Science has established, supposedly, that the mind can’t tell the difference between an imagined and a real experience. I’m not convinced about that, but what I do know is that the body responds similarly to stress whether it is physical or psychological.
The stress hormones interact with glucagon to raise blood glucose for that ‘fight or flight’. When we don’t act on that, we raise insulin/IGF-1 in an attempt to normalise blood glucose again.
Problems arise when the food we eat causes this response, we lead a stressful life, and we have a diminished capacity to cope with it too, for example if we are unfit.
Hans Selye coined the phrase General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) which has three phases. First there is an alarm stage, which sees a ‘calling to arms’ of the body’s defence mechanisms. Then there is a stage of adaptation, where we attempt to cope with whatever the stressor is. In the example of intense weight training, we grow larger and stronger muscles so that future sessions are not so stressful to the body. The third stage is reached if the stress is too intense and/or carried on for too long, and results in exhaustion. This lowers immunity, increases the size of the endocrine glands, and causes gastric abnormalities; commonly ulcers.
The relevance of this to modern living is that many people are exposed to cumulative stress on a daily basis, such as toxins and social pressure, and their capacity to cope with such stress is diminished by their diet, lack of physical fitness, or lack of cultural support for instance (“I don’t know what to do about this, and neither do people I meet”).
We can start by taking control of the aspects of our life we can have power over; learn to relax, exercise sufficient to improve physical capacity and not so much we can’t recover fully, and eat real foods that provide the nutrients we need without spiking our hormone levels.