It is so common that it is treated as a joke by standup comedians, in tv sitcoms and in the print media. Here’s one for you, brought to you by one of the prominent stress reduction gurus:
- Picture yourself near a stream.
- Birds are softly chirping in the crisp, cool, mountain air.
- No one knows your secret place.
- You are in total seclusion from that hectic place called “the world”.
- The soothing sound of a gentle waterfall fills the air with a cascade of serenity.
- The water is clear.
- You can easily make out the face of the person you’re holding under the water…
Can you relate to this joke? It’s funny because you can picture being at the breaking point, with the person causing so much stress leaving the picture permanently.
But stress is no laughing matter. It can ruin your physical and mental health. It can ruin your relationships and make your life a living hell. Following are lists of signs of stress to watch out for, along with information on how stress can affect your body and mind.
Signs of stress
Stress has physical, mental, emotional, behavioral reactions
Stress often is accompanied by an array of physical, mental, emotional and behavioral reactions. These signal that your stress levels are too high and you need to do something about it. The following signs of stress are just some of the manifestations that it can cause in your life. Of course, many of these signs can be symptoms of mental and physical problems as well, so you should have yourself checked out by a health care professional to make sure they are not caused by a physical disease.
Physical signs of stress include:
- Sleep disturbances such as insomnia or waking frequently
- Clenched jaw or grinding your teeth
- Stomach or digestive upsets
- Lump in your throat and/or difficulty swallowing
- Agitated behavior, like twiddling your fingers or playing with your hair
- Increased heart rate
- General nervousness and/or restlessness
- Sense of muscle tension in your body or actual muscle twitching
- Non-cardiac chest pains
- Dizziness, lightheadedness
- Sweaty palms
- Stumbling over words
- High blood pressure
- Lack of energy
Mental signs of stress include:
- Mental slowness
- General negative attitudes or thoughts
- Constant worry
- Your mind races at times
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty thinking in a logical sequence
- The sense that life is overwhelming and you can’t solve your problems
Emotional signs of stress include:
- No sense of humor
- Jumpiness, overexcitability
- Feeling overworked
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Sense of hopelessness and helplessness
Behavioral signs of stress include:
- Decreased contact with family and friends
- Poor work relations
- Sense of loneliness
- Decreased sex drive
- Avoiding others and others avoid you because you’re cranky
- Failing to set aside times for relaxation through activities such as hobbies, music, art or reading
Physical health problems caused by stress
Stress can cause physical illnesses
There have been many reports recently about stress and how it can affect your body and mind, causing very real physical and mental problems. Heart disease, high blood pressure, Anxiety Disorders, and depression have all been linked to chronic stress. Here are some physical conditions caused by stress:
- Heart disease – Research has confirmed that being under continual stress may place you at greater risk for having heart disease. This is especially true if your heart rate or blood pressure rise dramatically in response to everyday stress.
- Suppression of the Immune System – Stress has been linked to a suppression of the immune system, making you susceptible to illness or sicker if you already have an illness. You are much more susceptible to colds, flu and viruses.
- Cancer – Stress has been implicated as playing a role in cancer, particularly in the recovery of cancer patients. Research has implicated stress in the development of cancers related to the immune system, such as virus-related tumors.
- Gastrointestinal problems – Stress is recognized as a major contributor to gastrointestinal diseases, particularly irritable bowel syndrome.
- Skin problems – Stress can trigger or aggravate skin conditions such as hives, acne, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, warts, cold sores, and blisters.
- Neurological disorders – Among other effects, stress compromises the blood-brain barrier, causing drugs taken for other purposes to enter the brain, causing headaches, nausea, and dizziness.
- Elevated blood pressure – Too much stress with little or no coping skills keeps the body in the “fight or flight” mode, which raises blood pressure.
Mental health problems caused by stress
Stress triggers or aggravates mental health problems
There are a myriad of mental health disorders that can be laid at the feet of stress. Stress can act as a trigger or aggravate a condition already present. If stress is untreated, it can eventually lead to a sense of dysfunction. This may result in increased Anxiety or a sense of depression because you are not mastering your world.
Feeling depressed or anxious are common reactions to stress. When these are temporary, they are just a reflection of life’s ups and downs. But if they persist long enough, they may develop into a mental health problem that could benefit from professional help.
Following is a short list of mental disorders that are triggered or aggravated by stress:
- Depression – Stress can trigger short-term depression by elevating feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, sadness and so on. Untreated, these can develop into clinical depression.
- Bipolar disorder – The depressive/manic cycles of bipolar disorder can be triggered by stress, especially if a person has been enjoying a period of relief from symptoms.
- Panic attacks – Panic attacks are often triggered by stressful situations, or the anticipation of stressful situations.
- Panic Disorder – When stress is persistent, panic attacks come so frequently they can be diagnosed as Panic Disorder. The avoidance behavior typical of Panic Disorder is aggravated by stress.
- Social Phobia – By definition, one of Social Phobia’s primary triggers is stress caused by the reality of or the anticipation of a social situation. Stress can trigger Social Phobia’s several symptoms, and causes the diagnosed disorder itself to deepen.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder – Worrying is the key symptom of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and stress just causes more worrying, especially in relationships and work situations. Stress has been shown to be a direct precursor to Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – The behaviors associated with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder are aggravated by stress, and chronic stress leads to the course of the mental disorder getting rapidly worse.
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – Stress triggers many of the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, such as traumatic flashbacks. Other symptoms of PTSD, like relationship problems, tend to create more stress, which causes the condition to worsen.
- Hypochondriasis (fear and excessive complaints of bodily disease) – The majority of people with Hypochondriasis experience real physical pain and anxieties as a natural result of other emotional issues. Stress can trigger or exacerbate Hypochondriasis, particularly chronic stress.
- Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple personality) – The causes of Dissociative Identity Disorder have not been identified, but the condition has been linked with overwhelming stress, among other experiences.
- Amnesia – Stress and stress-related mental illnesses such as Dissociative Identity Disorder and Dissociative Fugue can cause amnesia.
Stress in the brain
Stress causes permanent brain changes
Researchers are finding that stress causes definite physical changes inside the brain, some of which remain permanent. For example, stress causes the protein kinase C (PKC), located inside brain cells, to behave abnormally. The enzyme has been found to play a critical role in neuropsychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia, Tourette syndrome, movement disorders and dementia.
Kinase C can impair memory and other functions in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is responsible for:
- Attention span
- Impulse control
- Self-monitoring and supervision
- Problem solving
- Critical and forward thinking
- Learning from experience and mistakes
- Ability to feel and express emotions
- Internal supervision
Stress causes serious physical and mental problems
When stress and anxiety escalate without a means to cope with the stress, they often are linked to many serious psychological and physiological conditions. Many times, psychological distress accompanies and produces these conditions.
There are many ways to learn to cope with stress. One of the best is therapy with a qualified mental health professional. You will be taught resilience, relaxation techniques, and coping skills to deal with not only the stress of everyday life, but with extraordinarily stressful situations, as well.
What do you think?
Stress is to be expected
Stress is an expected component of life. Everybody has stresses, and some stress is not necessarily bad. But when stress becomes too much to handle, or becomes chronic, it leads to burnout on the job, strained relationships at home, and a miserable life.
I have had two jobs that I experienced burnout in and they were both related to stress. The second, in which I was working 80-hour weeks for a boss that was never pleased, still gives me nightmares. Literally. It directly contributed to the beginnings of a very serious mental condition and to the breakdown I had some years later. I am still undergoing therapy to help me get rid of the horrible memories.
- How do you handle stress?
- Have you ever had a situation that led to chronic stress?
- Do you think the joke at the beginning of this article was in good taste?
As always, your comments are welcome!
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Resources used in this post:
Bressert, Steve. (2006, February 17). The Impact of Stress. Retrieved July 1, 2008 from Psych Central Web site: http://psychcentral.com/lib/2006/the-impact-of-stress/
Cleveland Clinic. (2008) Hypochondriasis. Retrieved August 10, 2008 from Cleveland Clinic Web site: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/Hypochondriasis/hic_Hypochondriasis.aspx
Franklin Institute. (2004). The Human Brain – Stress. Retrieved August 10, 2008 from Franklin Institute Web site: http://www.fi.edu/learn/brain/stress.html
MedicineNet. (2002, October 10). Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder). Retrieved August 10, 2008 from MedicineNet.com Web site: http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=38077
Nargundkar, Vasu. (2002). Warning: Stress Can Be Hazardous to Your Skin! Retrieved August 10, 2008 from Pioneer Thinking Web site: http://www.pioneerthinking.com/stress-skin.html
National Cancer Institute. (2008). Psychological Stress and Cancer: Questions and Answers. Retrieved August 10, 2008 from National Cancer Institute Web site: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/stress
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. (2007, May). What I need to know about Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Retrieved August 10, 2008 from National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse Web site: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/ibs_ez/
Tomlin, Ross. (2004, October 29). Links found between brain enzyme, stress, neurological disorders. Retrieved August 10, 2008 from Baylor College of Medicine Web site: http://www.bcm.edu/fromthelab/vol03/is10/04dec_n4.htm
Wikipedia. (2008). Amnesia. Retrieved August 10, 2008 from Wikipedia Web site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amnesia