Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome linked to the stress response?

By Russell Stubbs

How does ME/CFS start?

There are numerous ways of developing Fatigue conditions, including Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome (PVFS), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) along with Fibromyalgia (FM). Some common causes include - viruses, bacterial infections, operations, vaccinations, etc. The cause can also be connected to a stressful incident or period in a persons life. The common factor is that the person's system is under stress.

What is happening when we are under stress?

We produce a powerful cocktail of chemicals - including cortisol, adrenalin and noradrenalin as a result of entering this state. This is the same chemistry produced during the fight or flight response - a natural process that is triggered in reaction to a perceived or real threat.

Physiological changes take place during fight or flight

The sympathetic branch of the nervous system is responsible for a number of changes. Blood pressure and heart rate increase in order to bring additional fuel to the major muscles groups. Thyroid and blood sugar levels are affected. Functions that aren't essential including digestion and immune system are shut down to allow increased energy for emergency systems.

What's the connection between the stress response and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

The system is already under stress from the initial virus, bug, trauma, vaccination etc. If the person was run down at the time or there were other stressors present, this could prolong the recovery period. A slow recovery is then a cause for concern, which results in more stress. This depletes an already challenged immune system, slowing the process of recovery further.

Sufferers Search for Help

Sufferers are typically tested for other ailments by their doctors. After receiving the negative test results, the symptoms persist. People often turn to alternative approaches. Some people get temporary relief, but again the symptoms come back. It's common for people to lose trust in their body and energy levels. This can help to further entrench the stress - symptom - stress cycle.

Long-term stress response

When subjected to the stress response over the long-term the system becomes depleted. The chemistry that we produce in order to help us out of danger becomes toxic, depleting the immune system and disrupting most other bodily systems. Prolonged activation can cause adrenalin levels to become depleted. This dysregulation of stress chemistry causes more fatigue and physical symptoms.

So is it all in the mind?

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is clearly not all in the mind. It's an illness that is very physical in nature. It is known to affect most bodily systems. Approaches to recovery that are purely physical or that focus only on specific symptoms rarely work well. What's needed is an understanding of the mechanisms that trigger these physiological responses. We need to recognize that these mechanisms are very much a part of the mind. Until these patterns are addressed, full recovery over the long term is unlikely.

How do we break these cycles?

It is possible to break free of these cycles and it can be done quickly, given the right tools. Fortunately, the length of time of the illness does not determine the length of the recovery time. What's needed is an understanding of the mind - body connection and an insight into the damaging unconscious cycles. We can then learn to use new physical and cognitive strategies that influence our health in a positive way.

You are not broken!

Sufferers of fatigue related conditions can typically feel broken or flawed in some way. Although the physical symptoms can be so severe that it feels as if this is so, this is not the case. Human health is incredibly buoyant, it is just necessary to discover what is in the way. Once we can bring balance to the system, we can create the opportunity for energy to return and physical symptoms to naturally resolve.

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