In this series of articles, Stress Illness: The Complete Guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about Stress Illness/Psychophysiological Disorder/Mindbody Syndrome. Each article addresses a different aspect, the principles of recovery, physical symptoms, emotional aspects, the cognitive elements, the behaviours of those suffering, and the losses they face, and the remedies and therapies that are gaining research backing as effective treatment choices. The articles build into a useful reference for those wishing to understand more about the complexities of Chronic Pain and Stress Illnesses.
This article is the 6th of the series and will focus on some of the behaviours we tend to perform if experiencing Chronic Pain or Stress Illness. It will also make some suggestions of ways to address those.
People often view behaviour as fixed, A result and reflection of personality. For example, I have heard clients describe themselves as a busy person, a people-pleaser, a perfectionist, a striver, as if these descriptions have been assigned and cannot be changed. As if they have no control over them.
Behaviour is learned. We can learn via direct or indirect, explicit, or implicit means. Much of what we see as ‘our character or personality is a collection of behaviours that have been adopted throughout life (but most readily in our early years) to survive in the world. Those actions that relate to our interactions with others are learned via our own social interactions and from witnessing the relationships around us.
Most Common Behaviours of those with Stress Illness or Chronic Pain
3. Excessively Worrying
4. Needing Things to be Right
5. Difficulty Making Decisions
6. Excessive Independence
7. Excessive Reassurance Seeking
8. Excessive Responsibility Taking
9. Excessive Planning and List-Making
10. Excessively Busy, e.g., Work, Cleaning
How Do We Learn These Behaviours?
A child born into a household where both parents work long hours and importance is placed on practical tasks, at the expense of family time and rest, will invariably grow up to value work and productivity above holidays and fun.
These are the individuals that commonly suffer Stress Illness or chronic pain. The reason comes down to the interaction between what we do, how we think, and how we feel emotionally and physically.
What Keeps Them Going?
A business owner who identifies as a busy person, people-pleaser, perfectionist, and a striver is likely to work longer hours, give more to their clients, say ‘no’ less often, and spend less time with family and on holiday.
If we neglect our own wellbeing, in favour of others, it will cause stress. Stress is an umbrella term for anxiety, low mood, and frustration. These, in turn, cause additional cortisol in the body, impacting our immune system, sleep cycles, metabolism, and insulin and endorphin regulation, to name a few.
Therefore, long-term stress can lead to autoimmune conditions, insomnia, obesity, diabetes, and chronic pain (a lack of endorphins equals a lack of your brain’s natural pain killers).
Stress also increases the likelihood of becoming panicky and fearful. These emotions cause adrenaline to be released into the system. Adrenaline speeds up the breathing, heart rate, and thinking, and causes extra oxygen to build up in our large muscles around the shoulders, arms, and legs. This is experienced as tension.
The tension can increase the likelihood of headaches/migraines, stomach complaints and TMJD.
Why Do They Continue?
If these behaviours cause so much physical and emotional pain, why do they continue? Why don’t we just stop doing the things that are causing us stress?
1. We might not have the awareness that this is happening and why.
2. We might believe the behaviours are helpful or necessary for survival.
3. We might not know that change is possible.
4. We might not know how to change them.
We might not have the awareness that this is happening and why
Our society isn’t set up to enable easy access to this information. Schools focus on teaching skills for employment, not life. Children are therefore socailised further into the belief that other people’s needs come first, that productivity is more important than rest. At work, people are rewarded for productivity, not kindness or self-improvement. Or the plethora of other values we can hold.
We might believe the behaviours are helpful or necessary for survival.
As explained earlier, our behaviours aren’t performed in a vacuum. They interact with our thoughts, physical sensations, and emotions. So, if we believe that a behaviour is necessary, or non-negotiable, then we will strive harder to achieve it. This will cause more stress and more physical pain.
But the alternative in our opinion at that time is to not perform the behaviour. Maybe not try so hard. The belief is that we MUST work that hard to achieve the desired results. We believe if we don’t work hard, we will fail. And that causes more stress than striving hard in the first place. So, we stick with what we know.
We might not know that change is possible
We are taught that the healthcare system is all-knowing and powerful. We learn that the same healthcare system values physical health over mental health. And that they are separate! Mostly implicitly, but the message is learned just the same.
So where do we have the opportunity to find out about alternatives? To know that the medical professionals in the NHS aren’t the only professionals that help people with their physical and mental wellbeing. That healthcare can look different. Can be more holistic.
However, with awareness, individuals can make conscious decisions to alter their earlier programming. If we learned how to behave one way, then we can learn how to behave another.
We might not know how to change them.
We don’t know everything, and as with any new skill it is best to learn from someone who has done it before.
Thankfully there is a growing community of therapists and practitioners, many of who have experienced their own difficulties, that are learning about ways to help others overcome chronic pain, stress illness, and other stressful chronic symptoms.
How Can We Change?
To be able to change anything, all we need is hope, the right skills, and the motivation to do the work.
Hope comes from the curiosity to become aware and understand the status quo and the alternatives. The right skills can be learned from someone that has been there before you. And the motivation to change comes from the willingness to invest time and energy into making the change, knowing that it will be for the best.
If you are interested to see whether an approach, other than the one offered by the NHS, would be suitable for your needs, then take this quiz. It only takes 5 minutes and could set you in the direction of recovery from the behaviours you have learned are necessary, and the physical and emotional pain that they can cause and maintain.