by Dovvy Phillips

Anxiety as an Adaptation to Stress

June 28, 2016 | Tips and Insights, Types of anxiety

  • Home
  • -
  • Blog
  • -
  • Anxiety as an Adaptation to Stress

We humans have survived for thousands of years by being able to adapt to our environment. In fact, during times of stress, our bodies have developed a built-in survival mechanism as part of ‘the sympathetic nervous system’, also known as the fight or flight response. This gives us a fantastic and effective, short term response, to all kinds of perceived challenges and dangers, which boosts adrenaline, raises our heart rate, increases arousal, and produces many other physiological changes.

Ideally, as soon as the stressful situation is resolved, the parasympathetic division (rest and digest) should take over and once again we should return to a relaxed state. But if we’re in an environment where we are continually stressed, our bodies remain stuck in the reactive sympathetic mode. As a result, it becomes very hard or impossible to relax, we feel stressed lots of the time and often feel anxious. If this continues, when our bodies are being placed under too much stress for long periods of time, our health begins to rapidly decline; so does our quality of life. Indeed, medical researchers have proposed that stress is the cause of between 60-95% of all diseases!

Thus, when stressed for an extended period of time, the “plastic” nature of the nervous system begins to adapt. When you continuously have a certain experience – such as being stressed or anxious – it becomes much easier to have this response again and again. The brain becomes used to it, and adapts so that it can more quickly and easily move into that mode. Just like a bodybuilder uses repetition to condition and develop their muscles towards performing a certain function – lifting heavy weights – when repeatedly exposed to stressful situations, your nervous system conditions itself to always expect to have to respond immediately.

Similarly, imagine learning to play a chord on guitar for the first time – it’s clumsy, awkward… but practice makes perfect. After repeating it many times, playing that chord becomes effortless. The same is true of your nervous system – it adapts and rewires. Pretty great when learning to play guitar, but not so great when it’s an anxious response your body has unconsciously learned. When this adaptation happens, you become “hypersensitive” – you may see yourself as a sensitive person, or find yourself being reactive or defensive. You might find that you get anxious very easily, and even the smallest of things that interrupt your basic, relaxed state can have you feeling anxious over and over again.

This is why so many people suffering from anxiety report that they always feel on edge – like they’re always “switched on”. This can be especially true for people with traumatic histories, having grown up in a dangerous or unsupportive environment. Stressed parents, domestic violence or abuse during childhood and adolescence are very common causes of anxiety disorders.

Simply put, if you have encountered many individual stressful situations, or prolonged periods of stress, then you are more likely to become hypersensitive – your nervous system adapts, and this set pattern (?) can have a very strong negative impact on your life. Now what is important to know is that we are not STUCK in this way forever. In fact, we can shift out of it when we know how and we can actually retrain the nervous system. So rather than reactively respond to stress and remain stuck in this defensive state, we can teach our bodies and mind (nervous system) how to be more resilient to stress.

We have many techniques that we use in our office to help us achieve this goal, the most powerful of which is a technique called NSA – or Network Spinal Analysis. This is a very powerful, safe, effective, and gentle approach to stress relief (?), and clients all around the world love it. One of the most common things I hear my clients say to me is “things that used to stress me out don’t seem to affect me anymore in the same way that they used to, normally under this much pressure I would be feeling terrible or hardly coping but it seems to not really be affecting me any longer ”.

In our practice we do far more than NSA. Our goal is simple, to retrain your nervous system, to stop being stuck in reactive, patterns of high stress, which negatively effects your health and wellbeing, and create new healthier strategies for a happier and healthier tomorrow.

About the author, Dovvy Phillips


I am the owner of Inspiring Wellness, a wellness and personal transformation clinic in Auckland CBD and the Author of “Wellness Words, How To Think, Speak, And Feel Great” and “How To Break Free From Anxiety”. I love helping my clients take back their lives, regain their health and get a whole new higher quality of life. If you are curious if we can help you, please contact us. We are here to help you.

Follow Me Here