Stress is either internally or externally driven. In disease, it is a double edged sword because one experiences both internal and external stressors. Learning how to manage stress effectively is critical to achieving and maintaining recovery from disease.
Where does stress come from? How does it affect our bodies, minds and spirits? Traditional medical thought has led us to believe that disease vicariously comes upon us, however research is now discovering that stress is actually a driver of illness and disease.
Because each person is created with such an individualized makeup, genetically, hormonally, cellularly-at the most basic of physiological levels-stress affects each one of us differently.
Our environments, the way we were raised, the way we think, and our personalities all play a part in the way we handle stress.
Stress can be described as a constraining force or influence upon the body. Stress is measured in pounds of pressure per square inch. Have you considered the fact that stress actually puts pressure on the cells and body systems?
Recall how you feel when you’re under stress: depending upon the amount of stress that you’re under, the pressure can be little or great, can’t it?
Were you aware that what you feel on the outside extends from the inside? Did you know that this stress also exerts a “pounds per square inch” pressure that bears down on your cells?
Picture one of your body’s cells in your head. Now picture it with your finger applying pressure to it. What do you think that cell is experiencing? Can it function properly? Does it bruise or break? Does it die?
What happens when all of your cells experience this pressure? Would you think that it would cause injury of inflammation? Most certainly it would! How would it affect the endocrine system, your hormones, your brain function?
There is positive and negative stress, as the definition implies: it is either a constraining or an influencing force-a negative or a positive force. Stress can either jail you or push you into a new and greater place in life. We have the power to choose what type of stress to place upon ourselves. Isn’t it interesting that stress and its influences are our choice?
Stress & Its Effects Upon The Body
Stress has long been known to affect personality and psyche, but there is a growing body of research that stress affects health in major ways. The CDC has recognized that at least 85% of all diseases appear to have an emotional element in their formation.
Did you know that stress was pinned as a result of stress as far back as 1908? Other major bodies of research have uncovered that your emotions can trigger your genes to express either health or disease.
This actually dismantles the traditional thought that diseases are primarily inherited in our genetics. Research seems to be pointing to the fact that, rather it seems that family genetics, passed down through the generations, are determined by stressors, eating habits, and positive or negative family environment and habits.
One of the more commonly known ways stress affects the body is cardiovascular disease, but the growing body of research shows it drastically affects us by changing the very DNA of our cells.
What does this mean for us? Our cells function either ineffectively, keeping us from being protected from infection, or, more seriously, causing cancer, disorders of immunity such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes, fibromyalgia, Crohn’s disease, thyroid problems, just to name a few.
Periods of short term stress trigger the immune system to prepare itself for an assault, such as infection, causing it to stand at attention for no defined reason. It also triggers our adrenal glands to secrete the “fight or flight” hormones, placing our body under a “state of emergency” alert.
Long term stress causes the deterioration of the immune system, opening the door to illness and disease. When you are already ill you are less capable of handling stressful situations. Chronic stressors defined as long term stressors in which there seem to be no light at the end of the tunnel wreak the most havoc upon the immune system.
Researchers also discovered the longer the duration of stress or perceived length of the stress, the less the body’s ability to adapt to the stressful situation.
It was determined this kind of stress could lead to serious negative health repercussions beginning with attacking the immune system at the cellular level then going after the overall broader functions of the immune system.
What You Can Do To Diminish Or Eliminate Stress
1.) Don’t Turn Disease Into A Personal Identity
It is difficult not to fall into the habit of identifying with disease. However, in order not to be enveloped by what is happening to you, and over-shadowing all that you do with the thoughts of disease, it is imperative that you not embrace what is happening to you.
Remember, this is an episode in your life that you can compartmentalize, only to be taken out and addressed when necessary. No, you are not shoving the situation under the rug: but you are refusing to allow it to rule your life.
Allow yourself compartments of focused time to think about what is happening, and deal with it constructively. Make yourself adhere to a segmented time limit for this. For example: “I will allow myself 15 minutes a day to analyze where I am and how I feel. I will write those feelings down and develop strategies for dealing with what happened today so that it doesn’t happen as often.” After those 15 minutes are up, shut the door, and move on.
2.) Develop Positive Thought Habits
Have you ever had any of these thoughts?
• I’m stuck in a bad situation.
• Someone else is controlling me.
• I feel powerless to change my circumstances.
• I feel like a victim.
• I feel that I will never succeed.
• I am in drastic lack.
• I have had mood difficulties for a long time but can’t seem to figure out why.
Bad circumstances and situations that make you feel trapped can be changed. If you have to, you should walk away until you land somewhere safer. If someone else is controlling your life, you need to reclaim it for yourself. If you feel like a failure or hopeless, you need to address issues of self-esteem.
If your moods turn negative for no reason you can find, a doctor’s care is indicated. The tendency with depression, because it makes you feel helpless and hopeless, is to cloud the truth, which is that a way out exists. Your thought life is either self-empowering or self-defeating. What you are both consciously and subconsciously thinking will affect whether or not you will continue to be.
Research shows that what you think drives what you do and how you feel, and also creates and maintains health at the cellular level. The function of your cells is actually affected by your thoughts and words. What you say and do will create an unseen inner world that is full of life or full of destruction.
Choose your thoughts and words very carefully, and don’t allow destruction and negativity to be spoken over you. This IS your life, and you are allowed to make it whatever you want it to be.
3.) Choose To Believe That You Are Getting Stronger Everyday
A wonderful way to build strength and courage inside of yourself is to speak the strength and health you want to see until you believe it. “Can words have that kind of impact on me,” you ask. Absolutely!
Think of times in your life where you have had to be courageous. What did you do to defeat the fear of that moment? What was your inner talk and your self-talk? Write those things down and re-use them! Write out a one-page, bullet pointed narrative of encouraging and healing words and speak them to yourself in the mirror every day.
Don’t stop-even if you feel better. Write new meditations from time to time that reflect what you desire to achieve at that point in your life. Create an atmosphere of encouragement and positivity around you that is impenetrable. Over time you will begin to see a noticeable change both inside
4.) Eliminate External Stress Drivers From Your Life
One of the most difficult things to do is demand change, both from yourself and from others. However, when you have had a life-threatening experience, life becomes more precious than it’s ever been. You begin to understand its value at a deeper level.
Many times the desire to simplify your life becomes a vital imperative. It is healthy to make an assessment of who should remain in your life, and who should go. Some relationships have simply outlived their usefulness.
While we don’t treat people as disposable commodities, we can shift the ways we relate to certain people and how much influence we allow them to have in
5.) Don’t Be Afraid To Change Anything That Stresses You Out
It is also healthy to make an assessment of our habits, and what we control. Reassessing habits and rituals is an important part of restructuring our inner and outer lives to reduce stress. What habit or ritual is controlling you?
Assessing what really matters will reduce stressors and cause us to appreciate what is important. Sometimes habits and rituals put a strain on relationships. Remember, change does not destroy: it adds flavor and new dimension to things that have become stale or lifeless.
6.) Open Yourself Again
When injury occurs, through illness, disease, trauma (both emotional and physical), we tend to guard ourselves as we go through the healing process. While it is prudent to do so for a short period of time, during the acute phase, we must also gradually strengthen ourselves in preparation to return to normality.
Some of us have been ill or under stress (or both) for so long we do not recognize what normal is. We have become so accustomed to feeling stressed that when normal happens we want to retreat to what’s familiar, even if it is negative and detrimental to us. We must re-train our brains to receive peace and stability. Re-aligning yourself to feel safe is important.
Taking inventory of what is important to you at this time in your life is important. This will enable you to separate what is real from what is fear, and show you where you are internally. This is necessary in order to open yourself to new things in life.
Healing also comes when we share with others. We are able to comfort people in similar circumstances through sharing our experiences. In turn, healing takes on a new dimension, and causes healing in ourselves. When we open ourselves up to sharing with others, and walking with them in their pain, the pendulum swings, the circle of life comes round, and we are made whole.
Lori Altman, CEO Integrated Health Partnerships