People’s stress levels and their emotions are known to be directly related to certain medical and pain conditions, and can contribute to making others worse. Just a partial list would include diseases such as migraines, heart disease, asthma, diabetes, digestive disorders like IBS, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, obesity, fibromyalgia, depression and anxiety.
We know that the body is highly influenced by mind states, and that the reverse is also true. Having a medical condition can, in itself, be very upsetting to a patient, and also to family and friends.
With our always busy, multi-tasking society, many people are physically affected by the continual pressures of stressful jobs, commutes, finances, kids, social obligations, school, and so forth. Additionally, persistent or prolonged feelings such as anger, anxiety, fear, sadness or loneliness seem to play a part in many illnesses. Each person has a different ability to handle emotional situations, or tolerance for stress, but for some, the result may wind up being a serious medical condition.
Many years ago, the medical community largely dealt with infectious diseases. Today, the picture is quite different, and many of the physical conditions that people suffer from are chronic, are emotion and/or stress-related, and lead to a weakened immune system or other physical effects.
So what can help?
First, it is important to be working with a medical team you trust. Then begin to take stock of your current life situation. Where are you pushed too hard? Are there long-standing emotional issues, or difficult relationships that need addressing? When someone is diagnosed with a chronic condition, people around them are also affected. Usually they want to help—don’t always know how. So negotiating how that is accomplished for the short and long term is also important.
You can discover how to find better balance in life, handle emotionally challenging relationships and situations more skillfully, and work with the inevitable times when the illness or pain may demand much of your attention.
Talk therapy can be extremely useful, as it will help resolve issues that are distressing, as well as assist in adjustment to living with a long-term medical problem.
Besides that, much help is possible through learning to lessen suffering through the use of mindfulness, meditation, guided imagery and relaxation skills. These practices can help one learn how to lower the stress and tension that make pain worse, and help reduce emotional suffering.
Learning new ways to manage illness, pain and the life changes that accompany them can restore a better quality of life through acceptance, good coping skills, and improved relationships with self and others.
Kathi Whitten, LCSW 2012