It's Okay - My Doctor Says It's Just Stress
The Stigma of Stress
In my therapy practice, I've seen it countless times—a client's blatant denial that he or she is under a large amount of stress and that it's having serious health ramifications. The general feeling is that if we are stressed, we have failed. Failed at being perfect, strong, capable human beings. Only losers get stressed, and only complete losers suffer from depression, which is really just amplified stress.
Up until not so long ago, people with mental health issues like depression and schizophrenia were ostracized from society and hidden away in institutions where they were often subjected to several forms of abuse and bias. Families would deny their loved ones were in such "a place," whose broad spectrum of ills hid even such awful crimes as being unmarried and pregnant.
No wonder we have a mental block against being diagnosed as stressed. We all desperately want to be "normal," or better yet, winners.
A truly helpful book explaining how the body holds onto trauma, affecting your physiology
The most common root of the problem I find as a therapist, is that people don't really understand what stress is, or where it comes from.
Anything that affects your body's ability to maintain balance and homeostasis physiologically, is stress.
That anything can be thirst, hunger, grief, shock, too little sleep, toxins from pollution, emotional distress like fear or trauma, moving home, giving birth...the list is countless. The added element here, is that stress is unique to each person (some people fly through moving home whilst others want to jump off a bridge for example) and it's cumulative, each stress's impact on your system, combining with the last, unless you clear it out and press the "reset" button.
How the Brain Grows and Changes in Response to Stimulus - Neuroplasticity
What Your Doctor Probably Hasn't Told You
So what does a diagnosis of stress really mean? Physiologically, your body responds to stress in significant ways.
Your pituitary gland, hippocampus of the brain and adrenals respond by moving blood flow away from "non-essential" systems that would hamper your ability to flee, like digestion and move blood to your limbs and lungs, as well as activating the production of adrenaline.
Since we are in an age where we aren't able to run from our stressors, our adrenals don't know to switch off unless we consciously slow down and send signals to our brain that we are safe, which is why meditation is so important, even if its just a few minutes a day.
Persistent stress leads to a change in the physiology of the brain which causes the amygdala to shrink, this in turn affects your ability to feel emotions, empathize with others and make decisions from a place of rational safety.
Add to that increased blood pressure, constricted veins and arteries which harden and lose elasticity from being overworked, ailments in the digestive tract because food literally cannot be digested properly and you have a pretty hot mess really.
So when you are diagnosed with stress, what your doctor is really saying is that your body is in a heightened panic state and ALL of your systems are affected, you need multifaceted treatment.
The NeuroScience around Combatting Stress with Joy
Getting the Best of Stress
Most GPs are not equipped to help you through stress because they simply don't have the time to sit with you and figure out what your stressors are. What they will tell you is to eat better and do more exercise and hope that you will, or they'll refer you to a psychologist.
The best way to beat stress at home and get your system back under control is to take the following steps:
- Sit down and take a few slow, deep breaths. Scientific studies have shown 7 to 8 slow deep breaths taken over 3 - 4 minutes will send a signal to your brain that you are in a safe space and will help switch off your adrenal reflex arc.
- Make an effort to fill your system with positive emotions like gratitude - I cant say this enough. All the scientific studies show that the quickest shift within your physiology happens when you are genuinely grateful for what you have
- Make an effort to help others. This action lights up your brain and dopamine centers like a Christmas tree
- Exercise - whether its walking, yoga, swimming, dancing, horse riding - whatever gets you moving and makes you feel happy
- Eat better. You don't need to become a vegetarian or adhere to some crazy diet. Just cut out packaged foods, The closer to nature the better. If it has bubbles in it like soda, skip it! Add a salad or soup to lunch and dinner and you'll be amazed at how much more vital you feel after meals.
- Take some time to figure out what your stressors are and address them. there are hundreds of ways to do this now. BodyTalk is always my favourite because as a practitioner I know how effective it is, however you may find that traditional psychotherapy, art therapy, kinesiology, acupuncture or hypnotherapy work best for you. Even just reading a self help book or watching a movie like "Happy" may give you what you need to reflect inwards and find the root of your distress.
Dump the beliefs that no longer serve you. You are no longer that fearful 2-year-old, abused 8-year-old, or traumatised teen. You have made it; you are strong, beautiful, and vibrant; and you deserve to live a life that reflects it! Find a way to strip those belief systems out and reprogramme your mind to live the life you deserve. Again, you have BodyTalk, NLP, EFT, and a host of other modalities to help you get there. You've got this!