I talk to clients about their symptoms and pain levels, there is ALWAYS a correlation between those and their stress levels. Sometimes there’s a delay between the onset of stress and the onset of symptoms, but it’s always there. The stress could be physical (and yes, an accident counts as mechanical stress on the body) or emotional, and the source could be just about anything.
People will talk about grief, anger, finances, work overload, feeling unloved, abuse, and many other distressing or traumatic experiences that they don’t have the resources to deal with in a way that allows them to move on and return to a calm state afterwards. In most cases, multiple sources of stress seem to be harder to deal with than just one, even if that one is quite intense.
It used to surprise me how people don’t always recognise the link between that source of stress and their physical, or even their emotional, condition until you point it out. Of course, most people are, quite understandably, too busy living the experience to get a useful perspective on it. That, after all, is one of the reasons therapists, counsellors and coaches etc, are of such value. It’s not always a straight line process of course. Stress levels can go up in a steady upswell, or feel like a roller-coaster ride, with cortisol, adrenaline and other stress-related hormones contributing to the body’s inflammatory response, immune system overload, and exhaustion along the way, occasional respites, then away the cycle goes again. You might think of it as a spiral instead, where each time you come round the same issue triggers a more intense response. The problem is, once the levels go up, relaxing a bit doesn’t bring the levels all the way back to calm. The baseline of stress increases, until that’s the new normal. Once the stress is integrated into the person’s mind and body, it usually takes very little to trip the system into exhibiting symptoms which are an urgent demand for change!
In addition to the mental and emotional elements, have you considered the ongoing PHYSICAL habits we develop while experiencing long term, or intense, stress, pain, anxiety and so on? There are a couple of key issues I’ve found again and again – overbreathing (too much, too fast, too shallow) and excessive muscle tension. When they go together, they often lead to problems that can be VERY hard to shift, long after someone has come to terms with the original source of stress. So let’s look at the mechanical issues involved.
Ongoing muscle tension shortens muscles, increases inflammation in joints, reduces full movement, and at extremes can bring on an assortment of muscle spasms. Depending on where the spasms occur, it can induce a range of painful conditions such as headaches, and often makes breathing more difficult. Add that to habitual over-breathing which brings with it increased adrenaline levels (contributing to anxiety and irritability) reduced oxygen with less energy, and lower C02 levels, which in many people can cause spasm in the smooth muscle tissue lining the airways (may induce asthma), gut (potentially triggering IBS and other digestive problems) or arteries (increasing blood pressure). Yes, it’s all clinically proven and recognised. Over time, immune systems may be compromised, and serious ill health can result. And of course, if illness develops, there’s another source of stress, and up the levels go.
For maximum healing to be achieved, those things need to be addressed! There’s clearly a powerful link between stress and illness, stress and pain. Logically therefore, there’s a direct link between relaxation and health, relaxation and comfort. But how? Breathing and muscle use are normally under the control purely of the unconscious mind. Sensible, really, as you don’t want to have to stay awake to remember to breathe, or consciously have to think ‘pick up left foot, move forward, do same for right, repeat’ in order to be able to walk! However, that means you really have to shift your attention for a short while to make changes in built-in habits.
In my own work, I use a range of techniques, such as NLP, hypnosis, Reiki, or EFT (tapping) to help resolve and heal the underlying issues, helping people change the ‘trigger – response’ process from pain, anxiety, anger or something equally undesirable, to calm, understanding, and the resources to have a choice in how they move forwards. But even with the unwanted mental and emotional responses genuinely left behind, there can be another issue that causes ongoing problems and symptoms. It can be very frustrating when you think you’ve ‘done the work’!
In addition to the techniques I mentioned earlier, the Buteyko breathing method is key to dealing with hyperventilation and many of the related physical ‘left-overs’. It was created over 50 years ago to reverse the habit of over-breathing, and steadily return the body to optimal breathing, which is relaxing and restorative. I used it myself to overcome decades of life-limiting and sometimes life-threatening asthma, after….. well, that’s another story.
With a tailored programme of exercises to get the body to use the correct muscles, slow the breath cycle down, and engage healthy breathing rhythms for activity and speech, your body CAN be retrained to have a healthy breathing process whatever you’re doing. It becomes integrated, and after a while, the exercises become automatic, and your body just gets on with breathing well. This reduces stress levels, improves energy levels, lowers mechanical tension and inflammation as well as reducing other immune system responses and has LOTS of other benefits. Even athletes who are happy and healthy at the beginning of the programme get increased stamina, faster recovery rates, more oxygenation and, interestingly, more focus and inner calm. There’s no down-side to really good breathing!
If you’d like to get more information on reversing the stress-pain cycle, please get in touch. If you’d like to arrange a free assessment session, or you’re a therapist who would like to learn to help their clients with this issue, I’d love to hear from you.
Wishing you well,
Founder of Healerzone.
01462 624 160