The very nature of M.E., with its physical and emotional peaks and troughs, leads to heightened awareness. Regular fatigue may be subconsciously intensified to a point where we fear a relapse is inevitable. So called “good days” may result in boredom and frustration, “bad days” in depression and anxiety. We may feel that we are “paying the price” when “normal” behaviour (a walk in the park, an evening out with friends) results in exhaustion and a reoccurrence of symptoms. We soon become demoralised and lose confidence in our ability to influence our own recovery.

It can be a hard-won battle to discover our own limits and to stick to them! We may have never considered pacing ourselves in order to find acceptable levels of tiredness and attempting to underachieve . For many years now, the concept of “no pain, no gain” has been our battle cry. No wonder we feel anger and frustration when pushing ourselves to the limit. Fatigue equals pain.

My own approach to my illness, since used with my own clients, combines the wonderfully effective holistic treatment, based on the work of Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum and administered by Professor John Davies and Dr. Naomi Byles, at 10. Harley St., London, with my own eclectic therapeutic skills.

As a psychotherapist, my work deals mainly with stress-related illness. Stress, the scourge of the modern world, is often given as a throwaway diagnosis, which disparages the very real implications of too much stress (stressors) combined with too few coping strategies.

How many people, diagnosed with M.E., can, hand on heart, say they have never suffered the negative effects of stress and resorted to maladaptive strategies — too much coffee, alcohol, junk food or worse — in order to “cope” Let’s be clear on this — stress is neither good nor bad, BUT our reactions¬† to our perceptions of stress can be devastating.

The biology of stress is a complex area. Short-term stress responses, such as the reactions you may get when asked to give an important presentation, are triggered by the sympathetic nervous system. The response to a perceived stressful situation is usually a combination of physical and mental changes, such as a dry mouth, palpitations, perspiration, dilated pupils and mental alertness — the classic “fight or flight” syndrome. The parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, energy reserves in stored fat are broken down and blood is directed toward the muscles and away from the extremities.

The hypothalamus is the “nerve centre” of the stress response. During a typical physiological response, the hypothalamus triggers the release of both adrenaline and nor adrenaline. If we develop CHRONIC STRESS, our levels of these hormones will be permanently raised. When the body is in a constant state of arousal, the very effects that are designed to get you out of a dangerous situation can become harmful themselves. Blood pressure may increase, we begin to hyperventilate and develop digestive disorders (or decrease if our adrenal glands are not functioning correctly — not uncommon in this disorder). We become prone to skin problems and muscular tension. Our immune system becomes less efficient and we are more susceptible to disease. We eventually become exhausted.

The work of the hypothalamus does not stop there. Messages are transmitted to the pituitary gland, which releases Adrenocorticotropic Hormone, ACTH. This is then carried to the adrenal glands, where it further stimulates the release of more hormones, the most important of which is cortisol. These hormones can further suppress immune function. It appears that some people are more sensitive to stress. Interestingly, these same people may also be more prone to drug addiction and alcohol abuse.

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