What happens in my body when I worry?

Have you ever been scared while watching a horror movie? If yes (I know I have), this happens because your mind does not differentiate between reality and imagination.


When the brain interprets what is happening around us as a dangerous situation, the limbic system creates an emotional reaction and cortisol production is activated.

So, what is a stressful situation?

  • the fire alarm is activated in the office
  • a life-changing situation, i.e. house move, job loss, death of a loved one, etc.
  • separations, divorces, or complicated relationships
  • family gatherings (celebrations, Christmas, holidays)
  • stress at work/school (presentations, job change, promotion, exams, etc.)
  • feeling constant worry about something that may go wrong in the future
  • diagnosis of a disease (to me or a relative)

What is cortisol?

It is known as the stress hormone; cortisol is generated by our body on a daily basis.

In its normal cycle, it is highest in the morning to give us energy and it drops throughout the day so we can sleep at night.

Why can cortisol be bad?

If the dangerous situation is real, (such as the fire alarm) cortisol and adrenaline help me to run away (fight or flight), so the activation of the sympathetic system has fulfilled its function of keeping me alive.

But if it's about worries, or life situations in which I don't need that activation, my body is ready to fight or flee (for hours), and those hormones are creating big changes in my body.

And it gets worse when anxiety, stress or worries are constant; because I induce a sustained threat-alert system over time that can be very dangerous to health i.e. even just watching tv while worrying can activate the stress hormone release.

Direct impacts of cortisol on the body and mind

Physical impact

  • hair loss, wrinkles, spots, and changes in skin colour
  • difficulty-chest breathing, increased heart rate
  • muscular tension, heavy and rigid body, contractures, pain in the neck, back, head, etc.
  • decision making abilities are impaired (prefrontal cortex de-emphasised)
  • impaired memory (cortisol hippocampus sensitivity)
  • impotence, infertility

The body gives priority to other functions that are essential for fight or flight when the sympathetic system is active.

Impact on the immune system

A sustained state of stress modifies the immune system and produces latent inflammation in the body and alters the production of hormones: testosterone, progesterone, and estrogen.

This dissociation of the immune system can manifest itself in many ways: Dermatitis, tonsillitis, inflamed gums, irritable colon, gastroenteritis, swollen stomach gastritis, heavy digestions, microbiota modification and leaky gut (toxins in the bloodstream), also causing autoimmune, neurological, and neurodegenerative diseases.

Psychological impact

  • changes in mood (irritable, touchy, vulnerable, less patient or sad)
  • sleep disorders (difficulty falling asleep, interrupted sleep, and restlessness)
  • a permanent state of alert can cause apathy and depression; our body has been fighting for a long time and feels tired even after the stress period ends

The good news

As well as activating the sympathetic system, we can also activate its opposite, the parasympathetic system (PNS) – known as ‘rest and restore’.

This repair-relaxation system is an inbuilt self-maintaining system that is there to calm the organism back down and bring it to a state of rest, so our bodies can self-heal.

There are many techniques that can help us to stop the activation of the sympathetic system and reduce stress levels. We don't have to suffer the physical and physiological symptoms.

What can I do to help my body?

We can learn how to operate our inbuilt relaxation system and bring the PNS to operate as a calming system throughout the day to calm us down and lower our muscle tone.

This will reduce the negative impact of the cortisol in our system and will improve our digestion, sexual appetite, mood, memory, energy levels, creativity, making decisions, etc.

Although the mind does not differentiate between “reality and imagination”, the positive effects that we can achieve by using this to our advantage are fascinating.

Hypnotherapy is a fantastic tool that allows us to reverse the damage caused by stress. It can help recover our energy, our health and activate the parasympathetic system.

Focusing on positive emotions will create the neural connections for success, where we can create the desired life.

Other techniques that can help are relaxation and breathing techniques, cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness, havening and heartmath. These are some of the therapies that can help you lead a healthier life. You can choose where to focus your energy to achieve the best result for each situation you are experiencing.

If you are ready to make a change, I’d love to hear from you, please do email me today to learn more.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Hypnotherapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Manchester M25 & M26
Written by Carolina Ramirez Valencia, Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapist for Anxiety
Manchester M25 & M26

Hi, I'm Carolina, I made my mission to make therapy accessible to everyone, I offer tailored solutions for anxiety, worry, stress, and health management. Through an integrative research-lead approach, I accompany my clients in the journey to re-establish the balance in their mind and body. I enjoy s...

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