New England School of Homeopathy

Stress isn’t all bad!

A stressed-out lawyer gets pain relief and more
by Amy Rothenberg  ND for Homeopathy Today, January 2004

I always tell my children, “It’s not what you do with a good day, it’s what you do with a bad one that matters.” Stress is all around us: at home, in school, at work, in our communities, and in our relationships. How we handle stress and what we do to minimize it are important factors in many of the illnesses homeopaths treat.

Stress keeps us alive
Where would we be without stress? Dead! Stressors keep us moving, keep us reconfiguring our lives, and keep us evolving as people and as a species. If there were no stressors, there would be no growth. We have come to understand stress as something negative, but as a more general term, it is everything in life to which we must react.

The daily stresses of living make some people more susceptible to the acute illnesses “going around.” And the more intense stresses of demanding job situations, difficult relationships, and the world-at-large cause many to succumb to those problems for which they have some susceptibility, due to genetics and/or long-term lifestyle factors. I wind up spending much of my time with patients talking about the stressors in their lives and helping them strategize how to reduce the amount and types of stress. At the same time, I try to help them figure out how to let off steam in order to counter the effects of stresses that cannot be avoided.

Understanding the cycle of stress
Understanding stress in the context of biology helps me as a homeopath. A patient’s symptoms—physical, mental, and emotional—are, in part, reactions to the stressors in their lives. Understanding the cycle of stress and the pathology it generates helps lead me to the correct remedy. I often tell my students that it is not about understanding the stress per se, but rather, how that stress specifically impacts the particular patient in question. It is essential that we not jump to conclusions based on our own experience of certain kinds of stress. For instance, if I have a patient who has recently lost a partner, I need to ask about how that loss influenced them, instead of assuming any particular kind of response. In short, the nature of the stress itself is less important than the individualized response to it.

Unrelenting stress in a high-powered lawyer
What follows is a brief case of a woman under tremendous job strain and how she handled it. This case illustrates how unrelenting stress in a susceptible person eventually takes its toll.

Shelia, a 45-year-old lawyer at a high-powered law firm where working 80 hours a week was common and expected, had forgone family and marriage and had poured her passion into her work instead. A few years back, she began to suffer from severe costochondritis—inflammation of the joint between the sternum and the clavicle and/or rib heads. Shelia felt like she was having repeated heart attacks, but after a thorough medical work-up, she was handed this diagnosis instead. She had constant sharp pain in a small area where the bones met. Sometimes it was worse with motion, sometimes worse being still. It was often worse in the middle of the night. It was a very intense pain that was not helped by over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. She had worked with chiropractors and physical therapists and had seen minimal improvement, but the severe pain and discomfort were getting the best of her. In addition, this situation precluded her participation in competitive athletics—a fine way she had historically countered her stressful lifestyle.

A worsening cycle of pathology
Shelia’s job expectations along with the pain itself caused her tremendous anxiety, and the anxiety seemed to make the pain worse. She became worried about her own death (costochondritis is never life-threatening), which led to terrible insomnia. The lack of sleep then became another trigger for the costochondritis. When she didn’t sleep well, Shelia was aware, not surprisingly, that her law work suffered. This led her to work more hours, albeit less efficiently, which again led to more stress and a worsening of her overall condition: a cycle of pathology where things continued to worsen.

Remedies for Shelia
I set out to find a remedy which could address the type of pain Shelia had (localized and intense) along with the ensuing anxiety and insomnia. After taking her full case history including a review of systems, her physical general symptoms, and her family history, I prescribed Kali carbonicum 200C, one dose. Besides the above-mentioned symptoms, I had learned that Shelia’s pain was exacerbated in the middle of the night (Kali carbonicum patients are often worse from 2:00–4:00 a.m.), and somewhat ameliorated if she sat up and leaned forward, another keynote of this remedy. The particular combination of intense, stitching pain and these modalities in a chilly person, one who craves sweets and experiences mounting anxiety, often leads me to this remedy choice.

I also recommended mild, natural anti-inflammatories: Bromelain, derived from pineapple, and Curcumin, derived from tumeric. I generally suggest 250mg of each, three times a day, for musculoskeletal problems where inflammation is the main concern. Before prescribing I ask if the patient has any known allergy to either pineapple or tumeric and do not offer these adjunctive therapies if they do. I have not found these supplements to be miraculous, but they do seem to support the body’s effort to reduce inflammation, without any of the side-effects or potential damage to the liver associated with overuse of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication.

These nutritional approaches do not, in my experience, antidote homeopathic medicines. They do not work as deeply as homeopathic remedies; rather, they take the edge off an intense inflammatory complaint. They will not impact the mental or emotional sphere of a patient and don’t seem to enhance energy level or mental clarity. By contrast, what I would expect from the correct homeopathic remedy is that this patient would have fewer incidences and a lessening of the severity of the costochondritis, as well as less anxiety in general and better sleep. With that improved and consistent sleep, Shelia’s energy and outlook should also improve. Moreover, I had a long conversation with her about the necessity of pulling back some from her work and finding non-stressful ways to relax and enjoy life.

Managing stress to stay healthy
When Shelia came to see me six weeks later, she reported that she’d had a handful of milder episodes but was feeling much better. Her sleep had improved dramatically because the pain wasn’t waking her. Enhanced sleep goes a long way to supporting the healing process, and not surprisingly, her anxiety had also been greatly reduced. Shelia had begun to take a more serious look at the stressors in her life and to cut back at work.

Some six months later, during a time when Shelia was working against a difficult deadline, she had a flare-up of the costochondritis. We repeated the Kali carbonicum 200C once, and two years on she is no longer plagued by costochondritis. Through her own efforts, her work with a counselor, and her constitutional homeopathic treatment, she has continued to recognize her early signs of too much stress. When she begins to experience such symptoms as mild insomnia and some indigestion, she acts on those observations by cutting back at work and doing some things that help her relax. Because she is pain-free, she is also able to participate in athletics again.

Stress isn’t all bad—it’s what we do with it and how we use it that counts!