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Why is Stress Important?


Stress, of course, is everywhere!  It is what motivates us to get out of bed in the morning, to seek to participate in life and achieve our objectives. I suppose feeling hungry is a kind of stress, it motivates us to seek out food, thus alleviating the stress. In simpler times, stress was usually physical and fairly basic. It probably included seeking food and shelter, avoiding dangers, and getting along with others in the tribe. Most stresses were short lived; we either got away from the danger or we didn’t. Stress motivates us to action, and our bodies produce physiological responses that prepare us for fighting off a foe or running away to fight another day. We call this the “fight or flight” response.

The threats in our lives are often not physical, or those that are (an out of control car moving into the path of our car) require a response with little physical effort (turning the steering wheel, hitting the power assisted brakes). Apart from traffic crises, most of our stresses are low-level and long-lasting.


Examples are: going to a job you don’t like, putting up with work managers or colleagues who annoy you, struggling to achieve a sales target, responding to conflict within the family, while trying to keep in mind that your long-term goals in parenting are not furthered by your own emotional expression and walking out of the situation. And so the list could continue.




The flight or flight response causes a number of changes in the body, to prepare the body to cope with a physical threat.

This physiological reaction can be harmful to our bodies if we maintain it over an extended period of time or if it recurs regularly. Multiple stress responses can be associated with poorer recovery from illness, exacerbation of symptoms of chronic disease (such as IBD) and impairments in cardiac and immune functioning.


If you would like to learn more about stress and health, take a look at Robert Sapolsky’s book “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers” 




















Common bodily symptoms of stress or anxiety include:

  • Shortness of breath

  • Dizziness or light-headedness

  • Muscle tension

  • Tightness or pain in the chest

  • Sweating

  • Hot or cold flushes

  • Pounding heart

  • Urge to flee

  • Nausea or “butterflies”

  • Blurred vision

  • Dryness in the mouth

  • Difficulty gathering thoughts or concentrating

  • Trembling or shaking

  • Tingling in fingers or feet


Perhaps you will be able to recognise some of these in your own stress reactions.



Relaxation: Just for this week please set aside time and do two 20 min practice sessions of the progressive muscle relaxation each day. Use the recording on the site. Progressive muscle relaxation is a skill and, like any skill, needs to be practised, intensively in the first instance. You may need to negotiate with your family for time and space to be able to do this quietly on your own. Please keep a record of your practice, including a rating of your level of tension/relaxation (on a 1 to 10 scale, with 10 being extremely tense and one being completely relaxed).

Body Awareness Exercise

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing

Brief Relaxation- Clenched Fist Technique

Monitoring stressful events: during the week I would like you to keep a record of events that you recognise to be stressful. You may become aware of a relationship between these events and your IBD symptoms. Click on the link below to access this worksheet.


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