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How to stress less about your diagnosis

I’ve had quite the journey with physiotherapy in my search of getting to the root of people’s problems which led to a ‘whole person’ approach for assessment and treatment because believe it or not, even though you’ve just hurt your elbow playing cricket it might be connected to that car accident you had as a teenager or to that injury you had to your toe a few years back. There is a growing body of evidence towards looking at emotional and cognitive influences, some of which might challenge conventions. We’re beginning to understand the toxicity of stress and the complexity of the mind whereby limiting beliefs can confound a simple problem.

There are a number of modern developments to be aware of when unraveling a problem. We’re beginning to understand how regional ‘drivers’ can cause distal dysfunction and we’re beginning to understand how persistent stress can trigger a hormonal cascade that enhances perception of pain and reduces tolerance levels. In previous posts I’ve explained stress but can simplistically be categorized as ‘good’ stress or ‘bad’ stress. Good stress is a normal physiologic response when an organism’s survival is threatened in the present moment. This would serve you very well when running away from a tiger or walking on a cliff. Bad stress tends to occur when we have the same physiological reaction from a ‘perceived’ threat, the catch here is that a lot of perceived stress is a conditioned response from past experiences.

An example of conditioning of my own is my experience of apples (bare with me). My first introduction to apples was through a joke from a trusted family friend; whats worse than finding a worm in an apple? Finding half a worm. A seemingly harmless and hilarious joke for a 5 year old wouldn’t you say? On introduction to a new stimulus (a warning) triggers a hormonal cascade of stress hormones – fight, flight or freeze response. With subsequent exposure to apples this pattern will repeat, resulting in an aversion to apples and unnecessary ‘bad stress’. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Now lets consider what effect threatening communication from a trusted person (healthcare practitioner, parent, friend) could have on someone with an acute problem that is a part of you. When threatening language is connected with pain this can trigger ‘bad stress’ whenever pain is experienced. Can you see how harmful this can be? Negative feedback loops can ensue and a simple problem can quickly become a complex issue through cemented beliefs.

Conventional medicine advocates a diagnosis and is often imperative for appropriate treatment however we’re beginning to understand that a range of clinical diagnoses (via radiography) have little or no correlation with clinical symptoms.

So, to really understand the root of your problem, you need to understand not just what has happened but how it's happened. This needs to be an integrative approach that works within all of the dimensions of your life.


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