Welcome to our article on the symptoms and effects of stress.
This is Day 3 of our 5-part series of articles, looking at stress management. Today we are going to have a look at what is going on inside of us when we are confronted with stressful situations.
If you have missed the start of this course, then you can join it here: Free Stress Management Course
Is all stress bad ?
As we touched on in an earlier module, not all stress is bad.
Some stress is designed to keep us safe (see ‘Fight or Flight’ section, below). Meanwhile, other types of stress help to keep us alert and prevent us from getting bored.
However, stress becomes a problem when it is constant, or when we are not able to control it.
Now that we understand the potential causes of stress, we can be more proactive in looking out for the symptoms.
Symptoms and Effects of Stress
The following documentary, from National Geographic, has some shocking revelations about the effects of stress.
Stress – The Portrait of a killer
Fight or Flight
The term ‘fight or flight‘ is widely known in the animal kingdom and this is the body’s automatic response to a stressful situation. It happens when the animal is threatened in some way (i.e. is about to be attacked).
When humans lived in caves their only real threat came from attacks by other animals. They would cope with this potential danger by either fighting the animal off, or running away.
The reasons for stress in those days were different from today. However, they had an effective way of responding to it (i.e. physical activity – running or fighting). This is what animals still do in nature.
For today’s human, in the modern world, there are many more things that can induce stress and our responses tend to be more psychological. In other words, there are fewer reasons to use a ‘physical response’ to today’s stressors.
Small threats are experienced, or perceived, by humans most days of their lives. This can be a manner of things such as :
- Sitting in traffic – making us late for a meeting
- Waiting in queues
- Fast approaching deadlines
- Criticism from others
- Things not going as planned
- Arguments with our partners
Whatever the case may be, we often perceive them as ‘potential threats’ to the smooth running of our day (at least in our heads if not in reality).
Fight or Flight Symptoms
The fight or flight response shows itself in a number of ways:
- The heartbeat gets quicker
- The rate of breathing increases
- The pupils of the eyes dilate
- Adrenalin is produced
- Blood pressure increases
- Blood is diverted away from the digestive system
- Blood is diverted to the arms and legs in preparation for ‘action’
The next video in this module shows you a real life example of someone in danger and the responses which are generated (internally and externally).
That video shows a great safety mechanism to get us away from a ‘real threat’ to our lives. But similar internal responses happen when (for example) our boss tells us that we only have until lunch-time to complete that 20-page report.
Of course, occasional occurrences of the above scenarios are not necessary a problem. However, if our bodies are constantly subjected to the symptoms of flight or fight, without having a chance to either:
- Relax in between occurrences, or
- ‘Burn off’ the ‘internal effects’ of this short terms stress (as we are designed to do)
…..then our bodies are constantly in a state of alertness. This is not a healthy situation to be in (Refer back to the National Geographic video about the effects of on-going stressful situations in the baboons).
Picking up on the points made in the previous video, the next video shows how our physiology copes with stress in more detail.
Symptoms of stress
In order to take control of your stress you must understand that you are actually suffering from it. So let’s now look at some of the typical symptoms of stress.
- Cold sores
- Difficulty concentrating
- Dry mouth and mouth ulcers
- Feeling moody, tearful
- Increase in acid and bile
- Low self-esteem, lack of confidence
- Neck ache and backache
- Perspiration and sweating
- Rashes & Eczema
- Sleep disturbance, insomnia
- Twitching eyes
- Upset stomach, indigestion, diarrhea
- Anger, irritability
- Chest pains
- Feeling overwhelmed and out of control
- Heart conditions
- High blood pressure
- IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Liver disease
- Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME)
- Reproductive problems
- Severe headaches and migraine
- Stomach ulcers
- Weakened immune system
NB. Some of the mild symptoms could actually be classed as severe symptoms – depending on how bad each case is.
Effects of Stress
So what exactly is going on in your body to cause the above symptoms ?
In the following video we look at what the stress hormones, such as cortisol and epinephrine, are doing to our:
- Reproductive systems (both male and female )
- Immune system
Plus you’ll see the different problems caused by chronic stress, (e.g. how it shuts down our immune system).
Of course, there could be other factors which cause the physical symptoms mentioned above. So, let’s look at some other early warning signs indicating that you could be developing stress ?
Emotional and Behavioral Effects of Stress
In the final video in this module, we find out about:
- Depression and learned helplessness (Sufferers lose their natural ‘coping mechanism’. This results in them taking less and less control of their lives – usually in a downward spiral)
- Anger (the ‘fight’ part of the stress response)
- Anxiety (the ‘flight’ – or fear – part of the stress response)
- Addiction (where sufferers are desperate to search for a ‘substitute coping mechanism’)
Can you relate to any of the following:
- Do you start to panic for no apparent reason ?
- Do you feel that something bad is about to happen even if there’s no obvious cause ?
- Do you have problems sleeping ?
- Do you sleep at different times of the day ?
- Do you sleep at the same times of day compared with five years ago ?
- Do you always feel tired ?
- Do you struggle to sleep at night, or wake up and are not able to go back to sleep ?
- Do you sleep a lot more, or a lot less, than you did five years ago ?
- Do you argue a lot more, or a lot less, with your friends, family, or partner than 5 years ago ?
- Have you lost interest in sex ?
- Have you lost your appetite or do you binge eat ?
- Do you find it difficult to concentrate or struggle to complete things that you’ve started ?
- Have you started avoiding people for no particular reason ?
- If you are a smoker, or a drinker, are you engaging in this a lot more now than you’ve done previously ?
- Have you developed a wider range of mood swings ?
- Are you deliriously happy one moment then really angry and or irritable the next – especially with those closest you ?
If you can relate to any above questions, especially coupled with any of the symptoms listed previously, then you might be subject to more stress than is healthy.
Help with stress
If you only experience brief periods of stress, then we recommend that you look at Day 4 “How to Relieve Stress”. The tips in this module are designed as a quick fix for ‘that moment’ when you just might otherwise boil over.
However, if you are looking for something a bit more substantial, for longer term issues, then we recommend that you read our module on Day 5: Stress Management Strategies – How to cope with stress.
As we have said before, we are not medical doctors and we can’t possibly know your particular circumstances. Therefore, if you are in any doubt about stress, then you should seek professional medical help.
Awareness is always the first step in resolving stress related issues. Therefore, please help others by sharing this article with family and friends, using the social media links below.
IMAGE CREDITS: Frustrated Businessman eating Paper(imagerymajestic)/Woman With Neck Pain(Michal Marcol)/Heart Attack(Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot) all at freedigitalphotos.net