The nature of modern life's stresses and their many symptoms
Our bodies are actually designed to deal with sudden danger presenting an immediate threat to our survival. They are made for brief responses and function best in basic survival of the fittest situations where stress is faced and contained in minutes. Adrenaline is then released into the bloodstream and we respond straight away to a perceived harm. If, for instance, we save a child or a pet from getting run over by a car, the sudden jolt to our nerves can leave us on a mental high. We were momentarily stressed but we’ve come out on top. End of story.
In the old days, stress was mainly physical and therefore the response was physical. After a physical challenge, the body just relaxed and the person was probably all the better for the incident. But modern life is very different. Nowadays, we are exposed to stress on an almost constant basis but this is a kind of stress where our primitive/instinctive brain doesn’t serve us so well. Most of us have lifestyles involving chronic problems such as financial worries, relationship puzzles and professional dilemmas. Faced with relentless, on-going stress, our bodies are unable to relax and tensions keep piling up.
No longer beset with problems of physical survival, we have turned our attention to and are consumed by “to do” lists stretching beyond the demands made upon us by modern life and often dictated by wants rather than needs. The beneficial, acute stress that serves fight or flight responses becomes chronic. We maintain muscle tension, high blood pressure and an excessive mental alertness we commonly refer to as anxiety.
And so, you see… The same responses which were originally designed to protect us become harmful, even lethal sometimes. Arteries constrict, not just in our arms and legs but also inside our hearts. And our behaviour changes, sometimes drastically.
The most common symptoms of stress overload
Our stress levels can become critical and all-consuming. In such cases, we develop symptoms of stress overload which are:
- Over-reacting (extreme impatience or excessive anger) to minor problems.
- Increased consumption of alcohol, cigarettes or tobacco.
- Overeating or loss of appetite.
- Disturbed sleep.
- Reduced work efficiency and decision-making ability.
- Psychosomatic disorders manifested in physical symptoms like headaches, neck tension, heart palpitations and skin disorders.
People respond physically to stress in many ways. Initially, stress produces a response in the body which prepares it for action. This response boosts the running level of the body, maximising its resources to enable it to cope with increased demand on the system. As a metaphor, you’ll get a good picture of this if you think of the response you get when you step on the accelerator of a car while it is neutral. If the stress response is prolonged, this higher running level leads to physical damage and total exhaustion. Almost every part of the body is affected.
Immediate physical responses include increased heart, perspiration and breathing rates, muscle tension and dry mouth. If this carries on, the increased mental anguish brings about internal changes. These include a rise in blood pressure, an increase in blood fats, sugar and cholesterol, a decreased immune response resulting in an increased susceptibility to viruses and colds and an increased tendency of the blood to clot.
Longer term physical responses may include stress-related health problems such as back pain, rashes, stomach upsets (e.g. IBS, cramps, nausea), insomnia, peptic ulcers, heart disease, high blood pressure and chronic fatigue. Large numbers of the general population do complain of tiredness upon waking up, of feeling out of sorts, of just “not being there”.
What is stress trying to tell us?
Like pain, stress is nature’s way of telling us that something is amiss in our lives. It’s like a red light that flickers on the instrument panel of cars, alerting us to a malfunctioning of our vehicles. To ignore nature’s warning is to thwart nature’s purpose and the result can only be adverse. Chronic stress does result in serious health disorders. It can lead to nervous breakdowns and shouldn’t be underestimated. The damage done by everyday minor hassles is cumulative. Office politics, daily traffic jams and chaotic schedules do add up and, most often than not, put a severe strain on our nerves.
Hypnotherapy can help people develop a healthier attitude about stress, breaking, for instance, the habit of saying “something in my bones tells me this day is going to be awful”. It’s not the event itself that causes stress but it's the way we look at it, our interpretation of it.
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