Psychosomatic disease

The word psychosomatic tends to get used in a negative, even patronizing way. The term does not mean your problems are imaginary as many seem to think, the correct definition of psychosomatic is  that your physical condition is either related by timing or causality to your thinking (and vice versa).

Everybody in some way and at some time is subject to this, if you have an irritating workmate for instance who physically drains you just by being near them it is a type of psychosomatic response. Just for the purpose of the exercise take your pulse and blood pressure before you spend time with such a person and then again after you have been with them for an hour.

Blood pressure and pulse rate are objective, measurable physiological readings. Elevated blood pressure and heart rate can cause things like headaches and palpitations, when such things are accompanied by emotional stress it may be a psychosomatic response.

Once the stigma is taken out of the term it may give you important insights into your own health. As a massage therapist, nearly everyday I see psychosomatism at work. Jaw tension, neck pain and headaches very commonly accompany heightened emotional stress. The worse the stress the worse the physical symptoms often are.

Some years ago a middle aged man came to my clinic with chronic chest pain. J had seen several doctors about this over a 30 year period who could find nothing physically wrong with him, he was healthy, fit and strong.

Over a course of about 10 massage and acupuncture treatments J casually spoke about his experiences as a young man conscripted into a paramilitary police force in a country in a state of civil war.

As a new recruit he copped his share of  military bastardization, even worse he was under the command of  officers some of whom were mercenaries who he described as psychopaths (not altogether uncommon in war zones).

As a young recruit he witnessed death, injury and torture in a place where he often did not really know who his friends and allies were. As a young recruit he had no control over what was happening around him.

J had no tearful outbursts or overt anger through any of our sessions but I did sense that he felt ashamed about not being able to stop some truly dreadful things that happened almost every day to him and to others around him.

Throughout this time his tight chest muscles became progressively looser each week and although he claimed to never have had any breathing problems previously he was surprised that his breathing somehow became easier as his chest felt more comfortable.

In our second last session J told me how a he was forced to watch a suspected female “rebel” tortured to death with electric shocks by one of the mercenary officers, an officer who used to sneak up on J from time to time and shock him for the fun of it.

The last time I saw J he told me he felt normal again for the first time in 30 years and also told me he had not even told his wife the things he said to me. J finally got his guilt off his chest.

I am not suggesting that acupuncture or massage is a magic cure for PTSD or are  any better than other types of therapy only making a point about mind and body.

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