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Why We Get Sick: the Hidden Connection Between Stress and Disease Part I

Living within 5 minutes of London has the most incredible advantages and here is one of them…. Dr Gabor Mate’s talk on Thursday last week.

A lot of what he shared is actually in my healthy scoops but having sat in his presence and feeling his compassion and energy, his message resonated even deeper. I had every intention on taking notes and did jot a few things down, but just ‘listening’ and absorbing without pen and paper was well worth it.

His talk was entitled, Why We Get Sick: the Hidden Connection Between Stress and Disease. He touched upon various subjects which in themselves could be books, but I will do my best to share his talk in a couple of blogs.

So what is stress? It is not all bad, there is the good stress ‘eustress’ and then there is the chronic ongoing stress. Eustress helps us keep motivated and FEEL good about life. He touched upon Hans Seyle, the endocrinologist (another Hungarian-Canadian) who coined the term ‘stress’. Hans Seyle is known for his work on stress and he defined stress as the “physiological response to PERCEIVED stressful events in the environment”. These stressful events can also be physical stressors NOT just mental/emotional such as the exposure to toxic chemicals such as chemical pollutants.

Hans Seyle was an unbiased medic, he did not have any previously held beliefs, he went with what he observed with an OPEN MIND and then as great doctors and researchers do, started to connect the dots and saw a pattern. Han’s Seyle’s work led to the discovery of the HPA axis and Dr. Mate touched upon this in relation to stress-related illnesses.

I want to bring in this HPA axis here, as it is vital to understand this in relation to illnesses that are linked to stress such as high/low blood pressure, anxiety, colic in newborns, eczema, asthma, auto-immune conditions, IBS, chest infections and so forth. And more diseases in the 21st century are due to ‘stress’ than outside factors such as tuberculosis, cholera as in the past.

H is for Hypothalamus, P is for Pituitary and A is for Adrenals. The H speaks to the P that speaks to the A through releasing hormones. This connection is vital for dealing with stress, for survival.

So Dr Mate mentioned the increase in diseases in the 21st century which included the above and he explained beautifully with humor the connection between the stress hormone cortisol released by the adrenals for ‘survival’ due to stress and the fact that cortisol (aka the stuff in steroid medications but a synthetic version) is used to ‘treat’ asthma, eczema, auto-immune conditions. We are using stress hormones to ‘manage’ and in all honesty suppress illnesses.

So imagine asthma, where the lungs are struggling to get in oxygen, suddenly this ‘critical’ life-threatening event is relieved by a STRESS HORMONE i.e. steroid inhalers. So asthma is a disease of stress if it is relieved by a synthetic version of our stress hormone.

He explained stress has 3 events – the event/stressor – processing apparatus of the stressor/event – the final physiological stress response

He explained the processing of stress, the second event is where the subconscious beliefs are set up. Now I am going to digress a little, as in one hour he could only cover so much, but subconscious beliefs run our lives. Until our subconscious beliefs do not become conscious and healed we run on auto-pilot. We create these diseases in auto-pilot mode.

An example goes like this..just a slight variation on what Dr. Mate shared…..A baby is crying as mum/dad leaves for work or has to go somewhere or gets dropped off at nursery. The child experiences the stressor which is being abandoned, cries and cries, and cries, the second event is to process this in order to survive, this processing sets up subconscious beliefs, these beliefs can be anywhere from,

– I am not loved – I am not worthy – Something is wrong – I am not safe….

Then the 3rd event is the adaptation, so when mum comes back the baby may be defensive, detached, develops eczema, chest infection, ear infection, streaming cold etc

So we tell ourselves these stories and the fact that they are unconscious we become disconnected to our true authentic self. We adapt to survive. In Hans Seyle’s words ‘we are trying to be someone else’.

These beliefs that are set up in our early years can go onto contribute to illness, these early experiences become templates of how we ‘do/live life’. We can live life with a chronic illness such as Hashimoto’s disease (an auto-immune condition) or with asthma or eczema, or an addiction, etc.

This is just the essence of what he shared but I will expand more in my next few blogs. The MINDBODY connection is the most ‘avoided’ in traditional medicine and we have a system that divides our body into parts like a vehicle, if you have digestive system issues, see a gastroenterologist (but don’t even bring up the word autism), if you have hormonal issues see an endocrinologist, if you have high blood pressure see a cardiologist, if you have cancer see an oncologist…catch my drift?

Has an oncologist ever asked, “what are you running from?” Has a cardiologist asked, “how was your childhood?” Has an ENT specialising in asthma asked: “what can’t you get off your chest?”

It is not all just ‘touchy feely’ but as human BE-ings we are absolutely ‘touchy-feely’…that need for connection is deeply wired into us…more to follow in Part II.

To health and well BE-ing


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