Mind-Body Health

The stress-illness connection

The stress-illness connection is what that most people think about when you mention mind-body health.

On the surface, this term refers to the correlation between your thoughts and the impact that they have on your physical health.  So, if you are constantly worried, anxious, and fearful about life, then this will trigger the fight or flight response in your body. This in turn creates a cascade of physical changes. These include changes to your hormone levels, decreased immune, cognitive, and digestive function, alterations to your breathing and cardiovascular system, and increased muscular tension - to name just a few.

In our modern world, many people are constantly activating this stress response. This is often as a direct, and often habitual, result of their mental and emotional responses to life.  But the stress response is meant to be a short-term solution to a direct threat.  It should switch off again soon after the event, and the body returns to normal functioning.  When this does not happen, chronic ailments, fatigue, or illness, can eventually occur.

The mind-body connection also impacts health the opposite way round - from your body to your mind and emotions. So if you are experiencing physical illness, you will usually experience an increase your levels of emotional stress too.  This can happen for multiple reasons.  Perhaps as a direct result of physical symptoms like pain or inflammation.  Or because of the psychological impact of having a chronic health condition.  Or as a result of the impact on your life, finances, and relationships.

It's a vicious cycle... First, your thoughts and emotions make you ill, then your physical health disturbs your mental and emotional wellbeing. And so on....

Outlining the problem

So, how do you know that you are suffering from stress, and what can you do about it? This may sound like a straightforward question, but it's surprising how many people are struggling with stress-related illness, and yet still feel that it is outside of their control. Or, even worse, they simply don't recognise it at all.

Many people are inadvertently caught up in the cycle of continuous stress. Perhaps reacting in habitual ways to the outside world, and feeling that they do not feel they have any choice in how to react to it. Or, perhaps more commonly, not even recognising that there is a problem in the first place...

Unfortunately, stress has become so normalised in our society that it is often invisible to us. There is even a perception that being able to juggle multiple roles, withstand a high pressure job, or to deal with constantly high levels of stress, can be viewed as an achievement. Is it really surprising that the mental and emotional health of so many people is getting worse?

Here are a few things which might indicate that you are experiencing stress-related health issues:

  • Feeling under-the-weather, exhausted, tired all the time, or not being able to do as much as you used to...
  • Changes to your mood - feeling tearful, anxious, worried, or depressed
  • Or not having any real emotional experience at all - just feeling flat, and emotionally empty
  • Experiencing impaired sleep, digestive, neurological, or cognitive functioning
  • Disturbed immune function - prone to minor infections,  autoimmunity, or inflammatory conditions
  • Experiencing chronic pain, fibromyalgia, or muscular tension
  • Avoiding dealing with difficult situations in your life, or withdrawing from other people
  • Or having an increased need to control situations, or engage in compulsive/addictive behaviours

If any of these things sound familiar, then you may want to explore how you can begin to take more control over your mind and emotions, so that you can reduce stress, and improve your long-term health.

Overcoming stress and illness

Here's how you might know when you have mastered the stress-illness connection:

  • You can deal with any situation, no matter how difficult, with ease and confidence
  • You can easily restore peace and calm to your mind and emotions, whenever you choose 
  • You make your own health and self-care a priority, and enjoy life to the full
  • You can let go of the expectations and demands made on you from other people
  • You can easily navigate challenging relationships and situations in your life

Believe it or not, once you gain a certain level of control over your mind, thoughts, and habits, then whether you experience emotional stress, or not, can become a choice for you.  After all, your thoughts and emotions arise within you - they are not imposed on you from outside yourself.

We all learn how to deal with difficult situations in life. Or even just how to be in general. Some people have great role models for their health and emotions. Other people might inadvertently learn habits which don't serve them quite so well. But this doesn't mean you can't change your relationship with stress, if you really want to.

To get to this stage of mastery, you first have to possess a certain level of self-awareness, together with a desire to prioritise your health over other things in your life. 

This sounds simple, but it can be challenging.  In fact, many people prefer to stay as they are, even if it is uncomfortable, than to go through the process of deep transformation. You can see this at work in the gap between having lots of knowledge about healthy living, yet an inability to put tis knowledge into practice.

This is where an experienced coach can help. They can help you to recognise the areas where you are inadvertently stuck in a habit which isn't helping you. It can be difficult to see this yourself, so having an external, non-judgemental person to help can be invaluable. After all, insight is an essential first step to change.

Plus, a coach can help you with making practical changes in your life, and give you the support and accountability that you require. The focus here is to improve your life and health, not just to add more information into your mind, and create even more stress.

Coaching can also be beneficial because you will get individual guidance on how to reduce your symptoms, deal with difficult emotions, and begin to make real progress. 

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