Madre Grande Monastery

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Disease Is Caused By Stress

 Dr. Andrew Weil in his informative and helpful book Spontaneous Healing said: "All illness should be assumed to be stress-related until proved otherwise. Even if stress is not the primary cause of illness, it is frequently an aggravating factor." A long list of diseases have already been shown to be caused by stress: diseases of the heart and blood vessels, heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, diseases of the kidney, eclampsia, immune disorders, rheumatic and rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory diseases of the skin and eyes, infections, allergic and hypersensitivity diseases, hypertension, impaired memory, nervous and mental diseases, sexual derangement, digestive diseases, metabolic diseases, cancer, weakened muscles, and diseases of resistance in general. Stress also causes greater susceptibility to colds, cold sores, and other viral infections. In particular diseases of adaptation or any situation that causes a significant life change; for example, death of a family member, divorce or family relocation, can be stressful. Anything that depresses our immune function can cause disease. Not only toxins from our environment but even emotions like anxiety, anger, depression, loneliness and low ego strength have been shown to depress immune functioning. By activating the cortical hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis stress causes the production corticosteroid hormones. Prolonged presence of these hormones suppresses the immune system, thereby reducing natural killer cell activity and antibody production making us susceptible to a virtual Pandora's box of ailments.

What Is Stress

 Stress is the experience of situations or environments that tax our resources and endanger our well-being. Stressors range from relatively harmless and routine situations to life-threatening experiences. There are an enormous number of potential stressors between these two extremes, both external and internal ones. External stressors come from life events and environmental factors. Internal stressors come from attitudes, memories, expectations and emotions such as guilt or fear. As the number and magnitude of stressors increases, our ability to handle them decreases. Successive episodes of even seemingly insignificant stressors can cause stress hormones to accumulate and damage the body. Thus no matter how insignificant the situation might seem, stress hormones continue to build up until the immune system suffers. How we cope with stress is as individual as is the diseases it causes and depends largely on how we perceive stress. The most vulnerable type of people tends to be those full of suppressed anger, obsessive worries, or pessimists who generally see any unfamiliar or ambiguous situation as threatening. More positive persons appear better equipped to cope. Nevertheless, we are all subject to stress and its deleterious effects and if it is allowed to persist we will become ill.

Relief From Stress

 What this means in particular is that disease is caused not only through invasion by external pathogens but that there is a mind-body interaction that causes disease as well. Even more important than this though, it has been shown in hypnotherapeutic approaches to healing that simple relaxation exercises can lower the plasma level of these adrenal hormones that depress the immune system. In fact, studies show that immunocompetence can be enhanced by at least five basic methods: relaxation, imagery, reframing, meditation, and by reinforcing coping skills. Seemingly opposite to these positive approaches that try to increase the patient's comfort, relaxation or coping skills is a technique that has been called "mental ataraxis." This is simply deep meditation that is free from any striving or trying to use one's power to overcome the disease. Instead, this is a state that invokes an inner stillness, a mind at peace and rest. This approach leads to a nonverbal understanding of the self and the universe that can effectively lead to a regression of even very serious forms of cancer.

Stress and Aging

 To carry this thought further, not only does stress cause disease, it shortens our lifespan. By measuring the effects of psychological factors on our biological systems it has been shown that aging follows the same route. Since the biological clocks of the aging process are located in the hypothalamus, it is only natural to use the limbic-hypothalamic route as the psychobiological approach to facilitating life extension. Our biological reaction to stress evolved, of course, out of necessity. When we find ourselves in an emergency situation, this stimulus is sent to the pituitary gland via the hypothalamus. The pituitary then sends a chemical messenger to the adrenal gland that secretes the hormone cortisol, among others, that affects the autonomic nervous system and increases blood flow, heart rate, attention and tension. This has a great value to our survival, but it leads to stress and the associated psychosomatic problems if continued for long periods. In conclusion, we find any of life's negative circumstances can lead to illness and death via the mind's modulation of the autonomic, endocrine, and immune systems. Sensitive physicians have always known, however, that the reverse is true as well, for a positive frame of mind can have a salutary effect in healing the gravest illness.