The Symptoms of Stress

by stresswinner on December 23, 2009

“It requires a great deal of inexperience to be beyond the reach of anxiety”. (Anon)
How often do you experience  feelings like these:  Pounding, rapid heartbeats; irregular, shallow breathing – a feeling you can’t get enough air; churning stomach or tense, tight muscles in your neck?     Many people visit their doctor  with  such symptoms, which  might be signs of serious illness,  but are more often  the body’s way of showing  anxiety or ‘stress’.   Under stress, we  might also feel mentally  ‘on edge’, or that life’s just too hard to handle – but  not always, which can make the symptoms more difficult to relate to anxiety.
Why do we get anxiety symptoms?  The answer is: DANGER!  Our basic stress response is called the  ‘fight or flight’ reflex ,  designed to save our lives when we’re physically threatened.   First the brain sends nerve signals  to all  parts of  the body saying : “Watch out, get ready! ”   Then the body is flooded  with chemicals and hormones such as adrenaline and cortisone, which  prepare each cell  for the coming battle.  .
Imagine you’re woken suddenly in the night  by a strange noise. Your body is instantly alert,  ready to fight an  intruder – or to run away. Your heart races and pounds, raising  blood pressure;  breathing deepens to increase the oxygen supply,  and  muscles tense up ready for action.
This  stress response protected our cave-dwelling ancestors from sabre-toothed tigers,  and it will save our lives too – if we’re physically attacked,  perhaps  by  muggers  or  vicious dogs.   However,  modern  stresses  are  not  usually life threatening  –  we’re stressed  by  change, uncertainty, work overload,  relationships, children  and money – and fighting or running away  don’t work too well  in dealing with these!    As one wit said “We have had two chickens in every pot, two cars in every garage, and now we have two headaches for every aspirin.”
Our stress response is  designed  for short bursts of  action  with rests in between,  but modern stresses  hurt us because they go on and on,  with few  breaks.   Animals  get enraged,  fight fiercely –  but then quickly go to sleep. Can most humans  do that?  No way!  We think we’re smarter than  the animals,   but  we agonize over things that have happened, fret  about what might happen –  and worry ourselves to death!
When the stress response  is prolonged, our  resources are drained, and we may  ‘burn out’  or  become  depressed.   We sleep badly,  feel exhausted and irritable,  suffer aches and  pains,  don’t enjoy life  – and  eventually we may  lose  hope.   Chronic stress not only feels miserable, but  it can set off  or worsen  any  illness, from migraine and ‘flu  to heart attack and   stroke  –  and cause accidents as well.
The symptoms of stress can imitate almost any illness – from ulcers to  cancer,  causing even more worry and concern.  That’s why the first steps in managing stress well  involve accepting that stress may cause symptoms, having your  symptoms accurately diagnosed  by your doctor, and if anxiety is the cause, to understand how and why you feel the way you do.
We all feel  stressed sometimes,  but what counts is what we do with the energy of that anxiety.  We can turn it inwards and make ourselves ill,  or  take  action to solve problems,  strengthen  ourselves by developing  the skills we need  – and use our symptoms as our guide.  It’s our choice!

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