I first started having health complications about ten years ago, during college. It started with crushing fatigue, and scaled its way up to gastroparesis (delayed gastric emptying), amenorrhea, vitamin deficiencies, and finally culminated in diagnoses of two autoimmune diseases, between 2015 and 2016.
Many people with chronic illness can back me up when I say that you end up learning a lot about your condition, and in many cases being your own doctor. I spent years trying different diets, supplements, and doctors, with very little success. I experienced a burnout, ultimately, without even realizing that that's what it was. In 2015, a physician said, "We've run all these tests, I don't think I can help you. I think you should see a psychotherapist." At the time, I wasn't ready to hear it. I thought that, if stress and trauma were the cause of my illness, then my illness wasn't really a biological problem. What I didn't understand is that stress in the long-term can become a biological problem. I'm about to drop some science on ya, so bear with me.
Its called the pregnenolone steal. Pregnenolone is a precursor hormone, meaning that it is the basis for a number of other hormones in the body, including sex and stress hormones. In times of stress, this hormone is "stolen" from its normal lines of production and used to form the stress hormone cortisol - meaning that there will be a lack of all the other hormones. This is why people who are sensitive to stress may lose their periods quickly. The body is pretty smart; it assumes that surviving stress is more important than reproducing, and that the outside world is currently not the place for a baby. Of course, this ancestral mechanism is meant for famine, running from predators, and the like; modern stressors may not be life-threatening, but the body interprets them seriously.
Long-term elevation of cortisol leads to inflammation. Stress hormones eventually up-regulate the production of cytokines, stress molecules that modulate immune processes. Elevated cytokines not only decrease the body's ability to fight infection but have been found to play a role in the development of autoimmune disease, in addition to heart disease and osteoporosis.
These are just two of the many complex ways in which long-term stress can lead to real, tangible biological changes in the body. So when someone tells you that stress is your main problem, you shouldn't underestimate it or feel like its not a legitimate problem. It is. When I finally understood this and started processing my past trauma, anxiety, and low self-worth, it changed the game in my healing process. With dedicated effort, I saw my autoimmune antibodies and my weight drop within a few months, and my mood was (and still is) over-the-moon happy. It's not an immediate process; it requires patience (and its actually possible to stress about stress-reduction). For many people - as it was for me - its the last resort in a very long series of efforts to combat chronic illness, when it should be one of the first. But I'm here to tell you, from personal experience, that it is an instrumental part of healing, and one with absolutely no downsides or side-effects. Consider adding it to your arsenal!
For more information on stress-reduction, take a look around for other blog articles or considering contacting me!
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