Psychosomatic Illness: When our Brains and Bodies Team Up Against Us

Psychosomatic is a big scary word when it’s the doctor who is the one saying it.  

The technical definition of psychosomatic is a physical manifestation that stems from a psychological root.  So basically, the body says “we're sick,” but the blood work shows no bacteria or virus, all levels are healthy, heart’s good, all organs fine, and everything checks out.  “We’re good to go.” Except we’re still sick.

What does that mean?  It can easily turn into “it's all in my head” or “I’m crazy.”  Sometimes you might have even heard a doctor allude to something like this - "maybe it wasn't really what you saw."  I have heard this and I have stopped working with those providers.  It’s okay to expect your medical & mental health team to listen, respect and believe what you say.  Just because the roots are not visible yet, does not mean the symptoms don’t exist.

In the Counseling world, an official diagnosis would fall into one of two key areas:

  1. Psychosomatic Illness – the body showing symptoms that are caused psychologically. 
  2. Illness anxiety – intense anxiety about symptoms, the possibility of illness, the possibility of a symptom being an undiagnosed illness.  (What used to be known as hypochondria.)

In either case, psychosomatic illness or anxiety is not fantasy or imagination.  These are very real conditions with genuine concerns and concrete solutions. 

In previous blog posts, we’ve discussed how the brain’s master filing system works to organize the events we experience.  How it strategically and subconsciously builds an infrastructure of thoughts, feelings and beliefs that can be either helpful or harmful to our health.   The stress from harmful events/beliefs is stored in the body and eventually is powerful enough to cause physical symptoms! 

This is how we may find ourselves sitting in a doctor’s office distressed because we don’t know how to address a psychosomatic symptom.    

One reason it can feel so distressing is that “psychological concerns” can seem so vague when we're facing something like a rash or IBS.  We don’t know how to address it - whatever it is.  This uncertainty starts to mess with us, whispering that we are broken, or that we are stuck this way.   In fact, it’s the opposite. 

Some things to consider when faced with psychosomatic symptoms:

  • The physical and psychological symptoms are really occurring.  Legitemately.
  • We have internal (and external) stigmas that define a psychological diagnosis differently than a physical diagnosis, and this causes its own unique stress.
  • There ARE root causes and treatments for psychosomatic and psychological symptoms.

Our bodies are designed to alert us when things are wrong.  When we view the psychological symptoms as signals that we are designed to have, it gives us the freedom to believe that when we’ve addressed what's wrong, the physical symptoms will be relieved.

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