Stress is something that is ever-present in our daily lives.
Each and everyone of us can cope up to a certain point, and stress itself is not always a bad. Depending on the mindset of the individual, stress can be either a motivator, or it can stop progress in it’s tracks.
When the task at hand is perceived as being difficult, but doable, then the associated stress level pushes us to perform at our optimum and increases our energy and motivation. However, when it is overwhelming or is sustained for an extended period of time (i.e. chronic stress), that is when a host of health problems begin to develop, sometimes into a “stress disorder”. Stress symptoms can manifest into a number of physical, emotional, mental and/or behavioural changes.
Stress Symptoms – Physical changes
Stress is our body’s natural reaction to a situation, which we perceive in some way as a threat. For example, when we feel the need to defend ourselves. But it’s also a necessary part of our evolution.
When we encounter stress, the brain triggers a response in our body that makes changes to our physical state. This might include tensing muscles, a state high alert, a slow-down of the digestive system, or a dry mouth. And because the body is very efficient in allocating its available resources, it slows down or stops any non-essential activities to focus on the immediate task at hand. The body is poised in a ‘fight or flight’ stance, ready to exert maximum effort at any given time to preserve life.
This was great for the primitive man and it helped to ensure his survival. He was ready both to fight the threat, or run to safety. Unfortunately, we can no longer use the fight/flight (or in some cases, freeze) response to great effect in today’s society. This includes in our work, family, and social life etc. Chemicals, which are produced in our brains bring about corresponding changes, which can leave us feeling that we have pent-up energy. If this happens continuously, it can have adverse or damaging effects on our health such as:
- loss of appetite, weight loss
- migraines or headaches
- comfort eating, weight gain
- bowel disturbances, eg: indigestion, IBS, constipation, diarrhoea
- heart palpitations (which could put you at risk of heart attack and stroke)
- chronic illness and disease, when the stress levels remain too high for too long
Stress Symptoms – Mental changes
Our mental health is also greatly affected by stress. When we are functioning well, we use our Intellectual mind to interact with the world around us. This is the conscious portion of our brain. The Intellectual brain is the part that can evaluate a situation logically, and can usually remain optimistic since it has the ability to come up with innovative solutions. For example seeing opportunity in adversity etc. On the other hand, when we are stressed, we are encouraged to operate from the Primitive brain. This is what holds the seat of our fight/flight/depression response, records our experiences and behavioural patterns, and regulates our body’s chemical responses.
This part of the brain tends to be obsessive, vigilant and tends to think in the worst case scenario. These ‘qualities’ were necessary for our survival. When we tend to have pessimistic thoughts and feelings towards a past, present or future situation, we activate primitive responses in the body and mind.
The brain doesn’t differentiate between the real or imagined threat, and just thinking negative thoughts can actually trigger the emergency response within us. The primitive mind doesn’t have the ability to create solutions. It merely follows past patterns of behaviour, which manifest clearly in stress symptoms like:
- paranoid thoughts
- compulsive worry
- inability to focus
- depression & anxiety
Stress Symptoms – Emotional and Behavioural changes
Stressful situations can bring about feelings of frustration, anger, fear, depression and anxiety, and these also lead to changes in our behaviour. Examples might include being withdrawn, indecisive, defensive, or uncharacteristically aggressive. Unfortunately sometimes, this can turn into a vicious cycle that feeds on each other because we usually feel worse when we behave out of character or react in a way that we would not normally do. Some behavioural and emotional changes that happen during stress include:
- irritability or sudden mood swings
- refusing to get up in the mornings, or prepare to get the day started (‘duvet days’)
- a sense of ‘floating anxiety’ and sense of detachment hating/avoiding clients, colleagues or situations, finding excuses to not attend
- pretending to care, and playing the role of carer, but the actions and feelings are incongruous
- turning to alcohol, increased smoking or other addictions, or snacking on ‘comfort foods’
These stress symptoms usually don’t appear as just one, but a combination of symptoms in different areas. And indeed, we can see that the negative effects of stress on our overall health can affect many areas of our lives. That’s why practitioners at Changes Welcome treat the client as a whole person, by applying tried and tested techniques to help enable them to regain control of their lives in a way that seeks to resolve or literally dissolve many if not all of the symptoms of stress they are feeling.
Read more about Hypnotherapy to Help with Stress.