Stress Illness: things you didn’t know you didn’t know

Stress Illness: Things you didn't know you didn't know

If back in 2009 you’d have told me that stress was causing my illness I would have laughed.

Like so many people suffering from IBS, Migraines and other stress related conditions I had the tests, got a diagnosis and was given some tablets. But that just wasn’t good enough for me. I wanted to understand why. I wanted to know what was going on and why it was happening, I didn’t want to just put up with it, I wanted to recover.

Since then I’ve studied for 3 years, attended lots of courses and read lots of books. What I discovered was staggering and life changing. I went on to set up Refreshed Minds and have helped hundreds of other people understand their stress illness and recover.

In this post I share with you my understanding of stress illness and the things which you probably didn’t know, you didn’t know.

Can Stress Really Make You Ill?

Stress can be a little hard to define, we all say ‘ooh this is stressful’ or ‘I’m stressed’ but what do we actually mean? Mental health professionals are still debating if stress is the cause of mental health issues or the outcome of them.  What we can say for certain is that stress is a normal part of life and often too much of it has negative effects.

Stress can come from the pressure of external situations and our feelings around our ability to cope. It is a completely individual experience related to our own perceptions. What one person finds stressful can be a world apart from someone else.

Stressed Man

What is also interesting about stress is that you often notice the symptoms before you notice that you are stressed. People often cannot see that they are stressed. You can ask a stressed out person if they are stressed and they’ll say ‘no, I’m fine’, then ask them if they have any symptoms of headaches, stomach upsets, problem’s sleeping, changes in their cravings or agitation and they say yes. But, they don’t put those two things together.

Doctors are also beginning to link stress to long term illnesses such as heart problems, stomach ulcers and chronic fatigue syndrome (1).

Experiencing large amounts of negative stress can make you ill, in some cases contribute to making you very ill. It’s important to understand stress and learn how you can manage it effectively.

Why do we experience stress?

Stress certainly isn’t all bad. This wonderful TED Talk by Kelly McGonigal called ‘How to Make Stress your Friend‘ is well worth a watch.

Overcoming Stress Illness

Since stress is caused by our perception of our ability to cope there are lots of things we can do to change our experiences of stress. Here’s what I’ve found works:

  1. Change your perception. Words have power so write down all the things you’re saying about the external situations which cause you stress eg I can’t cope, this is too hard, everyone is making things difficult etc. How can you change them to be more empowering? Say those things instead.
  2. Hack your vagus nerve. This nerve sends signals to your brain which combat the fight/flight response. All it takes is to take a few breaths making the exhale longer than the inhale. This type of breathing tells your brain that everything is ok and it can switch off the secretion of adrenaline and cortisol, making you feel calmer.
  3. Show yourself what you can do. Stress is a perception of our resilience so if we can show ourselves that we are more capable than we think it improves our resilience. Take on a task that is just slightly outside your comfort zone and praise yourself for your efforts. When you realise you’re more capable than you think, you improve your emotional resilience.

If you are struggling with a stress illness and would really like some help you can read more about my stress services here. Then, if you would like to chat, book a mindset review (the link is on the services page linked above) and I’ll be happy to help.

Until next time


(1) Reference: Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert M.Sapolsky

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Nicola Thompson

    Thank you for a very interesting blog. It is very helpful to read about the vagus nerve, it helps me understand why breathing is good when I’m stressed

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