Solving and Preventing Chronic Mental and Physical Disease
Chronic stress causes disease. Here's why and how to address it.
Posted August 2, 2021 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan
- Understanding the nature of chronic disease and the principles behind the solutions allows people to fully engage in their care.
- Chronic stress has profound effects on the body’s physiological state. Existing in sustained flight or fight breaks down the body.
- Anxiety and anger are basic survival reactions. Letting go of trying to fight or change them releases energy to live and thrive.
Here is a review of some characteristics of staying alive, which are the same ones that cause illness and disease.
Your health is dependent on the amount of time your body is in a physiological state of threat compared to feeling safe. Life is dependent on feeling safe in order to regenerate and also dealing with threats in order to survive. But, when you are exposed to sustained threat physiology, your body will break down.1
Physical and mental symptoms are the result of each organ system in your body uniquely responding to your body’s chemical makeup.2 In addition to the multiple physical symptoms, the sensations created by the flight or fight inflammatory state are called anxiety and anger. They are the result of threats, not the cause. They are also powerful, uncontrollable, amoral, destructive, and necessary to maintain life.
The starting point
Picture a complex circuit board that has trillions of etched-in circuits that represent your lifetime of programming. These circuits are not alterable for several reasons. First, they are memorized, similar to riding a bicycle.3 Second, any time you spend trying to analyze and figure them out is counterproductive. The more attention you pay to these patterns of activity, the more they are reinforced.
Finally, as the powerful unconscious brain is estimated to process 20 million bits of information per second4 (compared to your conscious brain only processing 40 bits per second), rational interventions alone, such as talk therapy, cannot hope to make a dent in these circuits. It is like trying to move a high mountain peak with a shovel. It is not going to happen and much of your life’s energy is consumed in the process of trying.
It sounds discouraging. You have these permanently embedded pain circuits in your brain and the harder to try to fix them, the more they are reinforced. They are also necessary and much more powerful than your conscious brain. So, what do you do?
Solving the unsolvable
Understanding that you cannot solve or improve these unpleasant circuits is the first and necessary principle behind the solution. You must put down your shovel and move on. Instead of trying to “fix yourself,” new strategies are needed to create fresh circuits in your brain. Most of these approaches utilize methods that connect with the unconscious part of your brain with repetition. It’s similar to diverting a river into a different channel. You begin with small steps to create these new channels, but eventually the water’s flow will aid the process.
So why would we ever take anxiety or anger personally? They are inherent for survival but have little, if anything, to do with who we are. By letting go of trying to solve an unchangeable situation, you’ll experience a huge energy surge that allows you to move forward.
The second principle is that since it is impossible to fix your pain circuits, you must develop or shift onto a new set of circuits that aren’t painful. There are many ways of stimulating these changes, and the process is called, “neuroplasticity.” It is similar to installing a new virtual computer on your desktop. With repetition, it is remarkable how quickly these changes happen. Since your brain will develop wherever you place your attention, you must move towards your vision instead of continually trying to fix yourself. As you embrace wellness, you’ll crowd out pain.
Third, you cannot move forward until you have let go of the past. This is difficult because when you are trapped by a chronic disease, you are legitimately angry. However, you are also stuck. There are ways to effectively process anger and there are tremendous benefits to learning these tools.
Fourth, The DOC (Direct your Own Care) Journey is simply a framework that organizes your thinking and presents tools in a way that you can apply them in a focused manner. The steps in healing are:
- Awareness – you have to understand a problem before you can solve it.
- Treating all aspects of pain simultaneously – it is similar to fighting a forest fire. Every treatment can contribute to a good outcome, but nothing will work in isolation.
- You take control of your care. Since chronic pain is complex and you are a unique individual, each person’s situation is incredibly complicated. You are the only person that can possibly solve it with guidance. If you are not in charge, nothing can happen.
Fifth, a core concept of the healing journey is awareness. It includes awareness of:
- Your emotions — suppressed emotions are especially problematic
- The impact of your actions on others and theirs on you
- The nature of chronic pain and disease
- The principles behind the solutions to chronic disease
- Your specific diagnosis
- Your vision of what you want your life to look like
Finally, since your sense of well-being and health is dependent on the composition of your body’s physiological state, all of your efforts are intended to stimulate it directly or indirectly into a safety state. There are three are areas of focus:
- Input – how you process your stresses
- The state of your nervous system – calm or hypervigilant
- Output – it is desirable to remain in balance or safety and minimize the amount of time you are in a threat state.
The desired safety state allows you to feel content and secure, have a slower metabolic rate (rate you burn fuel), less inflammation, and lower levels of stress hormones. Optimizing your body’s physiological state from threat to safety has a profound effect on your health and quality of life.
The solutions to solving and preventing chronic disease lie in understanding the principles behind them. Embedding these concepts allows you to continually practice them. This is in contrast to randomly learning techniques to fix yourself. The process gives you control of regulating your body’s physiology from one of threat state to safety. The next lesson will discuss how your brain physically changes its structure in response to these concepts. It is called, “neuroplasticity.”
Questions and considerations
- Consider that it is your whole body that responds to your immediate set of circumstances in order to optimize your chances of survival. Your nervous system is the processing center for sensory input and an integral part of the reaction. There is absolutely no separation of the mind and body and why even the use of the term, “Mind Body” is inaccurate.
- Why would you take your powerful survival reaction personally? It is intended to feel so unpleasant so as to force you to act. It is what you possess and not who you are.
- You’ll be taken on a journey that will allow you to depersonalize this flight or flight reaction. It is just a part of your daily life.
- Take some time to review the above principles of solving chronic disease. They will eventually enter every aspect of your life and become automatic. As you spend a lesser amount of time in a threat state, you will be able to move forward into a new life and thrive.
- You can’t fix chronic disease. You must let go and move into wellness.
1. Torrance N, et al. Severe chronic pain is associated with increased 10-year mortality: a cohort record linkage study. Eur J Pain (2010);14:380-386.
2. Schubiner H and M Betzold. Unlearn Your Pain, 3rdMind Body Publishing, Pleasant Ridge, MI, 2016.
3. Hashmi, JA et al. Shape shifting pain: Chronification of back pain shifts brain representation from nociceptive to emotional circuits. Brain (2013); 136: 2751 – 2768.
4. Trincker, Dietrich. 1965 lecture at the University of Kiel. German physiologist