Stress is an umbrella word used to describe a host of emotions; ranging from anxiety, fear, hopelessness, disappointment, guilt, anger, and feeling dejected. Interestingly, on an unconscious level, the ambiguity of the word is non-coincidental. By lumping these negative emotions under the same heading, in effect, we are choosing not to experience these feelings in a conscious manner. In fact, the dysfunction of modern civilization has spawned such non-sequitur as “good stress vs. bad stress”. Modern way of living has conditioned us to hide pain and feelings, rather than experiencing them. As a result, undesirable feelings are intellectualized and compartmentalized, making them impenetrable to the psyche and the soul. For the most part, these unwanted feelings are exiled and closeted. However, viewed from a holistic perspective of health, we are made aware that what is pushed away does not disappear quietly. The residue of repressed emotions is inevitably internalized as stress, usually culminating in something labeled as Dis-ease.
One of the fundamental tenets of Chinese medicine tells us that there is no dichotomy between physical illness and emotional illness. These are merely two sides of the same coin, seen as inextricably linked. When the individual is seen through the holistic lens, there is no separation between mind and body. It is important to note that the term “mind” used in Eastern philosophy, refers not to the function of the intellect, but instead to the heart which regulates the emotional thermostat. In Buddhist classics, when referring to the mind, the Chinese character used to denote this meaning is Xin, the same word representing the heart.
Today, the exploration of the stress-disease connection is a burgeoning field in Western medicine. Doctors are beginning to acknowledge the inherent relationship between unresolved internal strife and external pathologies. With the help of integrative medicine, stress is no longer perceived strictly as emotional distress. The negative repercussions of repressed emotions are now seen as causative factors of physiological impairment. Auto-immune diseases such as asthma, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, multiple sclerosis, and even Alzheimer’s disease; are now attributed to stress-induced psycho-neuro-immune ( PNI supersystem ) imbalances.
The adaptiveness of the individual determines each coping style to stress. Often, the mind may say yes. But when the body says no, it often leads to debilitating disease or terminal illness. Stress can be endured but it cannot be stashed away. Unless the hidden emotions are appropriately dealt with, it will always rear its ugly head. From this perspective, perhaps it pays dividend to fix it before it’s broke.