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  • Writer's pictureDr. Katie Barr

Stress and the Mind-Body Connection

The Oxford English Dictionary defines stress as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Everyone has stress in their lives. It’s a normal part of living in our society. Most people recognize the stress that happens to them by external forces, e.g. job security, moving, divorce, but sometimes we miss stress that is caused by our own emotions. Emotionally stressful events include any kind of uncertainty, lack of control, and conflict. How we learn to handle all these stresses have a profound impact on our health. These learned responses develop in childhood, and are unconsciously enacted.

Stress is an evolved survival mechanism, i.e. the “fight-or-flight” response that keeps us alive in life-threatening situations. Now that we are not running away from saber-toothed tigers anymore this stress response is not as crucial and can be more of a detriment. Our bodies can overreact to stressors like work challenges, relationship problems, and traffic jams.

Cortisol is one of the major stress hormones made by the body. It is produced by the adrenal glands in times of stress. A healthy cortisol balance is vital to keeping the body healthy, producing too much or too little can cause unwanted effects. Symptoms of too much cortisol: weight gain, irregular menstruation, high blood pressure, headaches, anxiety, poor sleep, and muscle tension. Symptoms of not enough cortisol: muscle weakness, low blood pressure, hypoglycemia, depression, fatigue and morning sluggishness.

Cortisol in acutely stressful events will suppress inflammation in the body, but if there’s chronic stress and consistently high levels of cortisol this can have the opposite effect and lead to more inflammation in the body. This chronic inflammation can cause many harmful effects on the body; decreased immunity, gut problems, skin conditions, and chronic fatigue.

Finding ways to decrease the cortisol response is a very important part of living a healthy life, and finding ways to include self-care every day should be part of the routine. This will look different for everyone, but having that time to reset the nervous systems’ stress response is something that we need to prioritize.

If someone has a hard time navigating stressful events, especially ones that are emotionally stressful, then taking a deeper look into internal belief systems might be the missing link to living your best life. If there is a belief system saying “I’m not good enough,” then putting yourself first and keeping yourself healthy becomes very challenging. I’m very passionate about the mind-body connection. This is why I did extra training on Integrative Body Psychotherapy. This therapy is a body-based counseling method that uses breath, awareness, and self-release techniques to address both the mind and body to fully process and heal old developmental injuries held in the body. Part of this therapy goes through your family history of relationships and this is how your belief systems developed. Seeing how they were formed helps you to gain perspective on how to rewrite them.  In addition, it helps to reregulate the nervous system and promotes a state of relaxation. IBP helps to create self-awareness, maintain boundaries, and cultivate a deeper connection with your true Self.

By Dr. Katie Barr, ND



1.     Thau L, Gandhi J, Sharma S. Physiology, Cortisol. [Updated 2023 Aug 28]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan. Available from:

2.     Charmandari E, Nicolaides NC, Chrousos GP. Adrenal insufficiency. Lancet. 2014;383(9935):2152–2167.

3.     American Heart Association. Understanding How Stress Affects the Body. Available from:

4.     Mawri, S. Beware High Levels of Cortisol, the Stress Hormone. Premier Cardiovascular Institute. 2022 Aug. Available from:

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