Stress, the Social Crisis of Our Time

The pressures not only to succeed, but to simply make ends meet have never been greater. As a result, stress is a fact of life for most people. Indeed, 79% of Americans report living with higher than healthy levels of stress. Scarier still is the fact that two-in-five Americans 35-54 years old report extreme levels of stress on a regular basis. Accordingly, chronic illnesses related to stress have become the social crisis of our time, costing our society well over 1.5 trillion dollars annually. The research has been quite clear: the negative behavioral patterns and illnesses associated with modern life—insomnia, all manner of addictions from chemical to behavioral, depression, anxiety, heart disease, obesity, eating disorders, diabetes, asthma, allergies, OCD, ADD, ADHD, PTSD, metabolic syndrome, chronic pain and headaches, ulcers, IBS, autoimmune diseases and much more—are all related to unhealthy levels of stress! This isn’t rocket science; stress is making us sick.

Part of the problem rests with the fact that most people do not know how to adequately cope with, or skillfully self-manage their stress. Understandably, people turn to the medical system for help. This explains why 80% of all doctors’ visits today are attributable to stress and its related illnesses. Accordingly, all of the patterns and conditions listed above have become “medicalized.” Yes, these patterns and conditions do manifest physical and psychological symptoms, which are helped by medicine—so medicine does have a part to play. That being said however, have you ever met a person whose stress related illness was cured by a pill? Probably not. Pills can manage, but they can’t cure a stress illness. In other words, medicine is a way to lessen the intensity of symptoms, which is helpful, but pills do not target and therefore remedy the root cause of the problem. Don’t lose heart though. A fundamental solution to stress-related illnesses does exist, but in order to apply the remedy in service of healthful change requires three interrelated elements: understanding, practice, and skillful execution.

“Have you ever met a person whose stress related illness was cured by a pill?”

Let’s start with correct understanding. Correct understanding implies this: the more a person knows about his condition, i.e. what causes it, the better he is able to manage it, and therefore improve his outcome. This principle has been applied in numerous studies related to all kinds of conditions. Stress illnesses are no exception. In order to heal a stress related pattern one also has to understand its primary cause. Once the cause is correctly understood, refraining from that cause can then be curative. It makes sense.

over-workedSo, do you think you know THE cause of all stress related illnesses? There’s only one that lies at the heart of them all. You may think that its something like stress hormones, like the oft maligned culprits cortisol and adrenaline. That would be a good guess. These chemicals are part of the problem. But the actual cause starts before such chemicals are even produced by your body. The actual cause and cure of stress-illnesses first starts in the mind of a stressed-out person. “The cause and cure of all stress-illnesses starts in the mind of a stressed-out person.”

Okay, here it is, the cause of all stress related illnesses is something that I call “Attentional Fixation.” Attentional fixation is where a person’s attention gets stuck on something: like an obsession. Behind all stress is an obsessive, fixated attention. The reasoning behind my assertion is simple to understand. Attentional fixation causes emotion—intense liking or disliking. Emotion then creates stress chemicals—serotonin and dopamine on the liking side, cortisol and adrenaline on the disliking side. If the stress chemicals persist in a person’s body for too long and in too high a concentration, biochemical “dysregulation ” occurs, which then predictably leads to symptoms. This process explains how attentional fixation, emotion, and repetition create downward spirals, or what are known as accelerating, or self-reinforcing feedback loops. This is how through mental and physical feedback processes (actions) a person develops a stress related illness. And, why once it arises, it’s so hard to heal or change it.

Because this is so, the cure for stress illnesses comes from skillful monitoring of where one’s attention goes, knowing whether it’s fixated, and lastly, being able to unfixate it. The cure therefore comes from training one’s mind—to change your life and feel better requires that you learn to be mindful. Let me help you start a practice. I want you to be happy!

Wishing you health and happiness,

Mark

 

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