17. The Good News About Stress and Illness

Most people believe that the connection between stress and illness works roughly in the following manner:  Stress physically wears us down, thereby 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 of both stress and the mechanism by which it causes illness.  First of all, the Graf framework sees problem-causing stress as more than simply 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 common to find the roots of today’s problems in stress from an earlier point in time.

As to the mechanism by which stress creates illness, Graf Stress Management’s paradigm regards illness as generally initiated by the intelligence to fulfill our subconscious needs caused by 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 for feeling this way without first-hand experience in Graf Stress Management.  But experience has shown these principles to work in thousands of clients over more than forty years, even if we don’t know precisely how.

Uncertainty about the way things work is accepted in medicine and the same latitude ought to be accorded Graf Stress Management.  One woman, I recall, was incredulous when I described my view of the mechanism by which stress causes illness.  “You don’t really believe that!” she exclaimed.  But moments later she told me without batting an eye that she’d just begun a course of blood pressure medication which her doctor hoped would 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.

About Elizabeth

Elizabeth Richardson, in Rockville, Maryland, has been certified to practice Graf Stress Management since 1991. In addition, she holds a B.A. in Economics and an M.S. in Operations Research and formerly worked for the Congressional Budget Office doing econometric modeling.
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