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Often, the worst kind of stress can be the type that we don’t notice at first. The kind that festers within us, beginning in the mind, but only showing itself through our physical bodies. Migraines anyone? Not to mention eczema, ulcers and more. So, what’s going on in there? Anita Chaudhuri investigates the deep, dark secrets of stress

A few weeks ago, I found myself at the hospital for an emergency ECG heart scan. It’s a perfectly painless and quick test, but, being a hypochondriac, my inner scriptwriter had already created a compelling drama featuring a montage of Casualty out-takes and alarming outcomes. I could feel my heartbeat race – not helpful for the test. ‘Oh no, now the results will be abnormal and then I’m doomed…’ I panicked. Try as I might, nothing would calm me down. Not visualisation, nor any of the mindfulness techniques I had spent 11 weeks diligently learning earlier this year. I could feel my heart beating faster and faster, in spite of my willing it not to and, surprise surprise, the test result indicated ‘tachycardia’ – abnormally fast heartbeat.

As soon as I left the building, I exhaled and everything slowed down. By the time I got home and measured my pulse, it was normal. I mention this incident to illustrate the thorny issue of stress and its involuntary impact on our physiology. We all know it’s desirable to reduce stress and adopt a calm mindset, but certain aspects of anxiety lie beyond our control. Medics even have a term for what I experienced: ‘white coat syndrome’.

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Psychologies September 2016 - Find your Serenity