What IS the connection between stress and symptoms?

It’s no secret that symptoms like chronic pain and anxiety are related to stress. Even the mainstream medical field has embraced this basic truth and you may have had doctors advise you to “reduce stress.”

But what actually IS the relationship between stress and symptoms? How does one lead to the other — and what can we do about it?

Here’s one way to look at it…

Stress is created when our basic needs are not being met. And emotions are the signals that let us know when an unmet need requires our attention and care.

For example:

➡️ Sadness 😢⁠ might be signaling an unmet need for connection.

➡️ Anger 😡⁠ might be signaling an unmet need for boundaries. ⁠

➡️ Fear 😱⁠ might be signaling an unmet need for safety.⁠

When we pay attention to our emotions and tend to our needs, the stress levels in our mind and body subside, and our system can return to smooth functioning.

Here’s where things get complicated

Unfortunately, if you were raised in a culture that taught you to be obedient (that’s most of us), you were probably taught to suppress your needs and emotions instead of tending to them.

And when you habitually suppress your needs and emotions instead of tending to them …⁠ ⁠ They may eventually explode 🤯 in the form of symptoms.⁠

Symptoms are: psychological, emotional and physical distress signals 🚨 letting you know that your needs and feelings must be tended to. 💛⁠ ⁠

Reversing the pattern of chronically unmet needs

To relieve chronic symptoms, we need to reverse the pattern of chronically suppressed feelings and needs.⁠ ⁠

How do we do that?⁠ Gradually. Learned patterns of suppression cannot be changed with the ease of flicking a switch. It takes patience, practice and a load of self-compassion — because it’s a messy process.

You could start by initiating a conversation with your symptoms and feelings — and then come back to this conversation on a regular basis.

Here are some conversation starters you might try out as journaling ✍️ prompts:

👉 Dear symptom, what emotions are you feeling right now? (List them all out. If you need help with this, you could try scanning the Nonviolent Communication list of feelings .)

👉 Dear emotion, what do you need to feel honored?

👉 Dear emotion, is there a boundary you need me to set?⁠

👉 Dear emotion, do you need me to assert myself through self-expression, following my heart, or speaking up?⁠

👉 Dear emotion, do you need support from allies or peers? If so, who should I reach out to?

👉 Dear emotion, do you need rest, nurturing or soothing?

What’s the point of all this?

Emotions are just like people. When you listen to them and honor them consistently, they’ll eventually begin to trust you and feel safe with you… safe enough to express themselves freely without suppressing and exploding.

And when emotions are consistently expressed and met with care, chronic symptoms start to fade out of the communication pattern.

This doesn’t happen overnight. After all, trust isn’t built overnight. Trust-building can be a bumpy road with lots of fumbles along the way. But every fumble is an opportunity for repair. And each repair makes the trust bond grow stronger.

You can do this. We all can do this. And if you’re reading this, my guess is that you’re already on your way.

Cheering you on with warmth, solidarity and encouragement,

Anna 💖

If you need support with chronic pain and anxiety, take my FREE QUIZ called Why the *bleep* am I still in pain?! so I can help you get some clarity.

And follow me on instagram for healing tips, inspiration and support.

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