Stress is involved no matter which way this circle goes, and often it goes in both directions. The unity of mind and body is no longer in dispute; the research is conclusive. But even prior to the time when science would render this a moot point, the placebo effect was a factor. It is only because the mind “decides” that a dummy pill will “cure” that there is relief from an ailment.

Given the unity of mind and body, we have enormous power to participate in this process and learn to break into the circularity of the stress cycle and its implication in disease. There are many techniques that you could learn which could replace the feeling of helplessness with a feeling of empowerment.

Perhaps you already know that stress induces what is called the fight-or-flight response during which our organ systems prepare to deal with danger. Blood pressure goes up, heart rate goes up, muscle tension goes up, etc. In the intensity of today’s world, real danger, and the stress response to medical problems that raise our anxiety levels, can be similar. And before we know it, our bodies are pummeled with stress responses, sometimes without relief. The emotional and physical experience can be unbearable.

It is now scientifically proven that anyone can learn how to counteract the forces of stress thereby reversing the biology of fight-or-flight, bringing down heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, etc. There are many mind/body methods you can learn to accomplish this, such as eliciting the relaxation response as pioneered by Dr. Herbert Benson, utilizing breathing exercises, yoga, choosing from an array of coping mechanisms that were not part of your repertoire, identifying and restructuring negative thinking and many more.

By taking care of yourself in this way you can reverse the vicious circle, thereby easing the physical and emotional grip of stress and clearing a space that allows your medical treatment to proceed with less physical and emotional “noise.” This is not only a great relief, but also addresses the most significant underlying aspect of this situation, that is the feeling of being out of control.

Besides inducing the fight-or-flight response, stress can sometimes induce a “freeze response” in which an experience of panic results in an inability to either fight or flee. Physiologically, the organ systems prepare to deal with danger, as with fight-or-flight, but the feeling of helplessness results in the person feeling pumped up to confront the situation but unable to go into action. Here, too, self-care methods in combination with understanding what is needed to get past the internal barrier, can reverse the biology, and the emotional relief and feeling of empowerment can be profound.