Some Thoughts About Physical Stress

I’ve received many messages from well-wishers (including great research on shingles)  as well as much help from friends and neighbors. Nothing like a little debility to let one see the web of connection that binds us to our community, and a great opportunity for gratitude for what we do have in our lives. However, a few folks have bravely asked why I think I “got” shingles…as if herbalists and those who take ridiculous amounts of supplements and really pay attention to diet were somehow immune to the ills “lesser” mortals are prey to. We are not “greater” and we are not immune. But all of this did get me thinking, especially when so many well-intentioned blithely talk about “stress” and how I must have been under a lot, etc., you get the picture.

If I were to ask all of you reading this if you are under a lot of “stress”, I bet most would say yes. The economy, dealing with illness and death, years of war, personal problems, Congress doing more harm than good, working too hard and too long, social inequality, anxiety…the list seems endless. Mostly though, it seems that when we think of stress we think emotions, thoughts: worry, doubt, fear, anger, frustration.

Not all stress is lodged in the heart and mind; much is in the gut. And certainly stress can be and often is a mixture of thoughts and feelings that twirl about stealing our rest and our peace of mind. That’s why so-called stress relieving practises, like meditation, mild to moderate physical exercise, visualization, etc., are so helpful: they really do calm the heart and mind and relieve stress. However,  I did a little research from the Chinese perspective, as well as one of my Western medical (both allopathic and alternative) databases, and came up with an interesting piece of information: some stress is actually physical in origin, and it can lower immunity (and according to the Chinese way of seeing the world), is one of the major cause of a shingles outbreak.

Physical stress–which includes lack of sleep (or sleep interruptions), changes in diet (especially from a good diet to one that is less healthy for the individual), changes in climate (e.g., from hot to cold, dry to damp), recreational drug use, strenuous exercise, exposure to environmental toxins (e.g., chemical, electromagnetic, radiation), allergens, etc.–is just as pernicious as the emotional and mental stress that we more commonly think about as “causing” dis-ease. And no one thing “causes” dis-ease: the terrain of the cells is just as (if not more) important than any particular “germ entity.”

So all this rumination is a gentle way of saying to my self and friends that the whole person is a mysterious miracle. We can try to mitigate stress of all kinds; we can be happy and fulfilled in our work and/or our emotional life; we can monitor our thoughts and meditate and be filled with joy… and we still may become ill. My shingles were “probably” the result of physical stress on my vacation (that was added to some emotional stress around work, and a genetic predisposition to shingles). Take home message: how can we each lead a less stress-full life on all levels…and still be authentically ourselves?

PS Next week I’ll look at statin drugs and their natural alternatives. Then some thoughts on cholesterol. What else?

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