Chronic Stress & The Mind/Body Connection

My Scars Remind Me

Below, I share a article I read on Psychology Today about Chronic Stress and how it affects your body. How it affects my body. 

As any target of Bullying, I am sure you understand it causes chronic stress in your body. Having PTSD for as long as I have, it has done a number on my body system and my health issues haven’t helped either. It created a situation that did not help my reactions to the Bullying I went through and I have come to see that. It became a mess that exploded and I ended up lost within myself for along time. I am so glad I made my way out of it though!

In 2019, I got a new diagnoses, Cushing’s Disease. Cushing’s disease is a serious condition of an excess of the steroid hormone cortisol in the blood level caused by a pituitary tumor secreting adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH is a hormone produced by the normal pituitary gland. I have to take pills to help lower the cortisol in my body. I am okay right now with the pills, but the tumor in my gland needs to be assessed. I got this diagnoses just before the pandemic hit and I got pills to treat it, but I haven’t had it assessed since.

What happens if I have too much cortisol?

Too much cortisol over a prolonged period of time can lead to a condition called Cushing’s syndrome. This can be caused by a wide range of factors, such as a tumour that produces adrenocorticotropic hormone (and therefore increases cortisol secretion), or taking certain types of drugs. The symptoms include:

  • rapid weight gain mainly in the face, chest and abdomen contrasted with slender arms and legs
  • a flushed and round face
  • high blood pressure
  • osteoporosis
  • skin changes (bruises and purple stretch marks)
  • muscle weakness
  • mood swings, which show as anxiety, depression or irritability
  • increased thirst and frequency of urination.

In addition, there has been a long-standing association between raised or impaired regulation of cortisol levels and a number of psychiatric conditions such as anxiety and depression. However, the significance of this is not yet clearly understood.

This disease, did not help me with my strong emotional reactions to the bullying and smear campaign I went through. It made it worse. I was constantly in stress, my body was constantly in stress and the hormones were going crazy. I already had high blood pressure and was on pills for it since I was 20. My body’s health issues was not helping me get over being Bullied and smeared like I was. I was sent to Emergency so many times during 2018-2020 for my high blood pressure, as it got extreme at times they thought I was on verge of a heart attack. I’ll never forget the highest it got, 201/112. I take 3 pills for my blood pressure now and finally got it regulated.

Everyone knows health issues can impact your mental health. As someone who has numerous issues, I can tell you for a fact, it does affect me and how I live my life. All these things play a part when you are attacked by strangers in a domain online in your name. I was always under stress, in every aspect of my life, from these medical issues I have and I have come to see it all played a part in why I reacted the way I did. I reached the end of my rope and could not find the strength to keep fighting against others for my own personal rights. My systems became swamped and couldn’t take anymore. 

In 1985 I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Disease, which increased the male hormones in my body and gave me facial hair. I went on pills for awhile but I had a hysterectomy in 1989 that took most of my infected ovaries, but I got to keep the hair… lol I had my first child in 1985, which aggravated the POCS. The Hysterectomy was also to take my cervix, as I also had Cervical Cancer, which was diagnosed in 1988 when I was 7 months pregnant with my second child.

In early Feb 1989, I lost my grandmother, my namesake. She was only 79. I was close to my grandmother and I miss her still. That was hard, not just on me but on everyone.

It was in June 1989, 4 weeks after surgery, my partner and father of my children, died in a car accident. He was too young to go in such a manner. I still think of him, all the time. I don’t remember the year after that, it is a blur, still. Grief can do that to you. I had to deal with recovering from a hysterectomy and my grief the same time! No wonder I don’t remember….

In late Nov 1990, I was part of a court action against a Uncle, who was charged with sex abuse of minors. I was one of his victims, though I was older at the time, and was able to ward him off. I testified against him in court that year, and it was really hard and once again, stressful. I was 22 then, and a single parent of 2 young kids, but I did the right thing, no matter how hard it was.

It was only a few months after this, in March 1991, that we had the house fire. That fire, caused so many issues, mental and physical, for me over the years. I have had numerous surgeries on my knees to clean out the joints of the little bits of bone being worn off from the bones rubbing together. I have severe arthritis and my knee caps are slowly disintegrating. My left leg is a1 1/2 cm shorter than the right one, as the femur broke in such a way they couldn’t put the little piece back. My left knee cap keeps moving out of place and I have to put it back in myself, which is why it is the worst one and will be replaced first. The fall I had a few weeks ago, did more damage to it. All these things affect my mental health. I was in counselling for 5 years then and have had to go back off and on over the years for more treatment.

I always lead with my left leg, as it was the strongest of the 2, but by doing so, I wore it out faster. I have arthritis in both knees and both hips. I have a bone spur on my right hip the size of a baseball, that I was told also needs to be removed. I can’t lay on that side now for awhile, as a result!

Cancer too, kept coming back. I had the Cancer of the Cervix in 1988 and it spread to my Vulva in 1999. I’ve been dealing with that reoccurring ever since. I’ve been lucky since 2013, but I haven’t had it checked in 3 years, so I don’t know how it is right now. I can’t tell myself anymore, I have too many scars to tell the difference like I use too.

Even the Cervical Spinal Stenosis in my C4-C5-C6 that I got in 2015, didn’t keep me down for too long, I found ways to manage to do what I still needed to do. I took a year to adjust to that diagnoses that got me on Disability. My neck is numb, has been for a long time now, and I get electrical shocks shooting down my left arm into my fingers. The outside of my left arm into my pinky and ring finger, is also now always numb. My fingers also cramp up once in awhile and go all funky. My balance is bad and my dexterity is bad. I can’t work on computers much anymore as a result and had to give it up. Just like driving, I had to slack off on it.

I saw 2 surgeons in Toronto, both told me they wouldn’t operate due to where my issue is, they could cause permanent paralysis and would prefer me to get there on my own. I will end up paralysed in time and have accepted that, tho emotionally it is still hard to think about.

Cervical spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal and/or the spinal nerve root passages in your neck. When this narrowing occurs, your spinal cord and/or nerves may become compressed and cause symptoms such as pain, numbness, tingling and weakness in your neck, shoulders, and extremities. Cervical spinal stenosis may cause mild to moderate burning or shock-like pain in the neck, shoulder, and/or arms. Abnormal sensations, such as tingling, crawling, and/or numbness may be felt in both hands. The arms and hands may feel weak. https://www.spine-health.com/conditions/spinal-stenosis/cervical-stenosis-myelopathy

In 2019 I also threw out my left shoulder, couldn’t move it for months, as I tore the tendon in my shoulder joint badly. It took about 2 yrs to get back my mobility. These issues have not helped me recently with having to use crutches. I don’t have the upper body strength to use them the way I should be able too. Which is why I have been stuck home since I broke my ankle.

I have Fibromyalgia, 2007, Degenerative Disc Disease in my lower spine, 2007, and type 2 diabetes, which I maintain by diet. I get migraine headaches, also from my neck issues and the Cushing’s Disease.

So yes, I have had numerous issues, but I am still here as I made it through! I manage, every day. How can I not? I want to experience what life has to offer!

I have pain, all the time, and I can manage it most of the time. It has helped me get a very high tolerance to pain, so much so, I didn’t take pain medication for my broken ankle, I dealt with it. I take enough pills on a daily basis, I don’t need more! I take gabapentin, which is my saviour. It greatly reduces the nerve pain I have so that I can function like I do. It helps with all types of pain so that I can do what I can, when I can. Tylenol helps when arthritis gets bad. Otherwise, I deal with it. Side effects from pills are not easy for me to tolerate, I find the pain better to put up with… lol

I have my days, especially during a fibro flare, where the pain is too bad and I can’t do much. I accept those days, as the rest, I am okay. There is always a give and take with my health and I try to maintain it the best I can. I want to enjoy being able to do things while I can.

The pandemic shut a lot of medical care down for me, but since I moved here, I am slowly getting back to maintaining it. I lucked into a doctor who provided me with my medications, as soon as I got here, by phone. I have my own blood pressure monitor and a glucose meter to manage those things. A few weeks ago, I lucked in seeing a doctor in person for my bad left knee, and to get my other issues checked, and she is getting it done for me. My falling down and breaking my ankle slowed it down a bit, but I have an appointment with a Orthopedic Specialist on the 18th of April, which is quick. I had x-rays done on my knees and legs last week for that appointment so I guess they thought it urgent enough to get me in quicker. I am still waiting on referrals for a cancer specialist and a neurologist, but I know they will come. I have patience.

I know I have more surgery in my future as I was told before I needed knee replacement. I always wonder what will take me out first, my legs or my neck… Either way, I know I have a wheelchair in my future but till then, I will do what I can to have fun and enjoy my life. I have had that mindset since 1993 and it hasn’t lessened.

The Bullying I went thru, hit me at a time when my emotions were heightened anyway with my personal health issues and dealing with them. Add pressure and manipulation by others, and I buckled and gave in to what other people wanted, to keep the peace. It backfired and I learned a big lesson from that.

My scars remind me I survived all the life experiences it wants to throw at me and I now know no matter what, I will always survive. My will and determination to manage my lissues, mental or health, is too strong. My personal beliefs, that I am strong and resilient, will always be stronger than what someone else has to say. I am the type, you tell me I can’t do something, I will find a way to prove you wrong.

Every situation is manageable, one way or another, and I will always find a way. It is who I am. I will never give up.

 


https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/navigating-cancer/202203/is-the-mind-body-connection-real

KEY POINTS

  • In medicine, the “mind” and “body” have traditionally been treated separately.
  • We now understand that the mind and body are linked, and unmanaged stress can seriously impact our health.
  • Strategies for effectively managing stress include diaphragmatic breathing, shifting your thinking, getting active, and asking for help.

Our Stress Response System

To understand how stress influences health, we first have to understand what happens in our bodies when faced with a stressor. When our brain perceives a threat, our bodies experience a cascade of physiological processes. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) shifts into what is referred to as “fight, flight, freeze” as a means of trying to prepare to fight off the danger, flee for safety, or “play dead.”

The adrenal glands release the stress hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline into the body. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis also plays a role through a series of processes that result in the release of cortisol, another type of stress hormone. When this happens, the heart races, breathing rate increases, and your blood moves away from areas of the body that are more associated with “maintenance” processes, like digestion, to your arms and legs so you can run or fight.

Your brain shifts activity from more thinking and processing-based areas such as the prefrontal cortex to those involved in more emotional and behavioral responses linked to survival, such as the amygdala.1, 2 This “fight, flight, and freeze” system works quickly and is extremely efficient and useful in truly life or death situations.

The Impact of Chronic Stress

Problems start to arise when we face chronic stress, which means our body often activates our “fight, flight, freeze” response. This can happen either because we are in chronically stressful situations or because we perceive many situations as stressful. This repeated activation of our emergency response system can have a big impact on our bodies.

Those same stress hormones that are so helpful in preparing us to survive in an emergency situation can take a toll when they repeatedly circulate in our body. Immunity is suppressed, inflammation occurs throughout the body that can cause damage over time, and proinflammatory cytokines produced in response to stress have been linked to “sickness behaviors,” such as depressed mood and fatigue that can make it hard to engage in positive health behaviors like exercise.3,4 Over time, we may be more likely to experience a whole host of physical problems.

How to Manage Chronic Stress

The mind connection is very real and can significantly impact our health. However, there are things you can do to help buffer this effect, even if you are in a stressful situation that may not change. How often the “fight, flight, and freeze” response is activated and how long it stays on can be influenced. The difference arises in interpreting stress and what we do about it. Try these ideas for calming the SNS.

Practice Activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). The counterpart to the SNS, the PNS communicates the opposite response to your body: that all is well and there is no danger. Exercises such as progressive muscle relaxation and diaphragmatic breathing allow you to get better at controlling your PNS. These exercises slow heart rate and breathing, reduce muscle tension and blood pressure, and lower fatigue. There are many guided exercises available online if you search these terms.

Shift Your Thinking. As mentioned earlier, our interpretation of an event, or the “story” we tell ourselves about it, can trigger our body to go into “fight, flight, or freeze.” If you’ve ever imagined a potential conflict in your mind, rehashed a stressful situation, or ruminated about a possible fear coming true, you’ve probably unintentionally stirred up your SNS.

Telling ourselves things such as “I just can’t make it through this” or “I’m so overwhelmed” is completely normal but may contribute to unnecessary SNS activation. We all have habits in how we engage with stress, and learning yours can help you see where you may have choices in thinking or behaving in a more helpful way.

It’s important to note that this isn’t the same as denying or minimizing your stress. Instead, you are simply looking for ways to get “unstuck” from unhelpful thought or behavioral patterns that keep you mired in stress. This past blog post has some examples of how to practice.

Get Active. Physical activity can counteract the SNS response by reducing stress hormones circulating in the body and releasing endorphins, “feel good” chemicals that reduce pain and improve mood5. This can be as simple as going for a walk or gardening. Anything that gets you moving counts.

Ask for Help. If you’re struggling with chronic stress and it’s impacting your health, it’s probably time to talk to a professional. Many evidence-based therapies can help you more effectively manage stress. A psychologist can help with learning some of these strategies, as well as techniques such as biofeedback that can help you learn to control bodily functions that are usually automatic, like your heart rate.

We live in a highly stressful world and often cannot control the stress that comes our way. However, we have options for managing it that give ourselves the best possible chance of remaining as healthy as possible.

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