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Stress and Its Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

A form of pressure that leads to the associated psychological feelings of tension and anxiety.


Causes of Stress

It might be said that everyday life is all about stress: the stress of dealing with family; the stresses of personal growth and development; stresses of study, of job finding and job keeping. In the modern developed world the most primaeval sources of stress arc usually taken care of, that is, the stresses of finding food, shelter and security. Far from this fact relieving stress, we find other things to get stressed about. It might not be immediately clear what is stressful about having to wear up-to-date fashions, but millions of people find it so. Nor is it clear why, having a superabundance of food in the local supermarket, the act of going there to shop should provoke stress, but it does, and so on.

These might seem frivolous examples, but they do make a serious point. What is benign to one person is stressful to another, and this is what makes dealing with stress so difficult. People who arc struggling to make ends meet will probably show little sympathy towards someone obsessed with keeping up with the latest fashion. But everyone lives within a particular environment, and the stresses are no less real for being bizarre to another person in another environment.

That said, the stresses imposed by life in a modem complex society are heavy and demanding, increasingly, it is recognized that unreasonable stress leads to poor performance, which is ultimately counterproductive to society in general and to employers in particular.

Symptoms of Stress

Stress produces anxiety. This is a feeling of general worry plus poor concentration and a range of physical symptoms from headaches, tremors and sweating to abdominal pains and indigestion. As stress increases, anxiety can become more prominent with a constant lear of doing something wrong and worrying about your performance. Family life suffers: the individual becomes irritable and snappy; he loses interest in sex and may turn to drink. As stress builds up further, individual tasks arc neglected because of the need to turn attention to some other more pressing problem.

This poor performance ultimately leads to even more stress in a self-perpetuating vicious cycle. It is fairly easy to see how things can then deteriorate into a state of depression. The type of depression most likely is called agitated depression: the individual is on edge, appears hyperactive and talks freely -unlike classic depression where thought and activity slow down. However, outsiders will notice that the activity is empty and that it achieves little. Tasks that are quickly begun arc just as quickly abandoned unfinished, causing yet more stress. Finally, there may be a complete breakdown in the person’s ability to cope: all the stresses build up into one apparently insoluble threat; the individual collapses in tears and bewilderment. This is what is commonly known as a nervous breakdown.

Evidence suggests that stress lasting over months or years increases the risks of developing a peptic ulcer and may increase the risk of heart disease. The condition called ‘burn out’ may result from years of stress; it is characterised by lack of enthusiasm, neglect of responsibilities, delaying even important tasks, chronic irritability and a feeling of utter worthlessness in one’s job or life generally.

Treatment of Stress

A degree of stress is not in itself unreasonable and is indeed a necessary stimulus to high performance. We all recognise the benefits of having a deadline, while juggling priorities is simply a fact of life. There may be times when these stresses build up and seem overwhelming, even though each itself is not excessive. This is where counselling is helpful, together with time management and setting priorities.

The aim is rarely to transform your life, which would be unrealistic. Rather the counsellor guides you towards agreeing your own agenda for dealing with demands, sorting out what is essential and what can be delayed. Time management helps by organizing your week and devoting time in a preplanned manner instead of reacting to the latest demand. Where excessive stress is leading to anxiety, treatment may include further counselling or sedatives. In extreme cases the individual needs complete rest in a tranquil environment before being gradually encouraged to resume responsibilities.

Constant stress is not healthy. Try to arrange your schedules so that it includes time not subject to demands, perhaps for developing hobbies. Talking problems over is worthwhile and helps put stresses into perspective. In the end, people may be faced with choices about their lifestyle or jobs and may simply have to opt for alternatives if they cannot negotiate changes or cope with what is expected. Increasingly, people arc using litigation to force changes to unreasonable stress at work.

Commonly Asked Questions

Surely some people just cannot cope with stress?

People do vary in how well they handle stress and so there is self-selection in the lifestyles that people choose, l or example, yon do not become a test pilot if you cannot deal with multiple demands. However, for any individual there will be a point at which stress becomes unreasonable.

What can be done if severe stress is unavoidable?

People do cope under extraordinary stresses but the question is for how long. If there really are no changes possible to a person’s lifestyle, he or she will eventually develop an anxiety state. Whether this progression takes a matter of weeks or years will depend on the individual.

What about using drugs to cope?

Most societies have found certain drugs to alleviate stress: alcohol, tobacco and coca, for example. Although they are helpful in the short term, excessive use simply adds to stress, quite apart from providing their own health hazards.
Complementary Treatment

Bach Flower Remedies For Stress

Rescue Remedy is a stand-by for stressful situations; otherwise the remedy depends on the cause. For example, vervain suits people who get stressed by injustice. Acupuncture is good at calming and strengthening the spirit. Typical points include Heart 7, whose name is Shenmen, gate of the spirit, and Pericardium 6. Chakra balancing can help suppress the body’s biochemical responses to stress, thus boosting the immune system. Arts therapies -therapists can help you to become aware of the underlying, unconscious factors contributing to stress by helping you to express your feelings through the arts media. Increased understanding allows you to make informed decisions about your life. Reflexology – your practitioner will concentrate on areas that correspond to the zones in the head. Ayurveda would recommend meditation, breathing meditation and yoga, along with panchakarma detoxification. Osteopathy can help if stress causes pain in the musculoskeletal tissues, particularly the neck and shoulders, but also the lower back. Other therapies to try: most have something to offer.

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