Recognising Stress Symptoms
Becoming aware of your own stress responses is not quite as it sounds. Stress distorts perception. We do not notice what is happening as we keep driving ourselves harder. The more stressed we are, the less chance we have of noticing it.
Psychologist's sometimes talk about different personality types in relation to stress response. One type is very ambitious, competitive, hard working, impatient and aggressive, actually thrive on stress, getting 'high' from a stress hormone known as noradrenalin. Such a personality can become hooked on this substance and they seem to produce it in greater quantities than other personality types.
Another type of person, often labelled 'the over achiever' is equally at risk. This type of person gives the impression of always calmly coping with everything life throws at them. Being tough, proud of being able to withstand the pressure. Thy will deny the dangers of stress and disapprove of others who 'give in', considering that to be a sign of weakness. They are generally unable to admit any limitations of vulnerability.
In reality, pure examples of these character types are rare, most people combining and exhibiting the different qualities according to changing circumstances.
Nevertheless, the beliefs that, "stress is something that doesn't affect me" or "something I just have to grin and bear", illustrated by both of these personality types, are extremely widespread.
These can be physical, psychological, or behavioral. Here are some common examples:
Physical stress symptoms:
Chronic stomach upsets, ulcers, bowel disorders, blood pressure, skin rashes, irregular breathing, impotency, insomnia, fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome.
Psychological symptoms are:
Irritability, impatience, restlessness, frustration, hostility, anger, loss of control, apathy, boredom, guilt, shame, helplessness, hopelessness, depression, mood swings.
Behavioral symptoms are:
Leaving important things undone, panicking, allowing insufficient time to get to work or to appointments, talking too fast, arguing for the sake of arguing, losing your sense of humour, over reacting with emotional outbursts, suspicions, difficulty with decision making, memory loss, inability to concentrate, loss of discriminatory power, poor judgement, erratic or uncharacteristic behavior.
The process is an extremely prompt, speedy and efficient one which starts the instant we perceive the challenge. Note the word perceive, because it doesn't have to be a real challenge - merely a perceived one. The challenge, or out of the ordinary demand, sets off a chain reaction of bodily processes which produce an upsurge in strength and energy, the two things we need for the flight or fight responses, of course. But that same surge of energy has no outlet when the chains of civilisation restrain us from fleeing or fighting and as a result we are filled with the all too familiar sensations of frustration and pent up anxiety. We find ourselves unable to run and unable to fight, yet at the same time having to deal with the very same chemical reactions that gave our ancestors the strength to fight and the energy to take flight.
We only need to imagine an out of the ordinary demand to place our system on the 'stress alert'. Some inner impatience, anger or anxiety is enough to produce the same chain reaction of body chemistry. This makes it perfectly possible to create a vicious circle of producing stress from - an anxiety about stress.
Sources of Stress Stress can be divided into four main groups:
The personality factors are those which arise from our values, beliefs and behavior patterns. Your value system is the deepest level of your personality, and from them beliefs are formed which in turn produce behavior patterns. Trying to alter behavior without understanding or changing your values and beliefs is doomed to failure.
Real change comes from making changes at the deeper levels of your personality. For example, low self esteem is formed from certain values and beliefs we hold about ourselves and our world and low self esteem produces stress. To tackle this source of stress we need to learn more about the underlying values and belief which are producing the loss of self esteem and where appropriate, reconstruct them. Stress management explores various techniques for doing this.
Lifestyle as a source of stress concerns the stressful events which are provoked by the way we live. Research by two American doctors, Holme and Rahe, produced a scale of life events, which were valued according to the amount of adjustment needed to cope with them
Death of a spouse or child came out top, followed by divorce, separation and imprisonment. At the other end of the scale, the two doctors listed changes in eating habits, taking a vacation and even Christmas.
Environmental sources of stress are things like inadequate housing, unpleasant or unhealthy working conditions, crowded public transport and that sort of thing. What is not quite so obvious and easy to recognise about some of them is that we sometimes pretend to actually enjoy them.
For example, some commuters get a buzz out of the mad rush and the crowded trains. It becomes a way of life to boast about, giving a sense of pride at ones ability to "take it" and cope with it all. Underneath this superficial level of enjoyment, the stress factors are still operating and taking their toll. The person who recognises them and learns to manage the stress responses will be okay, but the person who goes on ignoring them, pretending they don not exist, is undoubtedly heading for trouble.
Chemical source's of stress are substances which act upon our central nervous system to produce the symptoms of stress and anxiety. Many such substances are harmless or even beneficial when taken in relatively small doses. Examples are: Caffeine, Salt, Sugar, Nicotine, Alcohol.