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Christian Counseling - Psychotherapy, Stress and Gastrointestinal Disorders

Between 35% to 70% of people, more women then men, experience gastrointestinal disorders at least once in their lifetime and many repeatedly or chronically. A few attributable causes are sensitivity to lactose and/or gluten, stress, infection and cancer.
This writing will focus on the interaction of stress and gastrointestinal distress. Stress is defined as a person's emotional and physical responses to internal or external stimuli or stressors. Stress is not the hard or painful things that happen to us from outside of ourselves, but how we perceive and react to them. Some of the symptoms include shallow breathing, sweating, anxiety, withdrawal, pressured speech,  headaches, slowing of digestion and gastrointestinal disturbances and pain. Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) to respond to the threat. Under normal circumstances the parasympathetic nervous system helps calm the body when the threat is under control. But an abnormal response under severe, prolonged  and/or repeated stress can cause the General Adaptation Syndrome. This refers to a person who lives in the chronic state of hyperalterness, tension and stress.

There are three researched psychotherapies that show they help in easing gastrointestinal disorders or coping with them. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) research has revealed it helps with coping, but not in reducing pain. Relaxation therapies, such as: muscle relaxation, controlled breathing, visualization, and calming music, have shown to improve symptoms, especially in combination with CBT. Hypnosis research reveals significant gains in reducing symptoms including pain through deep relaxation, autogenics (warming or cooling of physically troubled areas) and positive suggestions.1,2

What have you found to be of help in reducing your symptoms, coping with or recovering from gastrointestinal problems?


1   Contrary to some Christians' view, hypnosis is not an ungodly practice. It does not require a complete surrender to the mind or words of another, nor does it open a person up to the influences of the devil. Under hypnosis, clients always retain control over themselves, unlike you see on stage where people quack like a duck--that's all show business. It is similar to a whisper that can sink deep into the heart. Elijah found God not in the earthquake or wind or fire, but in a gentle blowing or whisper (I Kings 19:11,12).

Miller, Michael Craig, M.D. Stress and the Sensitive Gut. Harvard Mental health Letter. August 2010: Vol. 27, No. 2, pg. 6.

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