by Dr. Bill Rawls
Last Updated 10/31/16
Daily life causes a certain amount of emotional stress that is not detrimental from a health point of view. Stress can be a motivational factor that gets us going on to the next thing in life. Emotional stress only becomes a problem when it begins to rob the healing potential of the body.
For many individuals this is an everyday reality. Well recognized as the root of anxiety and depression, emotional stress can aggravate virtually all disease processes. When patients ask if emotional stress could be playing a role in their particular condition, my answer is always a definitive “yes.” Understanding and managing stress is an important adjunct in the treatment of all diseases.
One such patient, Mary, returned to my office on the first day of summer with a chronic cough. She had been battling respiratory infections through the winter and spring, receiving numerous courses of antibiotics. With each course of antibiotics she would come down with a vaginal yeast infection and come to see me.
“Why do I keep getting this stuff?” she complained. Her evaluation had so far had included a normal chest X-ray and a negative tuberculosis test. Allergies did not seem to be a factor and I could not ascertain that she had been exposed an unusual burden of toxins. Something was, however, having an adverse effect on her immune system.
When asked how much she was sleeping, she answered, “About five hours on a good night.” Emotionally it had been a terrible year for her and she was dealing with excessive stress. Her suppressed immune function, poor sleep, and resulting infections turned out to be stress-related conditions. When we addressed emotional stress as the root cause, we worked together on daily stress management and her conditions gradually began to improve.
Alert Mode vs. Healing Mode
For simplification, we can think of the body as having an “alert mode” and a “healing mode.” Classically, the “alert mode” would be induced by a confrontation or threat such as having a dog run out in front of your car. With a surge of adrenaline, pulse quickens, eyes become wide, breathing rate increases, and muscles tense. All resources of the body are directed toward dealing with that threat.
Other general maintenance functions, such as digesting food, normal immune function, and daily maintenance and repair are placed on hold. Assuming the brakes work and the dog is fast, the threat passes, the mind relaxes, and the body goes back to its normal functions.
The average American, however, leads a very stressful life and confrontations of some sort are seemingly a minute-by-minute affair. We never get a break. Excessive stress constantly places us in alert mode and prevents day-to-day repair and maintenance from occurring.
The link between stress and diseases such as hypertension, autoimmune diseases, atherosclerosis and even cancer should be obvious. When dealing with a stressful life, we unknowingly place normal gastrointestinal function as low priority while at the same time bolting down processed foods on the run. Is it any wonder that drugs for gastrointestinal problems are some of the best-sellers on pharmacy shelves?
Tips to Better Manage Stress
1. Embrace “healing mode” with meditation
The body is continually in the process of damage control and general maintenance, but it needs resources to do so. The energy and resources of the body are most devoted toward healing when they are not taxed in other ways.
This “healing mode,” as I like to refer to it, occurs when the body and mind are completely relaxed. If you find yourself feeling stressed, make a point to practice some form of meditation. Yoga, breathing exercises, or even reading or prayer can serve as effective adjuncts for helping to immediately feel less stressed.
2. Get a good night’s sleep
Healing occurs most intensely during deeper stages of sleep. Ironically, at a time in life when we would seem to need sleep the most, restful sleep is hard to gain. Daily stress management is a necessary foundation to prevent insomnia and other physical symptoms of stress, as well as to maintain immune function and prevent disease. See the Insomnia Protocol for tips on getting a good night’s sleep.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
So often we bring unnecessary stress upon ourselves simply because we are too proud or too afraid to ask for help. When life gets out-of-control busy, don’t be afraid to reach out to a loved one for assistance.
4. Detox from processed foods and toxins
A diet high in processed foods, wheat, sugar, and dairy puts a strain on your digestive system and your immune system. Cut harmful foods out of your life to give your body a chance to get back on track.