Fibromyalgia is not a stress disorder
What is stress ?
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FM is frequently considered a stress disorder, which is not entirely correct, mainly due to what kind of stress is often associated with it ... which is emotional stress.  FM is aggravated by emotional stress, yes, but it is no different than literally any other aliment in that regard. As almost any illness will be made worse, by the wrong kinds of emotional distress. However, body distress is more of what creates an overload for those of us with FM.

What is stress ?

We tend to lump all stress, into one category, as if it were all bad. Not so, there are three kinds of stress. Good stress, called eustress, negative emotional stress and then there is internal body stress. Eustress is our motivator, things that we take action on. Such things can excite us and get us all jazzed up, but it's of the positive variety, as well as it tends to be short lived.

So, not all stress is distress: Bad or negative emotional stress is called distress:" the physiological and emotional response when a stressor, meaning a demand for action, is unresolved and doesn't translate into action." Meaning all demand, the stressor and no action. We are doing nothing ( or can do nothing ) to relive the stress.

Furthermore, it is often a matter of perception. You may perceive a stressful event as a challenge. Meanwhile, that very same event could be perceived by another person, as a total catastrophe. A great deal has to do with your point of view, as well as, if you are able to do anything about the stress challenge. More on that idea in a second ...

Everybody has sudden acute stress, but ... the main factor is, that under normal conditions, it is brief. As as it should be. When confronted with say, a near traffic accident for example: our heart beats faster, blood flow is high, breathing is rapid, the body dumps all kinds of energy and power chemicals into the system .. why ? Because you need to take direct action to, one hopes, avoid the accident.

Ever notice that after one of these "near misses" that for some time afterwards, you have the shakes, you are highly agitated, you might be overtly emotional etc..Those are the times when you pull over and sit by the side of the road, and just go all to pieces for a while.

This is a direct result of the after effects of the body gearing itself up for the "fight or flight" reaction. This is perfectly normal and one that we have to have on auto pilot. As in an emergency, if we had to think about such things by the time we thought about it ... it would be too late. So it's an automatic response intended for our survival. These are called automatic stressors. We don't think about it, we are in no control over it, the body just gears us up so that we can just react to the "emergency."

However, the body can be rather persistently, let's be blunt here, stupid ... in that it can and will do the exact same thing for a fight with the spouse, traffic jams, a test in history class, an altercation with the boss, etc. etc.. In short, almost anything that can even remotely be perceived as a threat. All of these kinds of "stressors" require that you control your own reactions to them, as far as your emotional response and treat perception is concerned.

You either meet the stressor challenge and handle it calmly or you don't. But your emotional reaction in these cases, is under your direct control, which tends to modify the body's reaction. As you are not adding to the stress, by your negative emotions.

But if the "stressor" is internal, meaning it is outside of your direct control, you may have no way to meet the challenge it presents by yourself.

We with FM, have to handle a much greater load of internal body stress. Moreover, FM is a central nervous system processing disorder, among other things, so that the CNS is not working correctly to start with.

Understand, the central nervous system controls the functions for every cell, tissue, organ and system of your body and each has their own controlling mechanisms. These mechanisms continuously try and adapt to internal changes and stresses, to bring the body back to a state called homeostasis. Which is just a fancy word for all systems working normally. :) Leave it to the medical profession to use such long words to explain something so simple, they are worse than lawyers ! Anyway ...

Any one of these control systems can be screaming its head off, at any given time of the day when you have a chronic disorder like FM. Think about it for a moment. If the gut is under stress, say with IBS, the body is trying to get it back under control, meanwhile, it's hollering at you ... loudly. If the muscles are stressed and in pain, the systems are trying to soothe and minimize the pain and tension, so it is working overtime ... and it is telling you about it, again loudly. If the overall body is under stress and degeneration due to lack of rest, the body is trying to compensate for that and so on and so forth.

Which means, that any number of body control systems can all be ringing the alarm bell ... at the same time ! This puts the whole body under a serious stress load, to say the very least.

So, to say those of us with FM are stressed in this manner ... is no more than the truth.  The body is under a great deal of internal stress. This is NOT the same thing as emotional distress however, which we can also have and again, often for very good reasons. 

But at least the emotional variety is a bit more under our direct control, in how we emotionally react to the problems the body stress is creating for us. We would be the first to agree that adding emotional distress, can and will make things worse. ( see IBS on site link for notations on emotional stress control )

Body stress is created by:

Physical stimuli, things like:

Sleep Disturbances
Chemical Stress: Substances which irritate the nervous system
Temperature extremes: The body is unable to adapt to
Excessive noise or light: Sensory overload
Metabolic disorders
and many others

Autonomic system stressors:

Most of the above, are in the class called autonomic stressors, meaning they are a direct result of something that happens within the body's function itself and that will happen automatically, no matter what you think or don't think, about them. As they have nothing to do with your mind. They have to do with your body's reaction to something that is outside of the norm or is dysfunctional. They are built in remote control systems and are entirely outside of any direct control from you.

I know, I keep saying that, but I am making a strident point here, that body stressors from dysfunctional or damaged body parts, are not amenable to any personal control. Unless your some kind of major yoga guru or something. Which, most of us don't qualify as being, thank you :) So, given as we are ordinary folk ... what happens in body stress ?

Stages of body stress, which are the same as the list for emotional stress, the difference being, the body is control, not us.

1) Alarm reaction: Which in the case of body stress, would be a notice to the brain and other autonomic functions that something is wrong. Adrenaline is produced. There may be some production of steroids and other alarm nerochemcials. The body is saying there is a treat of damage or that damage is being done, to some part of the body.

2) Resistance: The body gears up to higher efficiency levels, to try and tolerate or remove the stressful body condition, which is your body's own defensive capacity ( immune system ) and its ability to heal any damages. During the resistance stage, the body is trying to recuperate from the effects of the alarm stage, by repairing the body.

Up to this point we are talking the garden variety, short lived, or "acute body stress." Say an injury, or infection, where an all points bulletin goes out and out come the white blood cells and other such defenders, like a riot control squad, to find and eliminate the problem.

However if it goes on and on, you have... 

Continuing body stress: Which makes it necessary for the body to find some way of trying to cope on a long term basis. As it only has so many troops to send out, as it were and replacements can become harder and harder to obtain. 

The body tries to adapt to the distress, but at the same time, resources are being used up at a faster rate than they can be replaced. We appear to be managing, as the body is pretty tough and is very good at self healing, but physiologically, we are actually deteriorating ... to where eventually

3) Exhaustion: Where the body begins to run out of defenses and resources, the bone marrow and other such places have just hung up a sign saying, out to lunch. As they just don't have enough defenses anymore to keep up with the demand. Physical healing efficiency of course, drops through the floor and your immune defenses are so weakened at this point, that even more illnesses can develop as result.

We may even reach the stage of total burnout, where the body can no longer maintain normal functioning, at all. The adrenal and other glands have been over worked and have basically gone on strike, as they can no longer produce adequate levels of hormones or other chemicals needed to maintain the body at functional levels. At this point, things start to break down. As the parasympathetic nervous system, the one which is supposed to counteract the stress response and bring the body back to normal, has already thrown up its collective hands and said " we quit."

By and large, you will find very little by way of research into this subject of body stress, unless you look at mostly life threatening diseases, such as Cancer. It is a rather under studied affair really, as emotional stress gets so much more attention.

Easier to study I guess, as looking into all the tiny moves the body is making in self defense, is pretty hard. Especially if your not really looking for it, compared to seeing how someone is holding up emotionally. At least it is hard to see until things start breaking down, at which point it's pretty obvious there is a problem.

But we have a cart before the horse situation here ... the system has broken down, the person is ill and under stress from both within and without now, as they are in pain, and the body is not functioning properly ... and what does the medical profession tend to focus on ? Our mental state ... not the body's distress, which is the real problem.

As said before, we would agree that to have emotional distress, on top of the body distress, is a bad combination. However, the tendency, far too often, is to treat ONLY the emotional stress and do little for the body distress. ( This effect is intensified if we happen to be dealing with a doctor who thinks that FM is a problem of depression. FM is not an effect of depression on site link)

The ways to counteract the body's distress of course, is by giving the body more tools to do the job of healing itself, which is what medications and other medical supports are supposed to be all about. In many chronic conditions however, the medical profession often fails us, as they are geared to "acute care" See Medical models on site link, not chronic care.

This state of affairs will likely continue, until the medical profession stops putting all its effort into "curing" acute problems and tries to figure out ways to do a little more preventive medicine, by being able to see and track these small body stress effects, before they get to the break down stage. 

As well as of course, to stop assuming that the distress of a body that is chronically ill, is always brought about by any emotional stress, so that they will even look for such signs in the first place. If we can do that, we just might get the horse in front of the cart and get somewhere :)