Can Stress Change Your Body Morphology?

What is morphology, and why is it worthy of our consideration? Morphology, according the dictionary (that old book, gathering dust on the shelf that we never seem to use anymore) can have different meanings depending upon its use in linguistics, biology or other scientific endeavors. Generally, however, morphology refers “form” and “structure.” It relates to the shape of things, considered as a whole. When superheroes or characters from animated productions (cartoons) talk about “morphing” they are talking about changing shape. I, for one, would like to improve my morphology.

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Although all living things change through growth and development, generally speaking, most of us would likely assume that basic physiological structure or morphology changes very little (excepting of course metamorphic processes such as seen in caterpillars changing to butterflies). I would like to suggest that assumption may be at least somewhat inaccurate. I believe that the physiology of our physical being (our bodies) may be continually changing in response to many factors including environmental, behavioral and even the cognitive/emotional. If this were true, it would have great implications for all of us, almost all of the time.

At first glance, the idea that morphology or structure is always changing might seem silly. Most things likely appear relatively stable in their structure from one day to the next. If things were constantly changing, it would be visible. To help our understanding in this matter, we may, however, need to look no further than our eyes. The eyes, it is said, are “windows to the Soul.” Conventional wisdom tells us that we may tell much about an individual through his eyes. The eyes can indeed tell us much about someone, not the least of which is information about their physical health. Eye doctors typically identify high blood pressure and other physical ailments through eye examination.

In a book entitled “Better Eyesight Without Glasses” (1971, Pyramid Books, New York, NY) William Bates, MD stated that “under conditions of mental or physical discomfort, such as pain, cough, fever, discomfort from heat or cold, depression, anger, or anxiety, errors of refraction are always produced in the normal eye or increased in the eye in which they already exist(p. 29).” He continued that “it has been demonstrated in thousands of cases that all abnormal action of the external muscles of the eyeball is accompanied by a strain or effort to see, and that with the relief of this strain the action of the muscles becomes normal and all errors of refraction disappear(p.37).” This would seem to suggest that stress of various kinds produces strain sufficient to alter the shape and function of the eye muscles. It changes the morphology of the muscles, and subsequently, the eye itself.

Further clarifying, Dr. Bates stated that “during sleep the refractive condition of the eye is rarely, if ever, normal(p.28),” and also that if one has eyestrain when awake, “that strain will certainly be continued during sleep(pp.41,42).” So the condition of sleep is not sufficient to restore normal vision. Likewise, many of us may know individuals who claim to be relaxed yet have faulty vision. These appear inconsistent, yet the answer may be very simple. Likely, for most of us, our normal state of rest or relaxation is not the deep and profound state that is necessary.

I would suggest that negative emotions, over time, have cumulative effects upon the structure and function of the musculature surrounding the eye, and therefore the eye itself. That could be why, even with Dr. Bates’ innovative methods, older individuals (especially those who have made use of glasses) have a much harder time and require a longer period to effect an improvement in their vision. Perhaps it is that over time, and with constant repetition of certain behavioral patterns, morphological changes become relatively permanent. Any behavior in which we engage continually will become ingrained as a habit. Habits, for most of us, are stubbornly tenacious and difficult to change.

If we were to consider these principles more generally, we might include the effects of stress and strain upon the entire body, not just the eye. It has been said that stress can cause or is implicated in very large number of physical ailments. Some of these include heart disease, diabetes, asthma, obesity, depression, anxiety, gastrointestinal problems, Alzheimer’s disease, chronic inflammation, premature aging and even premature death. Certainly some of these conditions would seem to imply a fundamental change in physical morphology. The result of stress and strain can be not simply a matter of subjectively feeling “stressed out.” It can potentially be a matter of pathologically changing the very structure of our physical being.

How many times do we hear or see something and think to ourselves “wow, I should really look into that,” and then do nothing, or allow that thing to simply fade from our consciousness? While this could be “one of those things,” it shouldn’t. Attending to and mitigating the effects of stress will have real and immediate benefits in our lives.

The process of accessing a peaceful and deeply relaxed state is not difficult, tricky or mystical. It is, in fact, very simple. When we think about our schedules and the tasks we have to do, it seems to activate (at least to some degree) our “fight or flight” response. We tense up, and get ready for action. For this process we need the exact opposite. We need a conscious “letting go,” and simply allowing ourselves to “be.”

While the point was just made that this process is not difficult, I will admit it is something which many have found far from easy. It may be because of our past associations, our training or our value systems, but for many it seems just out of reach. The concept of “letting go” may seem like “doing nothing,” to some, and is therefore useless, selfish and unproductive. In a sense, we must change our way of thinking to accept that accessing this state of relaxation is perhaps one of the best things we can do for ourselves.

As most people know, our society is “information rich,” and finding sources for information on relaxation and meditation should be quite easy. You will find that as you use these techniques (even if you start out believing you are doing them wrong) you will improve and find even greater levels of relaxation and peace.

For help with the process of achieving that healing, peaceful state of relaxation, download one of our stress relief MP3s now.