What is Suffering: Part 2

Louisa Mailis, Mindfulness & Meditation Instructor

Louisa Mailis, Mindfulness & Meditation Instructor

My last blog entry talked about how suffering is inevitable and even small grievances can give us a lot of unwanted anxiety. Let’s dig a little deeper into what is actually going on in the brain.

If you find yourself consistently sweating the small stuff, then you should consider the physiological effects stress has on you. I’m sure all of you are somewhat familiar with the sympathetic nervous system, also known as the fight or flight response.  I won’t bore you with too many scientific details, but, in a nutshell, stress activates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which then soaks our system with a cascade of stress hormones, including cortisol.  Stress hormones are important for us and can be beneficial in the short run, but chronic exposure to stress hormones is actually detrimental to our health. For example, too much cortisol, even by way of low-level stress responses, can shrink the hippocampus, the part of our brain that is responsible for thinking and remembering. 

When you’re under stress and your SNS is activated, your brain is focused on getting you out of the stressful situation and nothing else. We often times can't think straight when we're stressed out because our brains are much too busy avoiding danger to be stringing together a coherent sentence. That's why it is common to say or do dumb things in a moment of high stress. Hear that? There is actually a scientific reason why you sound like a bumbling idiot when you're arguing with your spouse!

The biological system of fight or flight has significant evolutionary advantages; it kept us alive by allowing us to either fight the sabre-toothed tiger or run for our lives. But ongoing, unmanageable stress is not something we are meant to experience on a consistent level, and suffering from stress has serious consequences. Here are some of the side effects stress can cause (do any sound familiar?).


  • Low energy
  • Headaches
  • Digestive problems
  • Muscle pain
  • Insomnia
  • Low immune system


  • Inability to regulate emotions
  • Irritability
  • Self-esteem issues
  • Lack of social skills
  • Constant worrying
  • Forgetfulness
  • Inability to focus
  • Poor judgement
  • Pessimism

It’s easy to see how low-level or high-level stress is in fact physical and emotional suffering when you read through this list. The good news is that there are ways to regulate it and to take back control. 

In the third part of this blog series, I will reveal tools and techniques that can help you conquer stress from the inside out! 


What is Suffering?

Louisa Mailis, Mindfulness & Meditation Instructor

Louisa Mailis, Mindfulness & Meditation Instructor

Suffering is inevitable. We are always going to encounter it. There is no way around it, no way to fight it, it will happen whether we like it or not. Suffering can be extreme and come in the form of a physical impairment like breaking a limb or an emotional pain like the loss of a loved one. But suffering can creep up on us in even more discrete and insidious ways. Suffering includes the minor but constant stressful moments in our lives. Yes, the dreaded “S” word- STRESS. We all experience stress, most of us every single day, but I bet you didn’t think it could actually be suffering, did you?

Stress IS suffering and we encounter it all the time. When you’re late for work and racing up the highway ramp to see a traffic jam with no end in sight and you want to scream at the top of your lungs, that is suffering. You reach in your pocket to pull out that 20 dollar bill only to discover a handful of lint and a mint from dinner the night before. You were sure it was in there and the thought of losing money drives you crazy, that’s suffering.  You wait patiently by your phone hoping desperately to hear it ring only to realize hours later that she’s never going to call and are alone again on a Saturday night, that’s suffering. It’s when you have a successful job interview only to be told that the position was given to someone with better qualifications or more work experience. It’s a broken nail, a stubbed toe, a glob of bird poop on your freshly washed car, overdue paperwork, missed deadlines, or a fight with your spouse. Suffering is everywhere, big and small. Some suffering causes us more pain but ultimately suffering is always the same. It is the way we relate to it, the way we perceive it, that changes. How we view suffering and how we manage it that makes all the difference.

A lot of you would probably consider these little examples of suffering to be minor annoyances, things that everyone experiences and there’s really no way around it. You’re right, there is no way around it, but have you ever wondered how these consistent, little inconveniences affect you? There are huge physical, emotional, cognitive, and behavioural ramifications of suffering and if you're not aware of it, it can cause more harm than you thought.

Stay tuned for my next blog entry where I will go deeper into the side effects of suffering and ways you can overcome it.

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