What I Wish Everyone Knew About Stress
The author behind the blog www.aslowerkindoflife.com shares her thoughts about life with Parkinson’s disease and about the
The method where people with chronic diseases such as Parkinson’s can reduce their stress-related symptoms and, with persistent work, break free of their diagnosis
One week after first session with the Hope Shortcut therapy
“Life is bliss, but my brain is trying to convince me otherwise.”
I thought I knew it all about the impact of stress on the body and mind. I’ve studied this topic many times over the many years I’ve been searching for healing. I thought I had it dialed. I know that stress has real physical impacts on the body, that the stress response called Fight Flight or Freeze, can be triggered by the most subtle thoughts, and that society is totally hooked on stress. I know how to counteract stress through relaxation techniques. I know how to create new patterns in the brain.
This is what I wish everyone knew about stress
- Your thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions can be a source of stress.
- Stress has a real physiological impact on the body.
- Most of us are caught in a habitual state of chronic stress.
- Chronic stress can create disease states in the body and mind.
- A subconscious trigger can initiate the stress response.
- Counterbalancing the stress response in the body is essential to good health.
- What we do to “relax” may not actually be relaxing.
- Techniques like progressive relaxation, meditation, heart coherence, qigong, yoga, tai chi can create the relaxation response in the body and counteract the effects of stress.
- Exercise is beneficial because it burns up the excess cortisol and adrenaline in the body created by stress.
I know that my sensitive little nervous system seems to be highly attuned and highly responsive to even the smallest stressful triggers. I am aware of the common sources of unnecessary stress, and I have designed my life not to waste my precious energy on unnecessary stress triggers. I don’t watch the news. I don’t get involved in drama or gossip. I don’t have a packed schedule. I try not to worry about appearances or what other people might think of me. I no longer have a stressful career. I have a peaceful life, so I thought. I also thought I had already done the work to uncover unconscious stress responses. I thought I had mastered my internal critical dialogue. I had healed that aspect of myself that thought I had to do something extraordinary to earn love and acceptance.
I was wrong…
I recently met a Danish biologist named Lilian Sjoberg, who is helping people with Parkinson’s disease and other chronic illnesses reduce their symptoms by becoming aware of their stressful patterns and addressing the root cause. She has recognized that symptoms of Parkinson’s disease look a lot like an extreme Fight Flight or Freeze response. I find this hypothesis quite accurate, and I started to recognize it in my own body.
Last summer, I was standing in knee-depth wading pool with my friend and our two-year-old sons. We were looking up at a bird flying by, and I suddenly heard a splash. Her son had slipped and gone under the water. In a quick moment of mommy instinct, she grabbed him and yanked him back up. He came up sputtering, but he was ok. I held my son more tightly. Moments later, my Parkinson’s symptoms hit me with full force. Tremor, muscles freezing, movement slow, brain foggy. I realized that it felt like a full-body panic attack. After this incident, I became more aware of my symptoms related to fearful thoughts. Sometimes I would note an extremely subtle trigger in my thoughts, and sometimes I couldn’t tell what had made a sudden worsening of my symptoms.
I had offered to help Lilian to reach a wider audience with her important message. She asked me to go through her coaching process and write about it. I still thought I already knew what she had to offer from my previous studies on stress. I was wrong. On the healing journey, there is always more to discover.
The first thing Lilian asked me to do was to record my thoughts, emotions, and physical responses throughout a day. I was surprised how stressed out I still am.
Although I am retired from a stressful career, I am now recreating that stress and pressure in my home life. It’s because my brain got so used to stress and pressure that it is literally stuck. The hard-wired pathway in my brain for stress, pressure, and worry is like a superhighway. The one for peace and ease is like a rabbit trail through a dense forest. I am slowly making it more discernible through inconsistent practice.
Lilian’s exercise allowed me to see the direct physical effects on my body as the stress accumulated in the day.
Observe your symptoms
In the process of learning the HOPE shortcut you learn how to keep a diary that helps you to connect symptoms and stress in your life.
Initially the reason is to give you a new belief about the disease
Later it becomes an important tool to reduce your symptoms one by one
This is an excerpt of what I recorded in only one morning (B is my 3 year old son):
9:00 am: B. asks to watch a show.
My thoughts: “But shows are bad for his brain. I shouldn’t let him watch shows. I should engage him in enriching activities. What a failure I am as a mother…”
My body: My stomach tightens.
10:15 am: B. slouched in the car seat and staring out the window blankly.
“OMG. Is there something wrong with him? Does he have the coronavirus? Is he going to die? I feel so helpless. Should I drive straight to the hospital?”
My body: My left hamstring cramps and spasms. My stomach is in knots.
10:20 am: B. says he is hungry
“I forgot the snack in the fridge. OMG. Why can’t I get it together? How do other moms seem to be able to do this, and I can’t. I need help.”
My body: My jaw and facial muscles on the left side tighten.
10:30 am, I do not have B.’s indoor shoes for the babysitting room.
“I forgot B.’s indoor shoes. Oh no. Maybe the babysitter won’t notice. They have to let him in. What if they don’t let him in? Why can’t I get it together?’”
My body: My leg is fully dragging now. My tremor has begun. I am having trouble focusing.
I obviously have a body that is extremely sensitive and at its maximum capacity for handling stress already. Would these symptoms still have come on without my constant barrage of worrisome and self-critical thoughts? I don’t know. I did notice that my thoughts have me in a constant state of self-criticism and stress.
In my first coaching session with Lilian, she recognized that the habitual worrisome thoughts and pressure that I put on myself is a subconscious habit that I picked up in childhood. We work through using different techniques.
Since my session with Lilian on Monday morning, I am feeling a new sense of peace
I had a better day with B. today, putting less pressure on myself and becoming more aware of my stressful thoughts before they get out of hand. I am feeling more confident that I can take a little bit of power back from my roller coaster of unpredictable symptoms by recognizing my internal stressors and using relaxation techniques when they arise.
The research is now very strong that certain specific techniques that counteract the stress response and change the internal state of the body can result in significant health improvements.
I wish everyone understood the impacts of stress on the body: that thoughts can create stress, that the brain becomes habituated to stress and will seek out more, and that there are things you can do about it.
Nicole St. Arnaud
2. march 2020, Alberta Canada