High cost of hidden stress 

Renowned physician and author to analyze stress at Nov.8 presentation

By Clare Ogilvie

The greatest stresses burdening us are the ones we generate internally, in ways we are not even aware of.

That will be just one of the key messages Dr. Gabor Maté will share during a Nov. 8 evening presentation at Whistler Secondary school.

Maté’s lecture is the first in the new Whistler Social Sustainability Speaker Series, organized by a number of community leaders and supported by the Resort Municipality of Whistler.

Maté, a noted physician, Globe and Mail columnist and best-selling author, believes such stresses arise when people lose touch with their innermost needs, their bodies, and their emotions. Only after understanding the hidden ways in which we drive ourselves to live up to our own unconscious expectations and to the perceived expectations of society, can we start to reduce stress, he said.

“The relationship between the emotional stress and physical health, it is about the mind-body connection in health and disease,” said Maté.

“It is based both on my own observations (and) also on medical research that shows that mind-body are completely one unit. The nerve system and the hormonal system and the immune system and the emotional centres in the brain form one integrated system.

“So all these systems are integrated so that whatever happens emotionally also has an impact on nerves and immunity and hormones and vice versa.”

Maté said one of the first steps for people to take in tackling the link in their own lives between stress and ailments is to become aware that there is one. And for many people that will mean working to see what patterns are attached to the behaviours, which lead to stress and illness.

“It is not a question of blaming the patient as no one does this deliberately,” said Maté.

“These are behaviour patterns that you pick up in early childhood based on the parenting environment so that people who had to work or thought they had to work as children or infants even to get their parent’s approval or attention, they tend to do this all their lives automatically.

“But that means they are stressed whether they know it or not.   So fundamentally my message is when people don’t know how to say no their bodies will say it for them.

“And it also means that when someone is diagnosed with, say, rheumatoid arthritis, or colitis, or crohn’s disease, well if they start paying attention to their emotional patterns they will notice that have flare ups when they get stressed.

“So that means that if they learn how to avoid those stresses they don’t need to get those flare ups.”

Maté argues that any symptom should be a starting place for a discussion with yourself about what is really going on in your life. Get medical help as needed but look beyond that to see if there is a way to change your behaviour to be more healthy and less stressed.

The new speaker series, which is bringing in Maté, will also host several other high profile speakers over the coming months, including a presentation by former politician, ambassador, and the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, Stephen Lewis.

“We hope that people will be able to become better people through this and at the end of the Social Sustainability Speaker series with Stephen Lewis coming be able to reach out and give to the world, because we are very, very fortunate here,” said Cathy Jewett, one of the organizers of the speaker series.

The series is free for the audience, but donations will be accepted to help with funding for the speakers.

Free babysitting will also be available for Maté’s presentation at Whistler Secondary, which will start at 7 p.m. Armchair books will be selling Maté’s books.

As a physician, researcher and writer Maté has made it his life's work to improve the physical and psychological health of families. Whether in the groundbreaking work of Hold on to Your Kids , or the common sense wisdom of When the Body Says No , he has always asked new questions and provided bold new answers for parents and children.

In addition to his work on the child-parent relationship and the stress-disease connection, Maté is also one of the world's leading experts in ADD (attention deficit disorder)— three of his children have the condition. He has treated hundreds of adults and children with ADD, giving countless seminars to parent groups, doctors, teachers, and other professionals. Maté currently works in Vancouver's Downtown East Side.

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