Dr. Martina Melzer, published: 04.06.2022

 

Deutsche Version

 

Body, mind and brain are an inseparable unit. Every physical illness has a psychological effect. And every mental illness has a physical effect. It is a great mistake of modern Western medicine to think only in organs, to put people into drawers, to rely only on results from blood tests and other diagnostic procedures. And not seeing the whole person, learning their story.

As a pharmacist, I have been influenced by modern medicine and have made exactly the same mistake. I also thought of my disease only in terms of organs and drawers, immersed myself in numerous studies. I wanted to dive right into the cell nucleus and lost sight of the whole body, which consists of trillions of cells. Especially because so many doctors thought I was a "psycho", thought "it's all in the head" or everything was "psychosomatic", I went into inner resistance. No, I have a physical illness, a neurological one, maybe even an autoimmune disease. In the meantime I see it all more differentiated. As I said, body, mind and brain are one unit.

The word "psychosomatic"

I don't like the word "psychosomatic" at all. Not only because I was confronted with it so often during my years-long doctor's odyssey and was told "it's all psychosomatic" or "you have nothing" or "you have depression" or "you have too much stress". But also because I don't think the term is correct. Very many doctors want to tell you that a psychological problem triggers physical complaints. According to the motto: It's all in your head. But as I wrote above, brain, mind and body are an inseparable unit and they influence each other and always bidirectionally. So one should rather speak of "mind-brain-body disorder" or "body-mind-brain disorder". The order of the terms is arbitrarily interchangeable.

Axel Schweickhardt describes in the book "Psychosomatische Medizin und Psychotherapie": "Psychosomatics means that body and soul are two inseparable aspects of the human being, which are only distinguished for methodological reasons or for better understanding. This does not imply "linear" causality in the sense that mental disorders cause physical illness. This would lead to a dualism in which there are diseases of mental origin and diseases of somatic origin."

The Polyvagal Perspective

I am also deeply involved with the Polyvagal theory (more on this in the "Nervous System" strategy). Physician and polyvagal expert Deb Dana says, "Your autonomic state becomes your psychological story." By this she means: Our autonomic nervous system is constantly gathering sensory perceptions from the outside and inside world and sending the information to the brain. There it reaches the hypothalamus and from there the limbic system. This is our emotional center. It evaluates whether the incoming information means safety or danger. This all happens unconsciously and at breakneck speed so that we can react automatically in the event of danger - and fight, flee or freeze. Depending on the status of the autonomic nervous system, consisting of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, we feel and think. We get anxious thoughts, get angry or feel helpless and hopeless, see everything black. So our biology creates our mental state, our thought world, our behaviors.

Emotions & bodily sensations

Even though the first thing you think of when you think of emotions is the psyche, they are more of a biological thing. They are the result of our autonomic state and the reason for our thinking and behavior. They express themselves mainly through the muscles of our face and body. Quite unconsciously and intuitively we interpret the facial expression, voice, muscle tension and body posture of another human being - just like any other animal creature on this planet. This then puts us in fight, flight, fawn, freeze or in safety and connection. Accordingly, we unconsciously adjust our own facial expressions, voice, posture and muscle tension.

If we feel connected and safe, we speak softer, brighter, smile, relax our muscles, have a calm and upright posture. If we are afraid, we tense all kinds of muscles, tear our eyes wide open, hold our breath, our stomach turns, our legs are restless. If we are angry and programmed to fight, we clench our fists, pull our eyebrows together, tighten our jaws, make ourselves big. If we feel helpless and at the mercy of others, we hardly make a sound, huddle together, lower our head, are stiff.

If we are sad, we cry, sob, are silent, huddle together. If we are disgusted, we feel nausea, we tense our muscles and retreat, we contort our mouth, nose, eyes.

What I want to say with this section: symptoms can be an expression of an external or internal injury, of a damaged organ, of a serious illness. But symptoms can also be bodily sensations and expressions of certain emotions and the autonomic nervous system. It is extremely important to have new symptoms thoroughly clarified by a doctor. However, if nothing is found, one should at least look into the subject of emotions, the nervous system and the body-mind-brain connection. Chronic stress and trauma upset the autonomic nervous system (see strategy "Nervous system") and are causally involved in numerous chronic diseases.

The emotional influence on diseases

Physician, psychiatrist and trauma researcher Dr. Bessel van der Kolk names the emotions stored in the body that one experienced during a psychological or physical trauma, as well as the constant alarm mode of the autonomic nervous system, as (co-)causes of diseases such as: (complex) post-traumatic stress disorder, autoimmune diseases, chronic back pain, fibromyalgia, migraine, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma.

Physician and trauma expert Dr. Gabor Maté describes the completely underestimated influence of suppressed emotions, especially anger and rage, which one was never allowed to express as a child and adult, on numerous diseases. For example: multiple sclerosis, ALS, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, ME/CFS, fibromyalgia, migraine, endometriosis, skin diseases, cancer, cardiovascular diseases. He says, repressed emotions and stress are major contributors to disease. And: that doesn't mean you are to blame for your illness!

Dr. Russell Kennedy has devoted an entire book to the topic of anxiety disorders, which he himself struggled with for decades. His message: anxiety is the worrying thoughts about the future, about potentially dangerous situations that could occur. But anxiety originates in the body, in our guts, as a result of a permanent state of alarm of the autonomic nervous system.

Prof. Gregor Hasler lists a wide variety of "psychological" and "physical" diseases as possible consequences of disturbed gut-brain communication: Depression, anxiety disorders, Parkinson's disease, addictions, multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. He says: You can become a psychopath if your gut is not functioning properly (I understand). And depression and anxiety disorders are possibly caused by dysfunctional gut flora, as well as a dysfunctional gut nervous system.

Psychoneuroimmunologist Prof. Christian Schubert describes how much the psyche and immune system interact with each other, how our emotional state affects the functioning of the immune system. Emotional stress can lead to heart failure, reactivate herpes infection, trigger an asthma attack, promote cancer, and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, and lupus erythematosus.

TMS: The Mind-Body Approach by Dr. Sarno

The physician Dr. John Sarno established the concept of the so-called "Tension Myositis Syndrome", TMS for short. Prof. Howard Schubiner, also a physician and psychiatrist, now calls it "mind-body syndrome." He says that many syndromes and complaints are the result of stress in childhood, stress in adulthood, learned personality traits and suppressed emotions - especially anger pent up over the course of a lifetime.

He emphasizes that the syndromes and complaints are not imaginary, nor are they mental illnesses, but are simply caused by the unconscious part of our mind. According to him, all the symptoms are triggered by the autonomic nervous system. It is out of whack, he says, because too many negative, stressful or traumatic memories are stored in the amygdala. The amygdala is also called the fear center and is part of the limbic system. So Sarno assumed that primarily the mind messes up the brain and body, while Dr. Stephen Porges, founder of the Polyvagal Theory, sees the autonomic nervous system as the cause of a disturbed mind-brain-body interaction. As mentioned above: from my point of view there is no hierarchy here, all three systems influence each other bidirectionally.

Sarno counts among others the following symptoms and syndromes to the Mind-Body-Syndrome (if structural causes have been excluded!): Heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, migraines, anxiety disorders, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, fibromyalgia, ME/CFS, all kinds of chronic pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, interstitial cystitis, POTS, tinnitus.

For those who are more interested in this approach and the impressive healing stories, check out these two websites:
http://www.thankyoudrsarno.org/

https://www.tmswiki.org/ppd/Success_Stories_by_Symptoms_&_Diagnoses

Beliefs, protective strategies and personality traits

Psychologist Stefanie Stahl has dedicated an entire book to the topic of beliefs and protective strategies. She explains how they are created, namely by our parents. So we can't help it that we are the way we are. We were made that way. One of the most typical negative beliefs of so many people is: I am not good enough. Others are: I am a burden. I am stupid and ugly. I have to be kind and good. Beliefs are something very individual and I advise you to find yours.

These beliefs affect our behavior and relationships because we develop so-called protective strategies. These are often rather unhelpful behaviors such as perfectionism, helper syndrome, beauty mania, victim thinking, withdrawal, striving for control, over-adaptation, narcissism and role-playing. Here, too, you have to find out your personal protective mechanisms.

In his decades of practice, Sarno, like Schubiner, has found that people with syndromes and chronic pain often exhibit certain personality traits. These include: perfectionism, high expectations of themselves, self-critical, constant feelings of guilt, high sense of responsibility, always wanting to help, being worrying, anxious, sad, angry. Such people put themselves under permanent pressure, quite independently of the pressure from other people. These characteristics are also listed by the other book authors I mentioned above.

Alex Howard also presents in a book what personality traits people with chronic fatigue and ME/CFS typically have: ambitious, perfectionistic, helping, anxious, controlling. He explains how such traits contributed to his own ME/CFS and how they fostered the boom and bust cycle, or activity - crash. He has treated numerous people with chronic fatigue and has consistently observed that these traits have prevented people from recovering. They kept drifting back into their old learned behaviors, especially when they were feeling better. Then the disease got worse again.

Again, I stress like all the authors, this does not mean it is all psychological nor does it mean it is your own fault!!!!

By finding out what you were missing as a child or what stressful or traumatizing things happened in your childhood and adolescence, you can find and heal your inner child. Your wounded inner child is the reason for the unfavorable behaviors and beliefs in adulthood, but also a completely underestimated factor for the occurrence of illness in later years of life. This is also the key to suppressed emotions that had to be swallowed because certain emotions were not tolerated.

The right attitude for recovery

Raelan Agle has overcome her own ME/CFS and has a now really big YouTube channel. Among other things, she has interviewed around 80 people there (as of 04/06/2022) who have shared their recovery stories. In one video, she summarizes the most important strategies people have used to recover. One of them is having the right mindset. Raelan Agle says, "Can you get better if you don't believe it?" She thinks: no. I feel the same way. You have to believe strongly that recovery is possible. That's why my website is called "I will get well." I would like to add: Google for "MECFS Recovery" and not "MECFS"!

Source: Raelan Agle

What you focus on is what your brain classifies as important. If one looks only for danger signals and not for cues for safety, the brain focuses on danger and strengthens the associated neural pathways and connections. If you pay attention to your symptoms all the time, you will notice them more and more over time. If you believe that healing is not possible, this thought becomes entrenched. Conversely, if you train your perception on safety signals, on calm parts of the body, on healing, then the brain strengthens these neural pathways and connections. This is not nonsense or psycho stuff, but scientifically supported.

The principle is again neuroplasticity (= brain training). You have to retrain your brain and nervous system from being sick to healing. With the so-called "Law of Attraction" or Reticular Activation System (RAS) this can be explained with focus. The RAS is a collection of nerve cells that have the job, among other things, of filtering all the incoming information and pulling out only the "important" ones and directing your attention to them. It directs your focus to what you want to achieve, find, have. No matter if it is a new car in red color of a certain brand (suddenly you see everywhere exactly this red car) or your health, your recovery. With this you can retrain old beliefs and convictions. Instead of saying "I am not good enough" you say "I am good enough" over and over again. This is also where Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) comes in.

How do you influence the psyche positively?

  • Change your negative beliefs and unhelpful behaviors into positive and useful ones.
  • Find your wounded inner child, talk to it, give it what it was missing, integrate it.
  • Find access to your emotions, process suppressed emotions, feel them, accept them, just leave them there.
  • Use so-called top-down approaches such as expressive writing, special types of journaling, positive affirmations, positive visualizations, meditating, mindfulness training, talk therapy, NLP or EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) to favorably influence your mind and emotional state. These approaches start from the younger part of the brain, the thinking brain or cortex.
  • Be sure to also use so-called bottom-up approaches that start at the older part of the brain, where the limbic system and hypothalamus are located - the feeling brain. This includes all body-based therapies such as orienting in the environment, binaural beats, Somatic Experiencing, NLP and EFT as well, yoga, breathing techniques, posture, Feldenkrais, massage, aromatherapy, singing, drawing, therapeutic horseback riding. In this way you directly influence the emergence of your emotions in the body.
  • Learn to express your anger (in a healthy way), accept your fear, your shame, your guilt, your sadness. Emotions are normal daily sensations that come and go and just want to protect us. There are no good and bad emotions from my perspective. All are okay and should be welcomed. Notice them, be with them, don't repress them.
  • Meet your quest for autonomy, attachment, self-assertion.
  • Set healthy boundaries, say no, take care of your needs and desires and not just those of others.
  • If you are contacting (in therapy) traumatic experiences from the past, stay in the present, feel your body, you are safe here now, all is well.
  • Affirm yourself and life. Find meaning in life. Accept yourself as you are. You are just right the way you are.
  • Identify the major stressors in your life - now and in the past. Change what is necessary. accept what you can't change.

I personally use Nicole Sachs' JournalSpeak method to give voice to my emotions. Meanwhile, I combine it with insights from the book Mindsight by Daniel Siegel. Methods from Peter Levine and Irene Lyon help me on the physical level. Vera Wilhelmsen from Norway has helped me a lot to access my emotions. And there are many more resources.

 

PS: Of course, I research and check everything I write here as well as possible. Nevertheless, I am only human and make mistakes. In addition, I may draw completely different conclusions as someone else would. Simply because they fit my story. But every story is different.

Important: The content on this page is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for talking to your doctor or other therapist. The content reflects my personal experiences, research and findings that have helped me and that I therefore want to share. However, in your personal case, completely different things may play a role and other things may help. Please talk to your doctor or therapist before making any decisions that affect your physical or mental health. Also important: I don't want to convince anyone of anything here. Rather, I want to point out possible ways that hopefully can help some people to improve or overcome their Fatigue or ME/CFS.

 

sources

Inhalte Polyvagal-Akademie. Online: https://polyvagal-akademie.com/

Bessel van der Kolk: The body keeps the score

Gabor Maté: When the body says no

Russel Kennedy: The Anxiety Rx

Gregor Hasler: Die Darm-Hirn-Connection

John Sarno: The Mindbody Prescription

Stefanie Stahl: The child in you

Alex Howard: Decode your fatigue

Daniel Siegel: Mindsight