Shortly after I arrived at the clinic in Utah, to begin my treatments fighting Lyme disease, I was asked a question that took me a little by surprise. It was this:
"What was the stressful event that preceded or accompanied the onset of your major symptoms?"
My first reaction was, "I didn't have a stressful event". Then I thought about it some more and realized there were a couple of things actually. Not a big, one-time event but more like stressful situations that lasted months. You know those situations that you think you will just manage for the time being because a solution is more complicated to implement than just dealing with it. Man, do I ever have a different perspective on that now.
The fact of the matter is that the one consistency the clinic was finding with Lyme patients was the gradual decline was instigated or intensified with stress.
I suppose it makes sense that our immune systems are compromised with stress. We all know that and have heard that, but it's really hard to associate when you are stressed and you cannot feel your immune system wearing down. So I think we often forget or find it hard to believe at times.
Many researchers and some doctors feel we should have the ability to fight Lyme disease with our own body. But the truth is, we are not healthy enough. Our diets are not rich enough in vitamins and minerals, our lifestyles wear our system down. Our activities don't make us strong enough and our habits wear out every system we have. We dont support our immune system in such a way that it can help us fight the big fight when it comes around. So we can't fight things like Lyme and eventually, it gets the best of us. Stress is one of the biggest factors.
In my quest for health and fitness and while training others I started to realize that stressful periods actually set progress backwards not forward. As a younger person I used to feel fueled by stress, I thought that gave me motivation and drive. And it does for a while until you survive on that motivation too long and deplete your lymphatic system. You see when we thrive on stress, we do so because adrenaline is released into our body. It's a jump, a fuel and it gives us that extra push. But when we continue to depend on that, even subconsciously, we utilize a system that was only meant to support us in emergencies. We wear it down, we drain it and when we really need it nothing is there to help. That's was working with stress will do to you. So if you are one of those people that feels they do better under stressful situations, use caution, you may be falling into the same trap I did.
Now in recovery, I am in what I consider a very vulnerable state. Just simply existing wears down my body. I am trying to rejuvenate an immune system that was basically shut down with such a fine amount of energy that I can see the effects of everything I do or dont do, everything I experience and every choice I make. I feel like a true test case for everything good and bad for our health. And this is what I know for sure.
Every thought adds or takes away energy from your body. So a negative thought tells your body you are in a stressful period and to prepare to protect itself. Its like telling it to put all of its energy in preparing for war. And what a waste of energy that thought is if there is truly nothing to protect yourself from. If it is only your perception of something and not the truth, what a waste of resources for a nonexistent situation. You just put your body into a false stress. And how many times do we really need to prepare for war?!
Every feeling we have takes away or adds energy. And feelings are much harder to manage than thoughts. They are reactions to many years of experience, to traumas and memories too deep to erase. But they can be changed over time. You can't ignore feelings, they won't go away. You can't work past them, they will keep rising to the top. So because I have had to work very hard to retain every ounce of energy I have, I have found only one solution to overcoming emotions and feelings that deplete and that is to replace them with ones that fuel us, with these few steps:
a) You have to feel the feeling - notice everything it does to you, what hurts, what feels awful and all that it does.
b) You have to be truthful about what it is - negative feelings are often ugly and it is embarrassing to admit to yourself what it really is, but you must in order to move on. So if it's jealousy, hate, embarrassment, judgment, call it what it is. Try to sort out where it came from.
c) Replace your feeling with the thought and feeling you would prefer to have. This one takes practice and reprogramming. It doesn't happen overnight. It's kind of a "fake it till you make it" kind of practice...but with time will be a more conscious reaction. It's worth the effort.
Often times people try to do "c" without doing "a" and "b". Save yourself the frustration. do "a" and "b" because that is your only chance to really move on.
Often times we actually put ourselves in stressful situations, even when we are not intending too. We get caught up in the drama, we put too much on ourselves, or we simply don't take good enough care of ourselves to deal with stress. And when the big stresses of life hit, we don't expect ourselves to handle it, but what if we took better care of ourselves so that when the big stresses hit (the real dramas of life) that we were able to handle them much better because we weren't so depleted? Now, that is a concept, I have had to learn the hard way.
As I was getting sicker with Lyme (and didn't know it was Lyme) I knew I was not handling stress well. I tried to avoid stressful situations but found that very hard. Old habits die hard too. So, I kept feeling more depleted and finding that I handled less and less situations with calm and confidence, like I once felt I could. Now I realize my efforts to avoid stress were feeble at best. Falling into the stress trap is often the easy way because it is how we live these days. It is what we know best.
In recovery, I am able to really feel what each little thing does to me. An unpleasant email, discontented phone messages, lack of assistance, life challenges, they all play a small but significant role in increasing your stress level and depleting your resources. I can see how ready one small negative message can set back my recovery days. I see how it instantly depletes energy, how it affects my heart rate, my oxygen intake and how long it takes to return. It's not worth it. Stress does far more damage than we realize. It's always working away at depleting and tearing down our system. You can't see it, you may not feel it, but it's doing much more damage than we realize. You can't let it.
Here are some things that are impossible if you deal with significant or chronic stress:
- long lasting weight loss
- good vitamin and mineral absorption
- healing of any kind
- maintain an immune system to support you
- maintain or build energy
- maintain or build mental health
- slow down the aging process
- ability to manage real stress well
What if we managed the little stresses so that our body could thrive? What if we constantly worked on habits that kept stress under control so that when we really had stress we could cope? What if we learned to do daily practices that boosted our system, not depleted.
Think about all the time in your day you deal with stress, even the smallest stresses. Do you do the same amount of work to decrease your stress? Yes, it does take that to much effort to counteract our stress. So you certainly don't want to create it where it isn't. You certainly don't want to make your body think it needs to deal with stress when it doesn't. But even better than that you want to treat yourself with genuine empathy, be kind, supportive and help it rebuild, so that you can always deal. Living with even a mild undertone of constant stress is no way to live. Its worth your efforts to turn that around. You deserve that.