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Why Autoimmune Disease Affects Your Career

Here is a useful clinical analogy that can have great impact on your professional and personal life.

Did you know that there are more people diagnosed with an autoimmune illness than cancer and heart disease combined? That is startling given the numbers of people with each of those ailments.

Unline cancer and heart disease, though, autoimmune disease tends to cause much more daily morbidity and distress. And unfortunately for all of us, autoimmune disease is rapidly on the rise with new cases diagnosed every single year.

To refresh your memory, autoimmune disease takes the shape in many forms: MS, Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, Celiac, Type 1 Diabetes, Psoriasis, Lupus, Sjogrens, Scleroderma, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Crohn's Disease are just a few of the top autoimmune diseases. Each of these carry their own unique challenges for patients, but each is similar in what is the root cause.

In my view, autoimmune illness represents a disordered and misbehaving immune system--an immune system that is in haywire. Under normal conditions, our immune system identifies vialbe vs. dead tissue and removes the cell turnover from our bodies so that new cell growth can occur.

When a patient has an autoimmune illness, their immune system has misfired (for reasons we do not fully understand) and now starts its assault on viable tissue. In general, this cascade of events takes place due to a "perfect storm" that arises. Here is my simplistic model:

  1. Over time there is mismanagement of cortisol due to perceived stress (emotional stress, physical stress, etc.)
  2. Due to increased stress in our world, we start releasing more and more cortisol and norepinephrine to help us manage this stress
  3. We are capable of keeping this up for long periods of time (years, likely)
  4. A very traumatic stressor occurs (emotional or physical) causing us to exhaust our ability to put out cortisol
  5. We are then exposed to a trigger (infection, food, heavy metals, chemicals, toxins) that causes our immune system to react
  6. But because our immune system is not supported by cortisol as it had been, our immune system misfires
  7. So instead of making an antibody to Epstein Bar Virus or Gluten or Mercury or Blastocystis, we make an antibody to our thyroid or myelin sheaths or gut lining
  8. And therefore starts the cascade of autoimmune disease

So why do I bring this up here on Freelance MD where we like to discuss non-clinical related material? Because ultimately, we want our personal and professional lives to be free of morbidity and full of abundant success. Unfortunately, though, many times we do not get to these places because we are not trying hard enough, but because we are trying too hard.

We are all exposed to the same "stuff" right, but only some of us get sick. Same thing happens in the business world--we all have to deal with budget demands and marketing decisions and creating a balance with how much we want our careers to succeed and how much we focus on our personal lives.

The starting point for autoimmune illness is the wearing down in our ability to put out cortisol, our stress hormone. Over time this is what leads to autoimmune illness more than anything else.

In your professional career you have to face many stressors and the challenge is being able to deal with them in a way that does not wear you down. Because once you get worn down, you are then vulnerable to all of the bad things in your environment that can cause your business to become disconnected and unhinged:

  • angry client
  • high tax payments
  • marketing expenses
  • poor speaking performance
  • lack of concentration
  • inability to meet deadlines

And there are many more. Taken alone, by themselves, each of these potentials problems can be handled relatively easily. But once you have exhausted your reserve and pushed too far, these minor distractions (analogous to the infections, chemicals, toxins, etc) become HUGE problems.

Let's face it, we all want to work as hard as we can so that we can achieve everything we set out to. Unfortunately, for most of us, we push way too hard sometimes and our ultimate challenge is to be able to push hard and then rest easy.

Cortisol was never meant to be chronically stimulated, but we do it all the time in traffic and being late to a meeting. Over and over we push our cotisol buttons because we tend to perceive every stressful incident as a life-threatening one. This is what we tell our bodies.

And so over time, we exhaust our reserves to deal with the client who is pushing our buttons.

Autoimmune disease is complicated, but I think it serves as a useful analogy in how you approach your careers and personal life. Here are a few quick ideas to help you manage your best:

  • Truly know that reality is 100% about perception
  • Create a "blow off steam" time every day, week, month and quarter so that you allow yourself time to appropriately vent your emotions
  • Focus on communicating with your spouse, partners and colleagues more clearly so that you stop keeping everything inside
  • Aim your thoughts and attention on the very moment and practice bringing yourself back from your thoughts about yesterday, one hour from now and next week
  • Know that we all have stress, but only some people handle it well
  • Know that you can truly change your perception to stress and your environment by the way you approach each situation
  • Seek out fun. laughter and humor as much as possible--these are the very best antidotes to stress and seriousness
  • Engage in some form of a contemplative modality: yoga, pilates, Tai Chi, meditation to help you practice keeping your mind and body in unison
  • Filter your water and seek out clean and organic food as much as possible--the fuel you feed yourself does greatly contribute to how you feel
  • Go easy on yourself--we are all our worst critics and tend to be far too hard on ourselves with our internal dialogues

Yes, we are all seeking that perfect life balance where we can live in a modern world but not be pulled down because of it. Being your very best at what you do requires hard work, but be careful you don't push too hard!

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