How the human body responds to stress
How the human body responds to stress

How the Human Body Responds to Stress (Part 2)

By Dale G. Alexander , LMT, MA, PhD

How the Human Body Responds to Stress (Part 2)

By Dale G. Alexander , LMT, MA, PhD

The essence of science is empiricism - also known as astute observation.1 Hans Selye, MD, the “Father of the Stress Concept” once observed that theories are not facts; yet, they lead to additional facts and theories that eventually add to our comprehension of what is more accurate.2 Toward this end, I continue to describe what has worked to enhance the lives of my clients for over almost four decades.

The first article of this series postulates that our major visceral organs are slung downward and forward from anterior surfaces of the cervical vertebrae and from the base of the cranium. This linkage extends to the pelvic floor. A simple elegance of design exists in this proposed organization. One that can more easily allow us as practitioners of the healing arts to both comprehend how difficulties typically accrete over time. And conversely, how we might reverse engineer progressions of somatic dysfunctions and possibly even contribute to the prevention of early stage visceral diseases within the organ systems. As a reminder, even with all of our knowledge and training, when our best efforts fall short of turning a client’s physiological momentum toward the positive, we have a duty to encourage clients to seek medical evaluation.

Summarizing concepts described in the first article and adding a few:

 Stress affects human visceral organ systems first.

 The viscera are slung down and forward from bones and joints by suspensory ligaments.

 When the viscera tighten and become congested, they pull on these bones and joints.

 As these articulating bones deviate even slightly from the center of their joint capsules, they reflexively provoke the myofascial guardians of joints to spring into action to protect them.

 As joints become more compromised, their guardians progressively tighten or spasm to prevent dislocation.

 Progressive tightening (compress-ion) produces congestion of bodily fluids. This progression leads to dis-coordination of and within the nervous system.

 Pain, reduced energy, and decreased range of motion are the inevitable results.

 This is what clients present to us each and every day in varying forms, especially when their symptom profiles have become chronic.

Restating for clarity: stress affects viscera first, then joints. This then provokes the body’s myofascial tissues to protect these structures through inhibition of movement which then leads to reduced blood flow. Aggregated over one’s life-time, such accreted protections become our prison, reducing the quality of life for ourselves and our clients.3 Functionally the contracted state of the soft tissues around joints eventually starves both the protective guardians and the joint surfaces themselves of the nutrients, oxygen, and hormones contained within new or fresh blood.

There is an intertwined descending spiral between compression, congestion and dis-coordination of the nervous system that relates not only to the quality and capacity to move in our daily activities to work and play. This spiral further challenges the body’s ability to deliver to each cell and tissue structure its fair share of fresh blood.

Chronic problems are complex and have multiple tributaries. However, two elements have consistently evidenced themselves as central players. The first is that new blood does not reach the tissues that need it the most. The second is the very nature of how reflexes maintain the contraction of the soft tissues that are the guardians of joints. Once activated, they remain as palace guards at their post to protect from further and future displacement.

This is where we in the healing arts can help through intention, touch, movement, energy, and oriental-based modalities. Most practitioners have skill sets to at least partially release the grip of the protective guardians, recalibrating their length and tension; some have additional skills to mobilize the joints. Sadly, few have an understanding of how to release the tensions of the viscera themselves, because it is within the viscera that an immense amount of old blood becomes congested.5

Consider that a lower volume of fresh blood triggers the quartermaster function of the nervous system. With less new blood available, the nervous system is forced to make draconian discernments about where blood gets channeled. This is one dimension of how compression and congestion together trigger the dis-coordination of the nervous system. In my clinical experience, many tissues will draw the short straw, especially joints and visceral organs. It’s like a company downsizing the number of employees when not enough money is coming in to pay them. Paraphrasing the Starling Law of the Heart: The heart can only pump out the quantity of blood that it gets back.4

We need to comprehend that freeing up the flow of congested blood is the cornerstone to the creation of new blood. Also, that having enough new blood is the fulcrum for restoring physiological homeostasis, which is how healing is stimulated. Let’s now flip the premise: that lack of enough new blood is a major variable for how dysfunctional states worsen and progression toward diseased states advance. Anyone who presents with a named chronic problem has a serious amount of compression, congestion, and dis-coordination of the nervous system.

The emphasis here is that congestion is initially and superficially perceived as tight and dense myofascial structures. The next level is to understand that old blood lies behind and inside whatever is tight and dense. The healing mechanism is to help the old blood to find its way back to the heart/lung complex to be reconstituted as new and fresh blood.

In the next article of this series, we will explore the crucial importance of comprehending how viscera-somatic reflexes figure into most chronic somatic problem your clients present to you. They are the muted voices of evolution’s pathway to our species’ success. They are also highly probable sources of many or even most chronic somatic conditions that emerge as we age. Please remember the theme of this article: enhance the flow of old blood so new and fresh blood can be reconstituted and pumped out. It is essential to assisting the healing process.

Many thanks to my editorial team; Katie Truax Alexander, Glenn Gaffney, Kandy Love, and welcoming Naomi Reynolds.


1. Philosophy, Repository of Arcane Knowledge; 2019.  

2. Rosch PJ. Reminiscences of Hans Selye, and the Birth of “Stress.” The American Institute of Stress, 2019.

3. Gresham LB. The Body’s Map of Consciousness. Integrated Awareness, 2019.

4. Klabunde RE. Frank-Starling Mechanism. Cardiovascular Physiology Concepts, 2019.

5. Jean Pierre Barral DO, developer of Visceral Manipulation. Techniques described were learned from Dr. Jean Pierre Barral DO. The Barral Institute, 1986-1993.