Patient: Dr. Robinson! I feel horrible! My body is a wreck!! Help!
Dr R: Seems like it could be that your stress is causing these physical symptoms. Are you stressed?
Dr R: Are you stressed?
Dr R: Are you stressed?
Dr R: Are you stressed?
Patient: Wehlllllll...other than the three deaths in my family, my six children needing new medical coverage, my husband having radical brain surgery but now he is divorcing me, my jerk-off boss literally knocks me on my head when I mess up, working 80 hours a week, and I haven’t had a vacation since Bill Clinton wagged his finger at the camera and said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”, and the generalized demoralized state of our economy and the country, then...no. I am not really stressed. That’s just NORMAL.
It is important to note that those responses from the “patient” above were an amalgam of real responses I have had over the years from patients. And that’s just some of them. People just do not know they are under stress. And they know even less that this stress they are enduring is affecting their physical bodies, their hormones, and how they feel.
I had a patient recently tell me that she was worried about her husband, who is in his 60s, that he has insomnia and maybe his testosterone was low and causing it. I asked my standard and obvious question, “Is he stressed?”, and she gave the typical response of “No.” She added that they have a great life, both of them very successful, no money concerns and their marriage was great. This was very true. I asked about his type of insomnia. She said he falls asleep instantly, but always wakes up and can’t get back to sleep. “Why?”, I asked. “Wehlllll...he just worries a lot.” ???
Patients often do not notice that they are under stress. I always say, “Does a fish really know it’s in water? The answer is no, it’s always in water.” Patients also do not like to readily admit that they are under stress or that psychological or emotional things are bothering them. Many have a natural tendency to avoid admitting perhaps out of embarrasment, but even more likely is that they have to admit to something they so regularly DENY about themselves and their loved ones on a regular basis. Denial is a very strong opiate. And it is very effective...in the short run. In the long run, denial is not effective. Denying the stress we are under, denying the circumstances and refusing to face it in order to see it correctly and positively, will only lead to more pain, which leads to more denial. Patients almost always want to believe that the answers are anything else but themselves. Since they interpret that their lives are beyond their control, they of course believe that their health is beyond their control and that they need something outside themselves to “fix it” for them.
Patients want to feel better. My goal is to help you feel better. It’s all about feelings folks. It’s all about changing the way you feel. You come to me or any doctor because you want to feel a certain way, you want to feel differently from the way you currently feel. You may not know how to achieve that, and that is why you come to see me. What I am offering to you today is the notion that very often the feeling you are looking for really is relief from your stress. And when you are relieved from this stress, it will set you free. This is not some hocus-pocus or some way for me or any doctor to avoid “the real issue.” Or it is not some way to say, “It’s all in your head sir, now stop bothering me.” This is the key to anyone’s physical issues. It does not mean it is the only key, but it is a key no matter what you are dealing with. Eventually, you have to face your own stress and how it affects your body. And more importantly, you have to face the choice of how you are going to manage and cope with your stress.
Does stress really affect our bodies? Yes! We have known this in the scientific and medical community for a long time, but only in the past ten years or so the medical community is starting to listen and understand how it affects their patients. We understand now that most chronic diseases, the ones that we think are genetic or some outward problem with us, are linked directly to stress. Things like diabetes and heart disease are linked more to the chronic stress that people are under. In fact, most in the medical community, including the American Medical Association, conclude that over 60% of all disease and illness is related to chronic stress. A large study was conducted asking Family Practice doctors across the country about the main reason patients came to see them. Up to 90% of the responses were simply stress.
Stress is as inevitable as death and taxes. You are going to experience stress. We can do two things with stress. Both of these strategies work well, but one I believe is more effective in the long run. One, we simply avoid the stress. Get out of the way of yourself! We often place ourselves directly in front of the train when all we had to do was move a little to the side. Where you are is often a choice. In fact, most of the time it is a choice. So choose to get out of the way, whenever possible. Choose to avoid stress in the first place. But we all know this is not always possible...remember the “death and taxes” thing. It’s going to happen. This leads me to second thing we can do about stress, and I think this has a more lasting change and capability to help...
Learn to interpret the world and your stress differently. Change the blueprint. Change the model of your world and you will change how you feel about anything. Again, no hocus-pocus here. This is a proven fact. How we look at the world and things that occur around us determines our experience. It is a choice. Yes, I said it. A choice. You choose your hell or you choose your heaven. What if you chose heaven right now? What would happen in your life? How would you feel? What would you need to believe, right now, to choose your heaven?
How is it that two people, with exactly the same resources and abilities, can experience the same type of stress, but have two radically different interpretations about it? Was one smarter than the other. No, same abilities. Did the other have more opportunities around them? No, remember, same resources.
Victor Frankl, the author of the seminal work Man’s Search for Meaning went through the horrors and the inhumanity of four different Nazi concentration camps from 1942 to 1945. He saw unspeakable things including his family and friends slaughtered in front of him. How can Victor Frankl come out on the other end of that “hell” and say things like this?:
A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth — that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still knows bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved.
How is it that Victor Frankl could experience the highest forms of human injustice, more than most of us will ever have to face, and still come out on the other side seeing the profound truth about love?
We who lived in the concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
How is it that Victor Frankl could see that CHOICE was ALWAYS there, even in the face of something as horrific as what he experienced? Was Victor Frankl a genius? Maybe. Was Victor Frankl equipped with more resources than you have right now at this moment, as you read this blog post on this wonderful invention called a computer, living in the greatest country ever, and yes, with all of your legitimate and real pain and stress? I would offer no. Both you and I can be as Victor Frankl if we choose. I believe that he would hope that above all things, for us to know in our hearts that we can choose our own way. We can choose our ideas about ourselves and our heaven or hell, and therefore our stress.
One way we can choose to be, that has been demonstrated scientifically to help, is showing and feeling gratitude and appreciation. “Gratitude is the sign of noble souls”, it humbles us to the moment and the living spark within us ignites the flames of the deep pursuit of meaning and of Truth. Being grateful for every moment. Being grateful for the smallest of things. We all have those moments. Little things. My father never threw a baseball with me, even though I would ask. It just wasn’t his thing, and he was generally very aloof. But one day, when I was about nine or ten, I asked him again. And he did. We threw a softball in the back yard for about five minutes, back and forth, back and forth. Not very long. But it was there. The moment was there. I didn’t have much time with him when he was alive and he died when I was 16, but I always have the gratitude of that moment. And I think of it often, and center it in my heart, and just breathe appreciation and gratitude. What can you remember? What moments have you had with loved ones? What moments of appreciation do you have at your fingertips? How can you use those moments to help you to see how the world is wonderful and magnificent? How can you see that the world is happening FOR YOU and not to you, and be grateful for the seasons of change around you?
Take a moment now. Right Now. Right where you are sitting and close your eyes and breathe that moment of appreciation and gratitude right in your heart. Breathe through your heart, in and out through your heart. This is the key to helping your stress...gratitude and your living breathe, right in the moment. Do it now. Do it often. And see your life, and your stress, transform.
I wish all of you, every reader of this, love and grace and gratitude.
Deepest Blessings and Thanks to you...
To Your Grateful Health,