When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress

When the Body Says No. The title got me, again. The body does speak. Plus ‘hidden stress’ needs to be better understood so we can identify it, so ‘tell me more’.

Maté’s general outlook on health mirrors mine to a large extent. I’m a firm believer that the body is constantly telling us things and we consistently ignore much of it at our peril. The mainstream medical approach to health (particularly in western societies) tends to reduce everything down to the physical and the pharmaceutical.

If you’re curious about the links between human psychology and physical health, you’ll probably find snippets of this book interesting to read, if not the whole thing.

When the Body Says No, is complementary to a few others I’ve posted about: James’ ‘Affluenza’ Crabbe’s ‘Busy’ and Hodgkinson’s ‘How to be Idle’  – that whole movement away from stress fuelled lifestyles, and an awakening to the notion that our quality of life, physical and emotional health, all boil largely down to our own thoughts, psyche, behaviours and ‘in/actions’ rather than just a biological glitch.

Stress – we all know what that is, right?

Well, Maté unpicks this to put a spotlight on ‘hidden stress’.

Not all stress is apparent, or visible. We can be highly stressed and not feel symptoms or tension. We may think we’re fine when we’re actually experiencing stress – and silent damage is being done.

In someone else, the same stress may manifest into a physical condition.

The trouble is, the world has desensitized us from our own innate alarm systems and gut feelings, we’re so caught up in consumption, busyness and meeting the world’s expectations that we are no longer in tune with ourselves or our bodies.

Emotional Roots in Illness

Repressed feelings and pent up emotions feature greatly Maté’s case studies, and not just in adulthood, but also those carried along from childhood. Anger, grief, worry, rejection, fear, anxiety, denial, perfectionism, unmet emotional needs, struggles to make autonomous decisions (i.e. doing what you really want to do in life – without compromising relationships with others), emotional shut-down, etc…

These states of mind “modulate” our immune systems, hormonal functions and directly impact our nervous systems.

“We let ourselves be at the mercy of our thoughts and our thoughts at the mercy of our negative emotion, in this way we undermine ourselves” Tibetan saying: from A Fearless Heart’ by thuupten Jinpa.

During his 20 years as a physician, Maté claims to have seen strong emotional trait patterns and nervous behaviours in line with various conditions (including cancers, Alzheimer’s, IBS, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Asthma). Maté’s observations and case studies remind us of the role stress and emotions might play in illness, but he’s not saying it’s an absolute cause – in fact he recognises that there is rarely just one cause for why a person develops a disease, it’s usually a mix of factors – but emotional stress is possibly a stronger factor than we are led to believe in the mainstream.

Just a thought – maybe this one of the more practical reasons why the process of ‘forgiveness’ is important – forgiveness of ourselves and others for whatever it is we’re harbouring, otherwise it will eventually make the body sick. By forgiving we let go of those toxic emotions and refuse to carry them around anymore, dropping the unhealthy dead weight.

“Switching off or letting go doesn’t mean suppressing thoughts or ideas but inspecting them and then deciding whether to keep them or let them go. Source; “The Little Book of Peace by Tiddy Rowan”

Another strong occurrence across many of Maté’s findings is the issue of “emotionally unsatisfying child-parent interaction” and “early loss” – which can have a significant impact on brain development and subsequent leanings toward certain types of physical illness.

Interesting: apparently 90% of brain development takes place roughly within the first three years of life, after birth.

Nevertheless, many adults who have had relatively happy and healthy childhoods also develop stress related illness, so we can’t jump to any hard fast conclusions.

We are all unique

Physiologically, emotionally, psychologically.

The other key thing Maté rightly highlights is that even in adulthood, we are all at different stages of individual emotional development, and so we all have different emotional reactions and perceptions to things. Past experiences, self esteem, values, belief systems, things that shape how we personally feel about ourselves and the world around us all play a part in our emotional responses to things. It’s complex, sobering and fascinating.

I would add that society has a huge role to play in the dynamics of individual emotional and physical health – media, education, inequality, poverty, impact of economic shifts on housing, employment, government policies etc. Maté also touches on this, pointing out the role of industrialised capitalist society in creating a new package of struggles and stresses on individuals. Family dynamics have changed, community life has evaporated in many areas, young children spend less time in closeness with a nurturer in early years, economic pressures to maintain income levels and succeed have overshadowed other priorities, we’re busier, we’re more preoccupied and arguably more stressed.

I’d say the ever unfolding digital world is also adding to the mixing pot, which I hinted at in a previous post ‘Childhood Before Social Media‘.

Unlike the medical school of thought, Maté considers genetics, as a possible template but not a given, in light of all the other environmental factors that shape our overall physical and emotional health. Nature – nurture.

Maté also observes some of the political roots around fixating on the science and medicine model of health – which has the effect of sidelining social, societal and environmental factors.

The mixing pot of variables affecting our mind and body is perhaps best described as an abyss. 🧐


Despite the memes on social media, negative thinking has it’s necessary place. The opposite in its extreme is denial.

‘Toxic positivity’ is a term I’ve seen floating around more and more these days.

In order to move on, we have to be able to address the negatives and work through where and how to make positive changes – we can’t do this if we refuse to address the negatives head on.

“Health is not just a matter of thinking happy thoughts…….Sometimes the biggest impetus to healing can come from jump-starting the immune system with a burst of long-surpressed anger”  Quote from molecular researcher Candace Pert pg 257

Not necessarily rage (which is more of an ‘acting out’).

When the Body Says No ends with seven key reflective tips to help us heal.

It’s a Keeper

I’ll keep this one. It’s packed with a lot of detail, and sometimes the second or third time you read a book you pick up things you missed the first time round – plus I’d certainly recommend it as a good read to anyone interested in the themes outlined above.

Books like this one help us to step back and consider any number of these variables in one sitting – they are not designed to send you off with ‘the answer’ and conclusion, but with a broader more informed mind, able to weigh up and consider any number of possible factors.

Case by case, some factors may seem more relevant than others.

When the Body Says No is another book that gets you thinking!

For me, one thing’s for sure – the mind, the body (and soul) operate together as one. There are too many case studies and testimonials revealing truth to this, while a purely medical approach to health has arguably created more problems than it has solved….the roots remain untapped and the cycles of symptoms and medication continue.

Take good care of yourselves, holistically 💫 ✨🙏 ⚖️

God bless and have a good week ahead xx

“If it is peace you want, seek to change yourself not other people. It is easier to protect your feet with slippers than to carpet the whole earth” Anthony De Mello. Cited in ‘The Little Book of Peace’ by Tiddy Rowan.


18 thoughts on “When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress

  1. debscarey

    Cheryl, this book’s been on my TBR list for a while now, so my thanks to you for the detailed review, as that’s just pushed it up the list. I’ve realised only recently that while I’ve suffered on and off with depression for most of my life, I also suffer with anxiety. I’ve lived with a high degree of stress – in some cases, I’ve considered a certain degree of stress is necessary for me to get stuff done (you know, like having a hard deadline). I suspect this book will help me with working on that particular belief.

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