, loved ones and community. Anxious. Depressed. Isolated even in the company of people who loved me.  

Isolation is reinforced by  early childhood abandonment. The absence of love, safety and protection  by emotionally unavailable parents continues to  influences  and impact well into adulthood. 

Deep suffering can be a catalyst for transformation –  an invitation to change our worldview, in particular our projections i.e. critical thinking of ourselves and others. It makes such a when we think about a person through the eyes of compassion, empathy and love.

The inner world is the world of our requirements and our energies, structure and possibilities that connects with the outer world. And the outer world is the field of infinite possibilities.

The seat of the soul is there where the inner and outer worlds meet. The energetic connection that arises as result of seeking ways in which to self-actualise gain momentum when the goal is self-mastery.



Change is constant:

The neuroscience of emotions: affect, feelings and emotion are all used interchangeably by psychotherapists, mind/body energy practitioners. , the way holistic therapists usually define and think about emotion.In contrast, the neuroscientific understanding of emotion refers specifically to subcortical, often body- based experiences and not the conscious awareness of a feeling.

Often, though not necessarily, the body-based experience serves as a platform or scaffolding upon which the subsequent consciously experienced feeling or affect is built. Conscious awareness and self healing-responsibility is growing in our society, inspired by training our mind to look within is now an accepted pathway to total health.

That we need more balance in our lives, and more emphasis on our own well-being, as well as the well-being of our families, workplaces, communities – and our planet is a given in conscious living. Part of the solution, for many, involves a look inward- becoming an observer of our daily lives.

Sometimes recovery is defined by a series of Impasses: plateauing in familiar patterns and themes: blame and anger, or in regrets from the past is not going to keep you abstinent in the long-term. It takes courage to change and change you can and will.

“The principle that we will find no enduring strength until we first admit complete defeat is the main taproot from which our whole Society has sprung and flowered.”

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 22

“Change is a constant in life. Not everything that can be faced can be changed. Nothing can change until it is faced.”

Had I known that change is not only  constant but essential,  when I first entered into recovery would I have turned away from the only source of hope in my life? No!!!!.  Because my  worst day sober is infinitely better than my worst day using. Recovery is peeling away defensive layers of maladaptive coping mechanisms. None of which worked  to help navigate the sophisticated world I lived and worked in .Fear of being found out to be a complete fraud kept me anxious 24/7. 

Addiction clinicians and practitioners understand the primacy of integrating practical strategies to engender sustaining mind, body, heart and soul holistic healing.


Meditation  engages the mind and body connection,  helping us  detach at  a level deeper than sleep and  increases  the strength and thickness of the corpus callosum:  a thick band of nerve fibres, between  the cerebral cortex lobes into left and right hemispheres that connects the left and right sides of the brain hemispheres  engendering  connection, communication and collaboration  between both hemispheres.

The corpus callosum stimulates  motor, sensory, and cognitive information is based between the  right and left hemisphere of the brain.  The Left brain loves the past, and is the executive mind-state (self mastery/emotional intelligence) continuously  informing   our past in the present.  Language, critical thinking, analytical, numerical. The right (now) brain is intuitive and instinctive  in the present moment: inspirational, creative,connected-ness, optima problem solving/solution focussed.

Over time meditation increases  consciousness. Meditation equates  a  90 minute power nap.   You become more awake and aware. Consequently  are able to hold more things in your awareness because there is less need to be “constantly on”  as  you are aware that you  now switch off, detach and let go. 

Different types of meditation affect your body and mind differently. Now and zen meditation trains the mind to look within. Learning how to consciously live