Recently, I experienced a severe allergic reaction, which once again sent me off to the doctor. During the visit, we were reviewing some of the possible triggers, he asked, “Could it be stress?” I thought for a moment and responded, “No, things are pretty good at home and work right now.” He went on to explain that stress can sometimes cause allergic responses. I assured him that, other than having this very stressful mystery reaction, I was much less stressed than I had been for quite some time.
Then last week, a friend posted a link to an article, Effects of sexual abuse last for decades, study finds. While I’ve seen several studies about how brain function and body chemistry can be dramatically altered by childhood sexual abuse, the information presented in this article really resonated with me:
As children, they had higher levels of cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone,” which is released in high levels during the body’s “fight or flight” response. But by about age 15, testing showed that cortisol levels were below normal, compared to the control group. Lower levels of cortisol have been linked to a decrease in the body’s ability to deal with stress, as well as problems with depression and obesity. Lower levels of the hormone have also been linked to post-traumatic stress disorder.
…“That tells us they are in a chronic state of stress, and never feel safe.”
…their cortisol levels remained lower than the control group, on average. “That tells us their stress response system is burned out,” says Putman, which could explain why some are doing so poorly in life.”
Once I read this, I really started thinking about how much stress I carry with me day to day. While my response to my doctor was correct, I was less stressed than I have been for a while, it was still somewhat incorrect in the grand scheme of things. I’m always stressed. I live in a state of hypervigilance. I am so used to living with this level of stress, that I’ve never seen it as stress…it’s normal. Yet, now that I really look at it, I realize that the amount of work my brain and body have always inherently done to protect me has had it’s toll on me. While did find that the reaction was not stress-related, I do now realize that my resting tension level is well above what it should be for most.
Something I also realized is that my doctor is missing an important piece of the puzzle. I’ve never shared with him what I have experienced, simply because he is not a psychologist or counselor. However, I realize now that in order to understand how to best treat me, he needs to have all the pieces of the puzzle, not just a few of them. If my blood pressure is high, and all my blood work is normal, then my doctor is doing a lot of extra work if he does not know that my tension level could be causing the problem. Does it mean I will spill my entire life story to him? No. However, it does mean that I will share one brief sentence to sum it all up, as well as a brief summary of what I found in this article.
Even still, as many know, I’ve never been one to rely solely on traditional medicine to solve my problems. After reading this article, my brain was bursting with questions about cortisol. I did some searches and found a wealth of information. I found that many of my problems, like high blood pressure, never being able to lose weight, being tired all the time, my brain never switching off – they could all be connected to my body’s stress response. Not only this, but I found there are several herbs that may prove helpful in reducing my stress levels and restoring balance to my system. As with any medication, I am always very careful to research natural remedies carefully before trying them, but I have found them helpful in the past and am willing to try again.
So, if you haven’t thought about it before, stop and ask yourself, “Could it be stress??” Think for a moment and truly evaluate if your resting levels of tension are “normal”. You might be surprised at what you find.
Once again, I am off to do some work on me…