By Jacqueline Sidman, PhD
Everyone knows what stress feels like. Things seem out of control, your reactions don’t fit your situation, your expectations are unmet, you experience painful losses, you believe untruths about yourself, and your emotions are toxic. But for some people, stress is a normal way of life.
Many people spend their entire lives struggling with their own self-imposed limitations, being frustrated and bound by them. While they have dreams, they don’t always achieve them. Everything feels frustrating and challenging, and nothing is ever good enough. When people don’t achieve a solution to these inner struggles, internal conflicts create stress, which can wear a person down to the point of physical and emotional exhaustion.
Can stress actually make a person physically sick? Statistics reveal that stress actually causes eighty to ninety percent of illnesses. Stress-related illnesses can be anything that makes you miss a day of work, from a common cold to a migraine headache. They may also be chronic and degenerative. If you suspect stress has affected your health, or affected the way you work, consider the following information.
How Does Stress Make You Sick?
Two forms of stress exist. The first is known as situational stress and may be caused by the weather, traffic, another person’s behavior, or some other external factor. External stress cannot be controlled and doesn’t lead to illness.
However, the second form of stress can cause illness. This type is known as internal stress, and is caused by reactions to external influences. For example, if a colleague at work challenges or confronts you, you may feel tense, irritable, or angry. These negative reactions to the same triggers over and over again, are really over-reactions that increase over time and foster internal stress.
Internal stress originates from the conflict between your conscious and subconscious mind. So while you may blame an external source for your frustrations, your own interpretations are the underlying cause. While no one ever chooses to be sick, the conflict between the conscious and subconscious mind creates inner conflict, or stress, that may cause the immune system to break down. This build up of tension also imposes extreme stress on the internal organs, which can be converted to physical or emotional illness.
Some of the ailments that have been linked to stress include A.D.D. and A.D.H.D., arthritis, allergies, asthma, cancer, chronic back problems, chronic fatigue syndrome, colitis, cystic fibrosis, heart disease, hypertension, migraine headaches, premenstrual syndrome, psoriasis, strokes, and ulcers. Not every illness is caused solely by stress, but an emotional component is often part of the problem.
Is Your Ailment Stress-Related?
Some symptoms of stress may be that you’re tired all the time, you’re unable to sleep, you experience chronic back pain, and you don’t feel like leaving the house or doing the things you used to enjoy. You should be aware of your lifestyle, how your body feels, and what’s not working for you.
If you’re diagnosed with a stress-related illness and prescribed traditional medication, you should integrate some stress management as part of your treatment. A physician will always tell you to improve your lifestyle, get enough sleep, and eat healthier. If they know you work in a high-stress profession, they’ll tell you to pace yourself. Medical professionals understand that external pressure causes internal organs to tighten up, and when this happens the body doesn’t function properly. While traditional medicine can effectively alleviate the symptoms of many illnesses, you must also address the stress component.
What Can You Do To Relieve Stress-Related Illness?
If you can free yourself of this internal tension, your body will return to its natural healthy state. You have the ability to be at peace. To achieve inner peace, addressing and relieving the tension will bring your body and mind into harmony. When your subconscious and conscious are in conflict, that’s when the stress-related ailments develop. When you are overwhelmed by failing to control uncontrollable outside influences, lack of hope surrenders to defeat, and the body permits illness to enter. To free yourself from stress, follow these guidelines:
- If you suffer from stress-related illnesses, look at the way you’re treating your body. Are you eating wholesome, nutritious foods? Do you need to drink several cups of coffee or soda to stay awake at work? How much alcohol are you using? Look at the substances you’re putting in your body and how you’re moderating them.
- Next look at how you’re balancing your time. Are you balancing your time at work with time doing things you enjoy? Are you allowing yourself time to rest, meditate, and enjoy your life? Do something that pleases you to counterbalance some of the stress in your life.
- Another way to relieve stress is to look at your general development. Do you tend to go along with the crowd when it doesn’t please you, such as going to a rock concert when you really prefer jazz? If so, then why do you go at all? Go where you like to be.
- Develop your creative side. Take up an activity that allows you to express your innermost feelings, such as writing, painting, taking a crafting class, or playing a musical instrument. Believe it or not, people who do manual labor for a living often experience less stress because they are constantly active and relieving their tension. So find something to do with yourself that makes you less uptight.
Stress Relief in the Future
While stress is part of life, excessive stress can have detrimental effects on your health. When you let tension build up in your body, your internal organs can tighten up and actually stop functioning properly. Stress can also weaken the immune system and allow illness to take over the body. Many common ailments have been linked to stress, and for optimal health, stress relief should supplement traditional forms of medicine.
Participating in activities, even simple things, that you enjoy can relieve tension and help your body return to a healthy state. By reducing the amount of stress you experience, the quality of your life improves, and you gain a wonderful attitude. When you have a wonderful attitude, your life becomes enjoyable.
Jacqueline Sidman, PhD., is an author, speaker and life coach. She is author of Instant Inner Peace and is an expert on eliminating phobias, addictions, relationship problems, career struggles, and health issues. For more information on her book, speaking, or consulting work, call 949-251-9550.
[From the August/September 2005 issue of AnswerStat magazine]