So how do we control stress? First of all, the perception of control is vital. Those people who possess an external locus of controlĀ  (that is, we feel powerless when confronted by stress) tend to suffer the most. We generally deal with stress in one of three ways: We fight it head-on, we attempt to reduce its impact or we run away from it. Clients suffering from depression often have an exaggerated external locus of control, in addition to other unhelpful “attribution styles.”

Stress management can teach clients to recognize their own particular stressors and enable them to exert some control over their stress reactions.

In the case of M.E., the use of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) may help these clients identify inappropriate coping strategies and break the cycle of fatigue-helplessness-disability by addressing distorted thought processes. Clients are asked to keep a diary, listing both their perceptions of their physical well-being and their thoughts and beliefs about these perceptions. Therapist and client can then begin to work together to plan graduated activities coupled with relaxation techniques.

I use a combination of autogenics, relaxation, hypnosis, and eventually, self-hypnosis, to bring about a feeling of mental and physical relaxation. The benefits of hypnosis are immediately apparent, not just on a physical level (muscular relaxation and good quality sleep) but on a psychological level. The ability to switch off the outside world for a while, allowing the body to repair itself and release endorphins — natures opiates — cannot be underestimated. Many clients had previously dismissed “relaxation techniques” as too difficult, but an individual approach to each client means that the appropriate hypnotic techniques (of which there are many!) can be used.

NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) can also be of use, being a powerful technique that can change previously learned responses to specific situations and allow the client to practise coping with future stressful situations.

Two other therapeutic techniques that deserve a mention are EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing).

EFT, also known as a Meridian Therapy, uses a combination of kinesiology (muscle testing) and acupressure, concentrating on the 12 acupuncture meridians related to specific emotional states. Clients are taught how to self-administer a series of exercises designed to heal both mind and body, particularly concentrating on negative emotional and physical states.

EMDR is a treatment model particularly suited to anxiety disorders and trauma. It is particularly helpful where clients have lowered self-esteem and feelings of insecurity and depression.

As a final thought, I believe that all things happen for a reason (typical therapist reaction, I hear you say!). Confronting a chronic illness helped me to view the world in a different way. My own belief system grew stronger. I decided that I was not going to become my illness and gave myself a year to recover. It is now 14 months since I was first diagnosed, and 17 months since I first became ill. The only lasting effects from the illness are a more laid back approach to deadlines. I am aware that what I put into my body can have a profound effect on my physical health. My energy levels are just about back to normal (as opposed to manic!). My memory and mental ability is perhaps reduced a little, or maybe that’s my age!

In April of this year, almost a year to the day that I was diagnosed with M.E., I took part in an amazing nine-day course — Avatar. One of the many goals I set during that programme was to be healthy and to increase my energy levels by 100 percent. Approximately half way through the course I visited Professor Davies for the third of a series of four Myers Cocktail infusions — a cocktail of vitamins and lignocaine, including B12 and magnesium. Not only were we both impressed by my energy and obvious feelings of well being, my body appeared to “reject” the treatment — the canula couldn’t be inserted into my vein, and we concluded that my body was (maybe) saying, “No thanks, don’t need it now!”

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