I am sometimes asked by my clients what it is that I like most about my work as a psychologist. I always tell people that I enjoy providing individuals with psychotherapy that will help them to understand and overcome their current or past emotional trauma/s.
And I obtain great satisfaction when I see positive shifts in a client’s habits of thinking, feeling and/or acting.
What I haven’t told too many people up until now is that I have developed an absolute passion for something that is not generally seen as falling within a psychologist’s field of endeavour; helping and supporting individuals who are trying to build and sustain not only a healthy mind but also a healthy body. And more and more people are realising that you absolutely cannot have one without the other.
In fact, I feel particularly excited and energized when a client asks me if I can help them to not only take back control of their overall health and well-being but also help them to move away from a complete reliance on the conventional medicine-focused approach to health and well-being.
This is why I have given so much time and effort over the past decade to growing my expertise in the field of stress reduction.
Ongoing, or chronic, Stress is a silent killer. It generally has a key role in causing chronic health problems (including major depression, IBS, cancer, etc.) and is, in turn, caused by a wide range of underlying factors. Yet, chronic stress is generally accepted as an inescapable part of life in the 21st Century.
And, even more sadly, chronic stress is often overlooked when it comes to helping individuals overcome the chronic health problems that they need treated.
Chronic stress always has a very negative impact on the functioning of an individual’s immune system, causing a person to more easily fall victim to whatever germs are being passed around at the time. You may be thinking that you have adjusted fairly well to the current lockdown and/or self-isolation, and that you are not experiencing much stress at the moment. But this may not be true… because chronic stress is not only caused by difficult emotions, such as anxiety, frustration or loneliness.
Chronic stress is also caused by a diet that regularly includes a range of less-than-healthy foods, by a mainly sedentary lifestyle that involves little movement, by a sleep routine that does not allow you to obtain between 7 and 9 hours of good quality sleep each night, and by a way of life that does not include regular interaction with supportive people who accept you as you are, no matter what state of mind you are in.
Critically, when it comes to reducing the negative impact that stress has on the functioning of your immune system and on your health and well-being, in general, it is crucial that we broaden the conventional definition of “stress” to include more than the narrow focus on just emotional stress.
“Stress”, which is really an abbreviation for the term “stress response”, includes a broad range of negative impacts in one or more areas of functioning, including your emotional, intellectual/cognitive, physical (and biochemical) and/or spiritual functioning.
In deciding what you must do to reduce the impacts of your stress the first step is to clearly identify the range of stressors that you are exposing yourself to.
A “stressor” is any factor or event that triggers a stress response, i.e. causes us to experience stress (or “strain”). Stressors include external factors, such as difficult interpersonal interactions as well as environmental pollutants, as examples. Internal stressors are also critical, and include anxiety-provoking thoughts as well as refined /nutrient-depleted food, etc.
Encouragingly, more and more GPs ask their patients if there is anything that might be causing them stress. They are, however, mostly interested in identifying the factors (i.e. stressors) underlying emotional stress so that they can determine how to “remove” some of these stressors. And, sadly, anti-anxiety medication is often a key recommendation.
To help you take the first steps towards determining a more sustainable approach to reducing the impact of stress on your immune system, and on your health and well-being, make a list of all the possible factors that might be causing you some level of stress and dysfunction in your emotional, intellectual/cognitive, physical (and biochemical) and/or spiritual areas of functioning. Give particular attention to the foods you eat, the quantity and quality of your sleep each night, the movement and exercise that you engage in each day, the quality of your social interactions and relationships and, of course, the different factors that impact you at an emotional level.
Keep your list at hand because my next newsletter will begin to focus attention on these stressors and, importantly, on the small steps that you can take to make changes that will boost the functioning of your immune system and of your health and well-being in general.
P.S. Please forward this email to family and friends who might unknowingly be placing their immune system under stress and strain on a daily basis thus significantly compromising their ability to fight the Coronavirus and other infectious diseases.
P.S.S. Please remember that I am offering a free, online counseling session to anyone who would like to talk about and explore options with regard to the difficulties and challenges that they are currently facing. Please visit my website for contact details.
News supplied by Alistair Mork-Chadwick (Psychologist).