Stress Related Symptoms

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By Tess Thompson

Stress symptoms are all directly connected to the physiological changes that occur when danger-- perceived or actual-- is sensed. This is called the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. The hypothalamus, a part of the brain that governs the nervous system, sets off an alarm in the face of a threat to ensure physical safety or emotional wellness. The nervous system responds by releasing stress-related hormones into the blood stream, and our body prepares to either fight or run away from the scene.

The biological changes that take place are instantaneous and are meant to protect us by providing an energy boost that speeds up our reflexes. The entire body’s functions concentrate on protection and the processes that are not necessary for immediate survival slow down or switch off. This occurs because the body aims at focusing all the energy in trying to fight or run away from the stressful situation that confronts you.

This, however, was meant to be a temporary condition that occurs so that an individual can handle emergencies. These reflexes helped humans in the Stone Age to face life and death situations. Once the threat was over, the body returned back to its state of relaxation, allowing normal body functions to resume.

Modern life is, however, more about psychological or perceived threats rather than physical safety. Humans have to struggle daily with things like traffic jams, meeting deadlines at work, health, and even about what we hear on the evening news. Stress has percolated in our lives to such an extent that it is impossible to evade. Returning back to the state of relaxation never really happens in such trying times. Continuous stress does not allow returning to normalcy and the automatic responses of the body in a state of prolonged stress affect your overall health.

Stress symptoms can be easily divided into four general categories: physical, cognitive, behavioral and emotional.

  • Physical symptoms include headaches, backaches, fast heartbeat, diarrhea or constipation, muscle tension, nausea, insomnia and loss of sex drive. As the immune system is inhibited, the body is unable to ward off opportunistic infections like colds. Slowing down of the digestive system may lead to weight loss or weight gain.
  • Cognitive symptoms like a negative outlook and inability to think objectively are common in a stressed state. Other cognitive symptoms include indecisiveness, anxiety, memory loss, poor concentration and judgment, perennial worry and ambiguity.
  • A stressed person is continuously in a tense state and short tempered. Impatience, restlessness, a sullen gloomy feeling and feeling overwhelmed are some of the emotional symptoms that stress may lead to.
  • Behavioral symptoms, include eating and sleeping disorders, substance abuse, nail biting, pacing, isolation, procrastination and overreacting to minor issues.

Major changes that occur in life as well as routine troubles and demands are major causes of stress. A negative approach to life, striving for perfection, unexpressed anger and unrealistic beliefs also lead to stress. It is impossible to avoid stress because a lot of it is caused by exogenous factors that are beyond our control. Coping with stress requires you to be aware of the stressors, as well as adopting an attitude that everything cannot always be favorable to you.


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