When we’re stressed, bad things happen — whether it’s to our bodies or our minds. In fact, there is a link between mental tension and physical state, specifically in the central nervous system. According to a study published in the Experimental and Clinical Sciences Journal, the idea that stress can cause functional changes in the central nervous system has been largely accepted since 1968. This article will first explore how mental tension may be impacting your central nervous system, followed by examples.

Stress Can Hurt Your Central Nervous System

Stressful situations — both environmental and psychological — have the power to “trigger a cascade of stress hormones that produce well-orchestrated physiological changes,” according to an article published by Harvard Medical School.

Think of the last time you had an upcoming deadline or was criticized or worried over a certain event. Did your heart pound? Did you break out into a sweat? Were you breathing faster? All of these reactions are part of the fight-or-flight response which would keep you alert and prepared in a dangerous situation. However, often the body can overact to your mental tension even in non-life-threatening situations such as a work miscommunication or hectic family scheduling.

The Harvard Medical School article reports that over time, “repeated activation of the stress response takes a toll on the body.” Here are just a few of the damaging ways mental tension can impact your body via the central nervous system:

  • High blood pressure
  • Clogged arteries
  • Can cause brain changes, which may lead to depression, anxiety or addiction
  • Obesity (by both causing people to eat more and decreasing sleep and exercise)

While many think that mental tension isn’t an important topic to consider when evaluating physical pain, that mode of thinking may be quite outdated. In a study published in the Experimental and Clinical Sciences Journal, scientists found that:

  • Depending on extent and severity, stress can encourage various acts on the body, ranging from homeostasis alterations to life-threatening impacts to death.
  • Often, pathophysiological complications of disease start off from stress.
  • Stress can aggravate or trigger factors which lead to disease or pathological conditions.


In order to better understand how stress may manifest as physical symptoms through the central nervous system, let the following examples serve as guidelines of what may happen.

Headaches – Stress has been known to not only trigger but intensify tension headaches. We’ve all been there. Work is stressful, or the kids are screaming in the back seat or you forgot an appointment and you’ve suddenly got a headache that piles on top of the other things that are happening. It’s not bad luck; it’s most likely directly related.

Heart Attack Risk – During the flight or fight mode, stress hormones elevate your heart rate, so blood can reach your organs faster for quicker. However, elevated heart rate under normal non-life-threatening circumstances is not good. Also, enduring stress over long periods can also tighten blood vessels, which raises blood pressure. Unfortunately, this combination of increased heart rate and high blood pressure increases chances for a heart attack.

Heartburn – Stress can increase the production of stomach acid, which, for those susceptible to heartburn, could greatly impact their health.

High Blood Sugar – Stress causes your liver to release extra sugar into your blood. Over time, it can put you at risk for type two diabetes.

Tense Muscles – The release of stress hormones, repeatedly or enduring over a long period of time, can lead to tension-related headaches or backaches. For TMS sufferers, many of the backaches we experience, and that Dr. Sarno treated for years, are due to mental tension imbalances.

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