More and more, stress is found to be the root of most Western disease and illness.
I had a client a while ago who was having a hard time making choices and wanting to erase the results of the choices she did make, wishing she could go back and make a different choice after the fact. This was creating a great deal of anxiety and fatigue, which is why she decided to come for homeopathic treatment. Part of what she described in the sessions was that when something was hard to do, such as losing weight, she experienced a sense of failure. Her reaction to this was to over think things as a way to be sure her decision would be the correct one.
“I prefer having feedback and reinforcement to know I have made the right decision and thus succeeded.” She experienced this at home with her partner and children, with her parents and family, and when she was at work. When I asked her when she did not experience this difficulty with decision making in her life she said that on a recent canoe trip she had felt really good. “On the water you are following the currents and you have to adjust, a decision is not permanent, there is instead a responding in the moment rather than a definitive choice.” In the outdoors, she realized that her physical actions were not encumbered by complex decision making and that she knew what to do and so felt confident. She could move forward and not drag in this uncomfortable state of unsuccessful decision making.
What this client was describing relates to the basic stress response, although it has the flavour of her own individual experience.
How does the stress response happen?
I was pointed to the work of Hans Selye and his stress model the “General Adaptation Syndrome” by a recent interview with Tom Myers I listened to this week. Selye defined the stress response and how aging and disease are linked to chronic exposure to stress. It is important to note that stress is not all bad for us. Selye noticed that the body adapts to stressors with a predictable biological pattern so that the internal balance, or homeostasis, can be restored and maintained.
How does this work?
In an attempt to retain homeostasis, (the tendency of the body-mind to maintain a stable internal environment despite changes in external conditions to reduce disturbance to its normal condition or function), the body uses the hormonal system which is connected with the fight or flight response. With this response, the body tries to resolve the disturbance quickly and efficiently and does so by releasing hormones that enable the body to combat stress as immediately as possible. Selye discovered that although the body-mind wants to control or reduce the stress, there are limits. The finite supply of the body’s current energy to adapt to the stressful environment is limited and is even more compromised when the body-mind is exposed to the stressor continuously.
Selye broke this process down to three stages.
- Alarm Stage: The body-mind labels a stressor as a threat or danger and in order to retain a balance it immediately activates its fight or flight response system and releases hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. This allows for the body to perform in a way it usually can’t. Think of being able to climb up a 80 foot tree in order to avoid a hungry bear or lift a car off the body of a child.
- Resistance Stage: After the body has responded to the stressor, success means that the stress level has disappeared or greatly reduced. The next part of the response leads to much weaker bodily defences as it allocates energy to the repair of any damaged tissues and the production of the stress hormones lowers.If the body-mind remains on-guard however, whether the stressors still exist or not, the body is required to stay in the fight or flight response continuously. It may not be as strong a response as it was during the initial response but still requires a extreme performance and production of stress hormones.
- Exhaustion Stage: This only occurs if the stress has been persistent for a long period of time. The body will start to lose its ability to combat the stressors and reduce their harmful impact because the adaptive energy is becoming drained. This is what leads to burnout, overwhelm or stress overload, which can lead to health problems if not resolved. Now we have a body-mind that is susceptible to disease states, in particular autoimmune type diseases.
How is our stress addressed in the homeopathic case taking?
In medicine distress is described as an aversion and arises when a person is unable to adapt completely to the stressors and the resulting stress. A person can then develop maladaptive behaviours such as aggression, passivity or withdrawal. In psychology, stress is the feeling of strain and pressure. Positive stress helps improve performance and plays a factor in motivation, adaptation, and reaction to the environment. This is know as eustress and is the good part of being stressed. Health exists only in reaction to the stresses we experience that develop our growth, feeling of fulfillment, satisfaction and well being. Even our ability to respond is tied to having an original stressor that we have to react to. Researcher found that babies who lacked stimulation and touch were stunted and underdeveloped. Even so called negative stimulation was more beneficial to their growth than the lack of it!
Eustress is never defined by what the stressor is, but by how each individual perceives that stressor. Some people may be more curious than afraid of a bear but they run up the tree anyways. Others may be terrified and convinced the world is ending as they miraculously scramble their way up the branches. Stress can be external and coming from the environment, the bear chasing you up a tree, but it may also be created by internal perceptions that cause an individual to experience anxiety or other negative emotions surrounding a situation. Go back to my client who could not make simple decisions because her perception of making a wrong choice seemed much more threatening and dangerous in her mind than it was in reality. We can experience stress, or perceive things as threatening, when we do not believe that our current resources for coping with the stressor are enough for what the circumstances will demand.
In other words, when we think the demands being placed on us exceed our ability to cope, we can then perceive stress.
This is why we can’t look at stress alone as the problem but we have to get to the roots of the person’s inner experience of it. This is impossible to do with a blood test or an MRI, but is possible when explored in sessions with a homeopath trained in this method.
Saying it all over again in Myer’s words
- Distress is the opposite of eustress, a positive stress that motivates people.
- Emotions are always the body and mind trying to get in synch with one another.
- Resolved emotions build mental and physical health. Unresolved emotions break it down (meaning they lead to disease states).
To maintain the homeostatic balance either the sympathetic nervous system is dominant while we feel under threat and we express it by the fight, flight or fright responses, or we return to the parasympathetic in order to repair, repose, rest and restore. All of the fight, flight or fright responses are highly muscular actions. This extreme action dissipates the chemicals that arise during the sympathetic state helping us to go back to the parasympathetic state. But if you keep stimulating the sympathetic response, it never goes back to the opposite side again. Stimulated again and again, we get stuck, unbalanced, and this leads to exhaustion and fatigue.
This client originally came into the office complaining of anxiety and fatigue. It was only through our exploration that the root of her stress was found to be decision making and the related misperceptions. After taking a homeopathic remedy she immediately felt less anxious and had more energy again. This allowed for a greater exploration in later sessions of how her stress response got stuck in the sympathetic response. She was able to greater understand the triggers she has to perceived stressors and to find out more about who she is, while the remedy helped her body regain homeostasis.
Matching our inner picture of the world with what is actually happening
Myers feels that getting ‘stuck’ happens when people don’t make themselves felt in the world by having the sense that they can change the world around them. When no matter what a person does, react, lash out, get angry, suppress, and it has no effect they will experience the opposite of eustress, distress. Then they are constantly stimulated and yet can do nothing to release themselves from the stressor. Most of us have at least one thing in life that seems to be constantly wearing us down or that we are avoiding unsuccessfully. Modern urban life is a stressful experience with a large number of stressors and a high degree of stimulation.
According to Myers, if we experience eustress we feel that our reactions are reliable. However when the inside and outside world do not match up, the perception of the world that you experience in the body-mind versus the data you are getting from the outside world, this difference creates stress. It is basically a lack of matching the inner picture of the world with what is actually happening.
This does not have to be good or bad, but is simply the body-mind saying there is a difference between what I thought would happen and what is happening. The body-mind mobilizes to change it in two ways, either to change the self, or to change the external information to match the picture of the world that you have. An example Myers gives is when you get a parking ticket, either you pay it to restore the agreement between the inner or outer, or you refuse to pay and change the world by saying it is not fair and you will fight the ticket in court. If you successfully do either, the stress will resolve and you will not have distress but instead experience eustress, your reaction was reliable and successful. If you can’t make a choice and do nothing but put the ticket in the glove box yet continue to think about how to bridge the incongruity between the internal and external world, that will lead to chronic distress and then exhaustion and later issues like autoimmune diseases.
He is basically saying that people cannot make the gap between how they are supposed to be in the world and how they are in the world. This perception is key to understanding the basis for the stress people are experiencing and this is explored during a homeopathic session. Other approaches to stress reduction include meditation, high-intensity exercise and moving to a secluded cave in the Swiss Alps.
How does holistic treatment support healthy living? Why try homeopathy? Having a life long study in the principles of nature and healthy living, Lauren Trimble is happy to share her knowledge and experience. The art of retuning the body’s natural healing capacity & developing consciousness in a compassionate and gentle way is the gift that homeopathy brings to her current holistic practice. If you enjoyed this article find out more at Birdsong.