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How much does stress really impact you?

Many of us inherently believe that stress impacts our health and yet how many of us take the time to tackle our stress with the sense of urgency that would suggest we really know this?

In Gabor Mate’s book When the Body says No: The Hidden Cost of Stress, he shares not only the scientific research but also compelling case histories of people with arthritis, cancer, heart disease, MS and other illnesses. He outlines how stress combined with one’s individual emotional make up play out in a variety of common illnesses. In some diseases, researchers are able to accurately predict (with 78% accuracy) who has the disease, even before getting the results of a biopsy, based on a personality inventory.

The mind/body connection is such that certain “coping styles magnify the risk of illness by increasing the likelihood of chronic stress”. He identified the common denominator is a diminished ability to communicate about emotions, a pattern which is often developed during childhood. When human beings are unable to express their feelings effectively, they develop coping mechanisms and patterns of behaviour that are shaped based on the environment they grow up.

Individuals then develop these patterns of behaviour and continue to act them out unconsciously often giving rise to chronic stress. For example, he cites his 25 years of experience working with cancer patients and suggests that emotional repression is a common theme. He suggests that none of his patients either interviewed for the book or those that he worked with could identify that as a child they had someone to talk to when they were upset, angry or sad. He goes on to say that this emotional repression occurred, as perhaps the parents were unable to adequately pay attention to the emotional needs of the child at the time. “My mother or father needed me to be happy” is the line that many children internalized and then grew into a stressed and ill adult.

Mate is clear that by identifying this pattern, his objective is not to blame the patients or their parents. Both were doing the best they could, and perhaps the parents are also facing chronic stress and poor coping mechanisms likely that they also learned as a child, and in fact, may have been due to issues passed down from the grandparents.

As I think more about this pattern, it becomes clear how the trauma endured for example, by the First Nations people could be passed down from one generation to the next.

As part of the healing process, Mate encourages people to look inside themselves to uncover unconscious patterns. “That is why knowledge and insight have the power to transform, and why insight is more helpful to people than advice. If we gain the ability to look into ourselves with honesty, compassion and with unclouded vision, we can identify the ways we need to care for ourselves. We can see the areas of the self formerly hidden in the dark.”

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