Stress – the underlying sickness of our civilisation

By Dr Sophie Scheffer, Centre Epidaure, Belgium.

Acute, adaptive stress is necessary for our survival. But often, and particularly in our Western life style, stress becomes repetitive and a daily, debilitating occurrence.

Stress is a response adapted by the organism in order to deal with danger or a demanding situation. The body switches to a state of extreme vigilance so as to evaluate very quickly what it needs to do. It also activates, the autonomic nervous system, which handles the metabolic distribution of the energetic substances (glucose, free fatty acids) necessary for the efficient functioning of the heart, the brain, and the muscles.

But stress is not just the consequence of certain physiological reactions, but also of the emotions modulated by each person's life experience.

The body is equipped with a regulating system – the parasympathetic which is a sub-system of the autonomous nervous system, which allows us to recuperate between these episodes of stress. This system is more active at certain times of day – before and after meals, for example, and at night.

In our society, we seem to have little time to allow for this vital recuperation. We have to respond to all sorts of demands, remain connected to multiple sources of information, and be efficient in everything we undertake. And if we don't allow our system to recuperate from stress, we will ultimately experience 'burnout', a state of deep exhaustion.

Conventional allopathic medicine offers few real answers to someone experiencing stress and burnout – apart from antidepressants. In integrative medicine, we encourage the recuperation of the parasympathetic system with magnesium. We also prescribe gentle herbal infusions which support the surrenal glands, responsible for secreting stress hormones (Ribes nigrum, Crataegus oxyacantha, Glycyrrhiza glabra, Passiflora incarnata...).
I often prescribe Ribes nigrum (blackcurrent) associated with Quercus robur and Sequoia gigantea in the form of glycerine macerate. Calmodren by Sevene or Homeo Normyl by LG Homeo, is particularly efficient for the autonomous nervous system through the synergy of the calming and regulating plants it contains - hawthorn, passion flower and valerian.

Diet is also addressed by eating a balanced diet of proteins, carbohydrates and vegetables, severely reducing sugar intake and eating protein breakfasts that provide the amino-acids (tryptophane, tyrosine) which are necessary for the optimal function of our brain.

Exercise is helpful in quietening our preoccupations and eliminating toxins. It also allows us to evaluate the gravity of the stress – if a sports activity is beneficial to the patient, they may recover quickly.

Burnout though, requires a pluridisciplinary team - psychotherapist and/or psychiatrist, coaching, doctor, sophrologist, social worker. The person's life-style is currently one of the causes of burnout. We have to act on all these different elements so that the psyche, which is deeply affected, can recover its balance.

If the body is submitted to repeated infections, repeated or chronic physical or psycho-emotional trauma, it has to deal with an over-abundance of free radicals, which are increasingly difficult for the cells to eliminate. In this case, a state of oxidative stress may develop, which creates chronic inflammation and can lead to thyroïd disturbances, hypertension, neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes, obesity, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and cancers.

Stress and burnout underly many diseases in our society and cost billions of dollars each year in lost productivity. Only a deep approach to healing will help us to address the real causes.