How can stress turn into illness?(I)
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As both an aromatherapist and psychology/neuroscience enthusiast I am always in search of new research or avenues for well-being that I could bring forward to you in a simplified form.
This post is largely inspired by the book " When the body says no: the cost of hidden stress" by Gabor Mate, a Hungarian-Canadian physician, Holocaust survivor, and world-renowned expert on addiction, child development, and generational trauma.
Debunking the myth of stress
I am sure you are fed up with how many times you have heard about the connection between stress and illness. However, the explanations are very vague and most often not practical. Let's see what stress is and isn't.
Stress is any internal change (visible or not) that occurs when a threat is perceived to a person's well-being. When you go to the doctor and you are asked:" Are you stressed?" I am sure most often you think of the fight you had 2 days back with your spouse or the troubles at work. Let me tell you that this so-called "stress" is actually a nervous tension that can be a component of stress but most often it's not. The nature of stress is not external and definitely not universal but internal- it comes down to our personal perception of a threat.
It is possible to feel tension and agitation without triggering the stress response.
On the other hand, it is also possible for some people to be stressed without feeling any obvious tension. Stress can very often be silent but will manifest somatically through body symptoms (chronic illness, low energy) or through compulsive behaviors like binge drinking, overeating, and other dependencies.
The 3 stress components
Stressor -> Processing system-> Stress Response
The stressor is the threatening event. This can be the same for many people (losing a job, a beloved person, etc) however the processing systems (aka our personal filters) are very different and unique.
For example, the loss of employment can be perceived as a major threat for the sole breadwinner of a household and more like an opportunity for someone whose spouse has a stable job, especially if they themselves wanted to change their carrier. Also, any loss can be perceived as a major stressful event for someone who lost their parents as a kid as opposed to someone who lived in a happy family and felt a lot of abundances. As a result, the stress response may be triggered violently in the first case and not at all in the second case.
Acute vs chronic stress
Acute stress is the immediate, short time response to a threat. This is a helpful mechanism that has helped us over the centuries to evade predators. It's the same response that prompts a deer to run for its life when meeting a tiger. However, once the threat has passed the system gets back to normal and the extra adrenaline and cortisol are flushed out.
Chronic stress happens when we are exposed to stressors over a long period of time and either we cannot escape, or control or we aren't even aware of them. This kind of stress suppresses our nervous and immune systems and can produce serious or even permanent damage.
According to studies, the natural killer cells that should eliminate cancerous cells are suppressed under chronic stress.
Why are we not paying attention to signals anymore?
Before stress manifests in the form of severe symptoms/illness the body surely would have given enough signals but you didn't pay attention. Perhaps in the form or pain, panic attacks and whatnot but popping a pill and numbing the pain seems the norm.
People are going to doctors to suppress their symptoms rather than get curious about their emotions and body signals.
We have lost emotional competence and the absence of emotion is the prevailing ethic. Our generation has been raised on mantras like " Don't be so emotional!", "Why are you so sensitive?" "Don't cry like a baby!". Being "cool" and rational is preferred to displaying any emotion and being emotional is translated as being weak.
What if I told you that NOT being in contact with your emotions is how stress turns into disease?
You don't need to believe me, there are studies proving it. Check the continuation to find out how you can develop emotional competence.
Dare to be emotional,