Comprised of your brain, your spinal cord, and all of the neurons (nerve cells) spread throughout your body, the nervous system plays an important role in both your survival and livelihood by serving three main functions: gathering, synthesizing, and responding to stimuli. Survival is a matter of connecting and bonding with the right people and being able to react swiftly and effectively in reaction to perceived harm and death. Your livelihood depends on your survival and health. Constantly assessing your environment for danger, your nervous system is in constant command of how your body reacts—the automatic, patterned way a stimulus affects you—and responds—the thoughtful way you can choose to behave with thoughts, feelings, sensations, and behaviors—in reaction to all kinds of stimuli.
If you are living with a functional medical problem like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), migraines, or chronic pain, then your nervous system is undoubtedly working very hard. It’s working hard to cope with whatever symptoms you’re having, to function in your day-to-day life, and to stay connected to the people in your life. Your body is not in a state of ease or peace; your body is under stress.
Stress is your body’s natural reaction to anything physical or emotional that your nervous system deems threatening to your life or livelihood. There may be and most likely are other stressors driving the stress response you’re having but for certain some of your stressors are the physiological symptoms you’re experiencing. In other words, your symptoms are generating stress on your body at a time when your body most needs to find ease. Instead of using its resources to heal, your body is gearing up to fight or flee from the symptoms it perceives as threatening.
In addition, your body is likely having the functional medical problem at least in part if not largely because of stress. There are those that dispute that stress has anything to do with certain functional medical problems, but there is plenty of evidence that prolonged or chronic stress alters a whole host of bodily processes and has a damaging effect on the mind, the heart, and the body. Functional medical problems are tangled up with your autonomic nervous system, the part of your nervous system that is capable of functioning without conscious control, which is, I believe, why they are more difficult to treat.
Investigating or bringing consciousness to the patterns of thoughts, emotions, sensations, movements, beliefs, etc., associated with the way our body shifts into and out of stress, and for that matter investigating the patterns associated with moving into and out of peace or relaxation and into and out of safe connection are critical to healing. In my experience, the investigation of how each individual person’s nervous system reacts to and manages stress of all kinds and unwinds from it lends way to uncovering and understanding whether or not chronic stress is at play and how the autonomic nervous system is pulling the strings of functional medical problems.
I will begin to address how to engage in such a process in my next blog post. Stay tuned!
I appreciate you mentioning that your nervous system is working really hard if you have a condition like IBS. I have it, and recently my symptoms have been really bad. I’ve also had difficulties walking for long periods. Maybe I should visit a nervous system specialist to see if there’s something that can be done about my symptoms.
I appreciate your taking the time to let me know your appreciation for the information in this blog post. I think it’s a good idea to work with a really good psychotherapist, preferably one who understands how to work directly with the autonomic nervous system. That typically involves more experiential psychotherapy. I offer consultations, too, in case that’s ever helpful or can work with you in an ongoing way if you are in CA or NC. I really hope you find some relief for your IBS soon.