Stress & Emotional Health Post 4
Let’s continue our discussion on stress and how to master it. We’ve talked about how the brain responds to stress and the importance of how we perceive it. But I’d like to stop for a moment and emphasize the negative medical consequences that occur when we don’t properly interpret our experience of stress.
Stress is a major contributor to the diseases that are negatively impacting my patients. I know they want to feel better. But in my experience, when you present people with the root cause of the problem they’re discussing with you and the solution to effectively deal with that root cause, there is often resistance.
A lot of the time people come to my office thinking I might be able to prescribe a medication that will solve their stress problem. I have medicines that can reduce panic and anxiety, improve mood, reduce obsessive and impulsive behavior and thinking, and help induce sleep. These medications can be helpful tools, but they do not fix the root cause.
Putting In the Effort
The path to becoming the master of your own mind is a challenging one—it requires daily effort and it requires energy. Think of it as trying to become physically strong; you have to put in the effort if you want to see results.
I understand that you may be tired, that it feels like it’s too much to put in this level of effort. I understand that you may not believe it’s doable. But I know it can be done. It’s done the way every type of achievement is done—one step at a time, one effort after another.
This only happens with awareness, and it only happens with a desire to be authentically well. You can learn to turn off anxious or negative emotions and replace them with positive ones.
I’ve emphasized that the body and mind are not designed for chronic, sustained, and daily stress exposures. We experience circumstances and then we interpret those circumstances. If we interpret them as a threat, our body will respond appropriately. It’s doing what it was designed to do to promote our survival.
Negative Impacts of Chronic Stress
Be aware that chronic, unmitigated stress can:
Elevate blood pressure
Increase blood sugar
Contribute to obesity and metabolic diseases
Create gastrointestinal symptoms
Contribute to tension headaches and migraines, muscle tension, and many other physical issues
Cause depression, anxiety, and sleep issues
These negative physiological impacts of chronic stress are well documented. If you don’t deal with your stress, you will eventually experience some sort of physical disease. If nothing else, it will age you at an accelerated rate, and your lifespan will be reduced.
Of course, there are also the emotional impacts of chronic stress. Stress exposures affect the balance of neurochemicals in your brain. These neurochemicals, such as serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and others, are all responding to the signals your mind is receiving. If you experience a perpetual state of stress, you can become deficient in certain key neurotransmitters.
This deficiency can influence depression, insomnia, generalized anxiety, panic, mood swings, and many other forms of emotional disease. The continuous signal stress sends down your hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis, with the resulting physiological changes, will result in a downregulation of your immune system functions, which can make you more susceptible to infection.
The list goes on and on.
Chronic stress does kill us—it shortens our lifespan—but beyond that, it steals from us. It steals our well-being every single day. It’s taking the moment we’re living in right now, the one moment we have to optimize our experience of life. We don’t know when we will run out of these moments, so it is a shame to imprison them to chronic stress.
This is what I see happening to my patients every day. I want them, myself, and all human society to function at our fullest potential. When we do so, our minds and our bodies create an exceptional experience of life. Our well-being improves, fostering positive emotions, including gratitude, compassion, love, contentment, and peace, and reducing negative emotions such as anger, self-pity, judgment, and blame.
As long as we’re judging and blaming one another and staying in an angry or victimized state, we cannot make progress. But if we’re experiencing well-being together, and seeing one other through the lens of compassion, we have the chance to make real progress.
But we can only do this if we become masters of our own minds. We can only do this if we control our stress responses.
Don’t Allow Yourself to Be Fearful
I’m going to get on my soapbox. I don’t believe that the power structures of the world today desire us to become masters of our own minds. I’m not suggesting that all power structures are working against human progress, but some of them are. I don’t necessarily think it’s intentional, but I do think it has to do with money and power.
Poor health creates poverty and poverty creates poor health. Poor health also weakens the mind and causes us to be much more likely to give in to habits that make us feel better for just a moment—like drinking to excess, using nicotine, using other drugs and substances, binge-watching TV, gambling, and eating addictive foods.
When individuals give in to these habits, they become sick. When they become sick, they need physicians, pharmacists, and medications. But they also need health insurance so they can afford all of this. Everything is incentivized to keep people in a state of chronic stress, chronic addiction, and poor health. Our systems are not set up to allow individuals to experience their optimal health and pursue the greatest version of themselves.
When we are in a state of stress or fear, we are more likely to give our time and money to the things that help us escape these negative emotions for a brief period of time. The whole system is designed to keep us in this state.
Luckily, there are other systems out there actually focused on creating optimal environments to support health, improving human performance, distributing resources justly, and providing the type of healthcare that actually promotes health rather than just manages disease. I’m not impugning everyone, but I do know from my work as a family physician that the systems my patients are up against are powerful and well-resourced.
The only way to get freedom from this mess is to become the master of your own mind and to not allow yourself to be put in a state of fear by others. Then you can share that same mindset with others and help them achieve the same.
Do not give in to chronic fear that is founded on false assumptions. It’s just a phantom created by certain systems to control your mind, and thereby control your behavior. Take back control of your own mind.