‘Stress’ is an essay by the late Dr John Ellard reproduced from the book The Anatomy of Mirages: a Psychiatrist Reflects on Life and the Mind.*
Dr Ellard, revered former Editor of Modern Medicine of Australia and Medicine Today and a distinguished psychiatrist, wrote many essays in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s on society’s most controversial and vexing issues. These were published in various journals including Modern Medicine of Australia, and also collected together and published as books. The essay ‘Stress’ originally appeared in the August 1987 issue of Modern Medicine of Australia.
There being no doubt that ordinary events can have an immediate adverse effect upon one’s mind, it becomes necessary to enquire whether or not those consequences can persist and worsen, and whether or not they may involve the body as well as the mind itself. To put the question this way is to stride forth upon a quicksand, for I do not believe that a proper distinction can be made between psyche and soma. Unfortunately there is no easier way to go.
The immediate effects of stress upon the whole person have been recognised for a long time. Walter Alvarez quotes Sennacherib, from almost three thousand years ago: ‘The vehemence of my battle line like a bull overwhelmed them ... To save their lives they trampled over the bodies of their soldiers ... with their urine they defiled their chariots and lost their excrements.’1 The advent of endoscopes of increasing sophistication has permitted the making of more orderly and dignified observations and nowadays every student of physiology knows that the motility, vascularity and secretions of the gut are affected by the emotional state of the person in whom the gut is located. So it is mutatis mutandis, with the other organs of the body.