CHAOSTOCOSMOS

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Fibromyalgia, Stress and the Brain-body Connection

Fibromyalgia was recognized by the American Medical Association as an illness and cause of disability in 1987, yet it has been a struggle for many since Hippocrates first described a similar set of symptoms in 400 BC. In the early 1900’s, fibromyalgia was considered “arthritis of the muscles” and classified with other rheumatological conditions involving pain in the muscles or joints.

Stress and pain are irreversibly linked in fibromyalgia. For many people, some kind of stressful event is what initially triggers the illness.  It often shows up after a serious illness, some kind of emotional or mental shock or with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).  Many believe that stress unmasks the disorder.

Today fibromyalgia is thought to be a central nervous system disorder in which either pain-sensing nerves are excessively sensitive, or the brain is extremely sensitive to pain impulses.  People with fibromyalgia are out of balance in the HPA axis – hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal – which is our body’s system for responding to stress with neurochemicals like adrenalin and serotonin. Pain sensation and abnormal stress response are related and people with fibromyalgia experience more pain when they are stressed.

Simply having fibromyalgia is stressful.  Though fibromyalgia feels different to each person, the common denominators are painful and uncomfortable sensations throughout the body, fatigue and mental cloudiness. Not being able to accomplish things is stressful, especially when it affects your employment situation, leading to financial stress. Dealing with a chronic illness and lifestyle changes is stressful. 

Adding insult to injury is the fact that you may still appear healthy to everyone else, no matter how badly you feel, so that few people understand how compounding these conditions can be on a daily basis.  Anything in addition to the everyday stress load tends to tip the scales and cause the fibromyalgia symptoms to be worse.

Stress reduction is an important part of managing fibromyalgia.  Here are a few ways that my help you alleviate some of the stress:

1.      Good self care.  Eating a nutritious diet, getting the right amount of the right kind of exercise, establishing regular sleep habits and giving yourself grace are all part of taking good care of yourself.  They are important.  You will feel worse, and be able to do less if you do not take care of yourself.

2.      Practice body awareness.  People who deal with chronic pain, as in fibromyalgia, become accustomed to ignoring their bodies; it’s one way they cope with the pain.  If you learn to recognize your body’s cues that you are becoming tense, you can use a relaxation technique or exercise early on, before stress becomes unmanageable.  At the same time, you don’t want to lose that protective lack of awareness about pain.  Take breaks every so often and just sit quietly and pay attention to how you feel.  Learn where you feel stress first.  Do you get heartburn?  Do your shoulders get tight?  Once you learn that, you can periodically scan to see if your body is showing tension.

3.      Change the way you think.  This takes practice, yet it gives you a change to respond to situations instead of reacting.

4.      Keep a stress journal.  This has two purposes.  You can journal about stressful incidents and use the journal as a tool to help you identify situations that are stressful to you.  This can help you either avoid repeating these situations or be better prepared should they be unavoidable.  Journaling about a stressful event also helps you debrief and de-stress after the event.

5.      Learn stress management techniques, such as visualization, meditation, and breathing.  These techniques decrease the level of neurochemicals circulating in your body, and help decrease both stress and pain.

6.      Chiropractic adjustments may help reduce pain and improve range of motion. Chiropractors use a wide variety of manipulative techniques and can individualize your treatment.

7.      NeuroEmotional Technique (NET) focuses on releasing emotional blocks stored in the body’s memory through simple chiropractic adjustments.  Everyone has emotional trauma, past or present, that the body has locked into its memory, often below the realm of conscious thought.  NET can isolate these events and release them from the body.

When you decrease your stress, you will probably experience less pain and fatigue from fibromyalgia.  Changing your lifestyle so that you are taking care of your self can help prevent flare-ups and give you a better quality of life.  Eat well, think well, and move well!

Michael Roth

Dr. Michael B. Roth has been a holistic chiropractor for 23 years. His goal is to transform the health care system from crisis/reactive care to a wellness model of health. Dr. Roth is a dynamic speaker on health and wellness who can motivate and transform your audience and you to bring your own health and well-being to a new level! Learn more about Dr. Roth’s programs by visiting his website, www.drmichaelroth.com

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