I’m no doctor, scientist, researcher, sociologist or anthropologist, but I’ve lived with pain and illness for over 20 years, and I recognize it in so many others, when working with clients, researching my book and simply meeting new people.
I know the statistics, I’ve seen the numbers on how many people live with chronic pain and illness, but yet I’m still surprised every time I meet someone who does. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am. Millions of people deal with pain and illness on a daily basis. I daresay it’s become a problem of epidemic proportions.
There is one thing I notice that just about everyone I’ve met who is chronically ill or in pain has in common: stress.
Stress comes in many different shapes and forms. Some people call it anxiety. Some people have post traumatic stress disorder. Some people wear their stress like a badge, with pride. Some people don’t realize how much pressure they are under. They brush off traumatic events as no big deal, without understanding the extent of the effect those traumas (even the seemingly small ones) have on them.
We often think we “should” be able to handle all the stress and pressure in our lives, and also any extra that’s heaped on for good measure. We don’t want to admit that it’s too much. Sometimes we can’t recognize that it is. We’re so hard on ourselves, we demand so much, yet we choose to turn a blind eye to the effects our pressure-filled world has on us. We “should” be able to handle everything that’s put in front of us. If our job is stressful, we need to either deal with it or conquer it, quitting is not an option.
Or is it? I mean, how much is your health worth to you? What if reducing your symptoms requires a dramatic change in your life? More often than not, if you are still somewhat functional, you’re probably not willing to make big changes in order to relieve your pain or illness. And I understand that, it’s hard to imagine how you could still live a decent life without your job, or a job. Or without your partner. Or living in a different city if it would benefit you more.
Eventually, many people hit bottom and are finally forced by their bodies to change their lives.
Why do we push ourselves to the breaking point?
Why can’t we accept that we need to slow down before we hit a crisis?
I think there are a lot of answers to that question, but I do believe it’s in large part due of the culture and society in which we live. Think about the messages we receive – taking care of ourselves is often equated with giving up, quitting or being selfish and it’s really hard to disavow ourselves of that belief. It’s also due to our desire to maintain a certain standard of living. Once we become accustomed to a certain lifestyle, we’re less willing to cut down or cut back.
We don’t live in a world that’s set up to take care of us. We live in a world that’s go-go-go-go-go all the time. Catch up, keep up, do more, accomplish. Our bodies are not designed for this sort of stress. Being in fight-or-flight all the time wears us down, we can’t maintain ongoing hypervigilance. Our body can’t continue to make and tolerate that much adrenaline for long periods of time without starting to break down.
What I’m saying is that it’s on us. We may not have the ability to change the event or circumstances that led to or caused our pain or illness, but we do have the power to control the degree of our symptoms by managing our stress levels. How do we do that? Stay tuned for my next blog post on the Top 5 Ways To Reduce Stress and Symptoms.