Activation of the Threat (aka Stress) Response, puts our body into survival mode which if prolonged can trigger gut symptoms and in turn gut symptoms can trigger the Threat Response. This creates a vicious circle.
The Threat Response evolved to protect us from present or imminent danger. The feeling we experience, having activated the Threat Response, is called ‘stress.’ Stress – a feeling – comprises both physical and emotional discomfort.
One of the most common, modern-day dangers, we respond to, is that of excessive pressure. Pressure is what we feel whenever we are faced with internal and external demands. External demands are demands received from the environment around us from people, our job, our family, government agencies, service providers etc. Internal demands are those demands and expectations that we set ourselves such as to be perfect, to always be on time, to never say ‘no.’
Once we have accepted a demand, we naturally want to meet it. Pressure triggers our Pressure Response which adapts our body to meet the demand and gives us the energy to do so. As long as we perceive we have the resources and ability to meet a demand, we experience pressure in response to it. However, the moment we perceive we can no longer meet a demand (i.e. the pressure has become excessive), our survival system (part of the sympathetic nervous system) is alerted, and the Threat Response is activated.
When the Threat Response is activated, energy is directed away from the gut to the muscles of the arms and legs and to the heart, to prepare us to escape the danger or fight for our survival. As far as our survival system is concerned, there’s no point using valuable energy on digestion when we may not be alive soon! It’s better to divert the digestive system energy to where it’s needed most.
When this happens, our gut processes slow down; blood flow is reduced, less mucus is produced and the movement of food and waste material through the gastrointestinal tract is altered.
Chronic (constant) activation of the Threat Response alters the physiological functioning of the gut which can result in IBS symptoms such as constipation and diarrhoea. In addition, the sensitivity of the lining of the gut increases, making you feel abdominal and gut pain or discomfort.
The good news is, once the danger has passed, the Threat Response is deactivated, and the Rest and Digest Response is activated. The Rest and Digest Response is controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system. Its job is to return your body to biological balance/equilibrium. This balance is called homeostasis. Once our body is back in balance the gut gets its energy back and so returns to functioning normally again.
One of the main goals of the Hypnotherapy for IBS program is to reduce activation of the Threat Response and increase activation of the Rest and Digest Response. Achieving this helps break the IBS related stress cycle and enables the digestive system to return to normal functioning again.