Most people believe the connection between stress and illness works roughly as follows: Stress physically wears us down, diminishing our resistance to disease-causing microorganisms or causing us pain, such as headaches, from muscle tension.
Graf Stress Management takes a more comprehensive view both of stress and the mechanism by which it causes illness. First of all, the Graf framework sees problem-causing stress as more than the pressures of daily life. Rather, the most debilitating stress is related to negative thoughts and feelings– guilt, hurt, resentment, low self-esteem, and so forth — conscious as well as unconscious, from both past and present events. Indeed, it’s quite common to find today’s problems rooted in stress lingering from an earlier point in our life.
As to the manner in which stress creates illness, Graf Stress Management’s paradigm is that illness is generally initiated by the intelligence to fulfill our subconscious needs in response to stress. These needs fall into three categories: 1) escapes from situations we can’t cope with; 2) justifications or manifestations of negative beliefs and feelings, and 3) punishments of ourselves or others.
Stress-induced illnesses can range from minor bugs to life-threatening ailments. Indeed, it appears that the entire range of physical, mental, and emotional maladies can result from stress.
It’s tempting to dismiss this paradigm as simplistic or unscientific. I don’t blame anyone without first-hand experience in Graf Stress Management for feeling this way. But our experience has shown these principles to work in thousands of clients over a thirty-five year span — even if we don’t know precisely how.
Uncertainty about how things work is accepted in medicine. I remember one woman who was incredulous when I described my view of the mechanism between stress and illness. “You don’t really believe that!” she exclaimed. But only minutes later she told me she’d just started a blood pressure medication which her doctor hoped could help even though “no one knows how it works.”
Some people take offense at the idea that we use illness for punishment, escape, or justification. They think I’m saying that it’s people’s own fault if they get sick; they could get well if they really wanted to.
Let me be clear: I have great compassion for people struggling with health problems and I don’t believe anyone would consciously choose to do so. Nor do I think they could they bring on real symptoms simply by choosing to. However, this is a subconscious process, and our subconscious dynamics are altogether different.
In any case, I’m not making a value judgment. Whether or not people use illnesses to escape, justify, or punish is either true or false. I find it true and therefore, helpful knowledge.
Using illness for escape, justification, or punishment is far more common than we suppose. I believe we’ve all done it at times without even knowing it. And lest anyone think I sound superior, please know that I am as vulnerable to stress-induced problems as anyone else, although at this point I usually take care of things before they mushroom into physical symptoms. It’s fair to say that I’m my own most frequent client and I’m glad to report that you get better at it with time and practice.
In the final analysis, a clearer understanding of the dynamic between stress and illness is liberating. I’m grateful to know a quick, painless, and effective method for identifying and resolving stress rather than relying on slower, generalized approaches like medication, psychotherapy, exercise, or relaxation. Graf Stress Management is a revolution that shifts our minds and bodies from being at the mercy of germs, genes, and other forces outside our control, to having the ability to discover and resolve what’s really troubling us — from the inside, out.