Ever heard someone say, "He's a real pain in the neck" (or other body part!)? Did you know that stress in your life can quite literally be expressed as pain and illness? To make this easier to understand, let's compare your body to a pressure cooker. If it's allowed to vent its steam, it will sit there and happily cook along. If it's not allowed to vent its steam, the pressure will build up and up until the lid blows off! We humans are no different. And, like the pressure cooker we "flip our lids" by becoming depressed. Now, lets say that we have a cooker under pressure, but we're applying pressure to hold that lid on (the human equivalent would be holding in our emotions). What will happen? Eventually, the vessel will break and the place it will break is at its weakness point. The same goes for us human beings. If one of your body systems is weakened, this is where a stress-related illness is most likely to develop. If your weakest point physically is your neck, you'll develop neck pains. Or back pain. Or ulcers. Or frequent colds and flu. You get the picture.
Any illness that has physical symptoms, but has the mind and emotions as its origin is called a psychosomatic illness. Although you may be told that it's "all in your head", these illnesses are not imaginary. The aches and pains are very real, but because your doctor is looking for an actual physical cause, they are very tricky to diagnose and treat. The key is to look for a source of stress in the person's life that the person is not coping with. By treating the underlying stress and depression, it may be possible to heal the physical problems as well.
But how do you beat stress? It's all around us, right? It's part and parcel of our lives in this fast-paced society we live in.
The first step is learning to recognize when we are under extreme stress. One way is by taking a Life Stress Test. This simple test rates various life events on a point scale. If you score high, then you are at high risk for developing stress-related illness. Another simple test to determine if you're feeling stressed: take both your hands and touch your neck. If your hand feel significantly colder than you neck, you are stressed. If they are warm, you are relaxed. Other ways you may show stress: sweaty palms, tense muscles, butterflies in the stomach, or rapid heart beat. Learn to recognize the signs of stress unique to you.
Once you know how to recognize when you are stressed, the next step is to learn coping mechanisms. One very important way to cope: DON'T HOLD IN YOUR FEELINGS! Like the pressure cooker, the pressure will find a way out. You can be like the pressure cooker that is venting steam in a controlled way or you can let the stress find your weakest point to come exploding out. Controlled is safer and healthier for you. Controlled ways you can cope include: talking to someone you trust; joining a support group; relaxation techniques; taking some leisure time for yourself; taking a break from the situation you're in; herbs like Kava Kava or Valerian to help you relax; taking care of your health by eating right, exercising and not smoking; being honest with those around you (maintaining a lie is very energy consuming); letting go of old grudges; doing something nice for others (if you're not accustomed to doing this) or taking some time just for you (if you are always sacrificing for everyone else). The list is endless. Just vent that steam!
The third and final component: willingness. That's right, willingness. We have to be willing to let go of our expectations about what we must do. We have to be willing to let go of old guilts and shoulds that are guiding our behavior. We have to allow ourselves to just be human. It's okay for men to cry and be emotional. It's okay for women to let someone else have a turn with the household chores. It's okay to fall short of your goals if you're doing the best that you can. Some of our biggest stressors actually come from within ourselves!