This is a comprehensive guide to Stress Illness. It will talk about stress-related illnesses, illnesses caused by stress and anxiety, but its primary purpose is to inform the reader about Stress Illness (SI), which is also known as Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS) or Psychophysiological Disorder (PPD).
In this series of articles, you’ll learn everything you need to know about Stress Illness. Each article will address a different aspect and build to create a useful reference for those wishing to understand more about the complexities of Stress Illnesses.
This will be created over several weeks through a series of articles. It will use information from my personal and many years of clinical experience, plus the current research on Stress Illness and Chronic Pain, from Neuropsychology, Pain Psychology, Neurobiology, Cognitive and Behavioural Psychology, and many more.
I am an Accredited Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist, Mindfulness Teacher, and Stress Illness Recovery Expert. I believe that there is ‘no pain without the brain’ and help business owners to reprogram their minds to overcome their physical symptoms, so they can build the business of their dreams and a future of emotional, physical, and financial freedom because until I did it, I never thought it was possible either!
This article will address the 5 Principles of Stress Illness Recovery. Each of the 5 Principles map onto the recovery journey that clients take when overcoming Stress Illness. Starting with what they initially believe. Recognising the personal strengths required to relieve the physical and emotional symptoms. And culminating in the qualities they finally achieve.
1. THERE IS NO PAIN WITHOUT THE BRAIN.
This does not mean that symptoms are ‘all in the head’, but that no symptom recovery can occur without involving the mind. All symptoms are identified and processed in the brain. The symptoms and sensations are very real. They still cause physical pain. The physical sensation is registered, named, and remembered alongside the emotional response, in the brain. Meaning it can be recalled as a package time and time again. To create the symptoms over and over.
Understanding and accepting this process is the first step to freedom from the symptoms of stress illnesses. It allows you to move from confusion to curiosity to clarity.
A. Confusion – Stress Illness causes so much confusion. Confusion for the individual. For medical science. For their family. And in the wider community.
There is controversy over what to call it. How to treat it. How to define it.
Stress illness is such a fluctuating disorder. The symptoms are different for everyone. They can be different from moment to moment. The intensity changes. The position in the body can change. The type of symptom and sensation can change, between and within individuals.
As we have been taught that pain equals physical damage in the body, the emotion is often negative and intense. But pain (or other sensations) is merely an ‘emotion messenger’. So, it could be saying that you are stressed rather than ill or hurt.
No wonder there is so much confusion, hey?
B. Curiosity – There is hope! Every person I have ever met with Stress Illness has a heightened sense of curiosity. They tend to be analytical thinkers. Those that question why. This is the strength that helps in their recovery. It’s what leads them to try out new ways of being.
The curious ask the question, why me? Why now? Why this symptom? And these questions help them achieve clarity.
C. Clarity – Once someone has accepted that there is no pain without the brain there is clarity in the way forward. All energy, time, and emotion can be focused on recovery, rather than searching for more answers.
2. STRESS ILLNESS IS NOT A LIFE SENTENCE – THE BODY HEALS ITSELF.
It is possible to recover from Stress Illness. Once you have accepted that the pain is being manipulated by the brain, it creates new energy. I see it time and time again. People start to want more answers. What do I need to do now? How do I get better then?
This energy needs to be harnessed and used positively. Unfortunately, without guidance many start to lose hope. They can’t see what difference it makes whether the brain is involved or not, they are still hurting. They are still unable to do all the things they want to do. They believe they can’t cope.
A. Can’t Cope – I can’t cope/I won’t cope are the MOST common thoughts uttered in my therapy room. It’s not surprising when we are starting out on our recovery journey. This comes from a lack of understanding of your own emotions.
Emotions can feel scary if we haven’t been taught what they are and how to deal with them. This can occur if our parents/carers weren’t emotionally available in our early years. It’s usually no fault of theirs. They hadn’t been taught either. But the unknown is frightening, right? Especially when it happens constantly and we don’t know if it is normal, or what to do about it.
B. Courage – Chronic Pain and Stress Illness sufferers have courage in spade loads. They need it daily. They need it just to face each day with the symptoms, and the disbelief from others, they endure. So, when it comes to trusting themselves. Trusting their bodies to heal. This innate courage is called on.
Even when other methods of pain or symptom relief have not been working, to stop them still requires courage. You need that courage to do differently. To stop what hasn’t worked and to start looking inwards for the answers.
We all have the answers ourselves. But it takes courage to look at yourself to find them.
C. Confidence – with practice comes confidence in your own recovery. And your body’s ability to achieve it.
3. EVERYTHING EVOLVES, BUT YOU ALWAYS HAVE CHOICE – Nothing ever stays the same.
‘Between stimulus and response, there is a gap, within that gap is where your power lies’ Viktor Frankl
A. Changeable - Everything is continually evolving and changing.
B. Choice - You can choose to do nothing or choose to change. If you want something to change, you must change. Your power lives in that choice. But that choice must also be acted on to see its potential.
C. Control - But we don’t have control over everything. All we control is our own thoughts, actions, emotions, and physical sensations.
4. INVISIBLE ILLNESS AFFECTS INVISIBLE PEOPLE, REVEAL YOUR TRUE SELF TO HEAL & BE YOUR TRUE SELF.
Many symptoms of SI can’t be seen by others. This can lead to people feeling forgotten and disbelieved and a deep sense of shame. We can’t change others. But if we allow ourselves to be truly seen, we can heal.
Individuals with Stress Illnesses tend to be people pleasers. They live a life of service. Not one of joy. They tend to worry more about what others think of them and less about what they themselves think.
This leads to a ‘half-life’. The invisibility enables others to benefit and grow. Some sufferers become invisible to themselves, so they no longer even recognise their own needs, wants, and desires.
A. Compromise – Living a compromised life can feel good in moments. But over the long-term, it is unfulfilling and desperate. It allows others privilege, power, and pertinence. But only offer the ‘people pleaser’ loss. Loss of true personal connection.
B. Communicate – Years of watching and listening to others, however, have many advantages. Knowing how others operate. How relationships work from the outside, can only be beneficial when learning to build your own. Knowing what works, what hurts, and what subverts are key when learning assertive versus aggressive communication of your own needs.
C. Connection – Building a new respectful connection with yourself. Allowing yourself to learn about your own needs, wants and desires is a powerful step. Then learning skills to honour those. Plus, how to communicate with them, whilst respecting the newly formed connections is beautiful.
5. THERE’S NO BRAIN WITHOUT PAIN.
Everyone alive has experienced Stress Illness to some degree. In its mildest form, it could be a headache when thinking about work, or indigestion when considering an argument with a friend. When we come to truly embrace this, the playing field levels. Compassion is essential to rid the world of pain.
A. Conflicts – Conflict occurs when there are opposing opinions. When we can see we are all human. And all humans experience pain. There is less need for conflict. Internally, if we accept that we can’t avoid the experience of pain and sensations, as it is normal for all humans, we still have pain, but reduce the suffering.
B. Compassion - When we reduce the suffering and then introduce compassion towards the self or other, the pain reduces further. By allowing the pain compassionately we turn off the threat response and turn on the soothing response. Endorphins are released. The brain’s natural medicine supplies what is needed.
C. Consistency – Once we have learned how to be compassionate to ourselves, we will want to consistently practice all the other principles we have learned.
Stress Illness survives when our interoception (the process by which the nervous system senses, interprets, and integrates signals originating from within the body, providing a moment-by-moment mapping of the body's internal landscape across conscious and unconscious levels.) is a Sense of Threat. To beat it we require a Sense of Safety.
With consistent practice of the curiosity to learn, courage to look inwards, the choice to act, to use assertive communication, and to be compassionate toward yourself and others, we are then able to finally feel safe. Safe, even in the face of uncertainty, and Stress Illness will be less able to survive.
To see if your chronic pain or fluctuating symptoms are a type of Stress illness, take this FREE Quiz Now
In the next article, I will talk about chronic pain and outline some of the other physical symptoms of Stress Illness.