Stress Disorder

Stress is a natural response to a fight-or-flight situation. It allows us to react to a threatening situation with reason and calm. But when the stressful encounter ends, and you remain in an alarmed state, you may be experiencing symptoms of Stress Disorder. As such, treatments that address the source of the stress have had the most success in alleviating Stress Disorders.  

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If the weight of stress is affecting your daily life, consider seeking a professional. It can be an empowering step towards better mental well-being, as experts offer empathetic support and a range of effective treatments. This can guide you toward a path of resilience, emotional wellness  and a healthier relationship with stress.

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  • Memory impairment
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Mild to moderate dull head pain

  • Living with chronic illness
  • Surviving life-threatening accidents or illnesses
  • Being a victim of a crime
  • Familial stressors such as abusive relationships, unhappy marriages etc 

  • Talk therapy
  • Group Therapy
  • Medications
  • Complementary and alternative therapies

  • Psychiatry
  • Psychology
  • Therapy

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Stress Disorder

What is Stress Disorder?

Grab a balloon and squeeze it, not too hard, just compress it a little bit and let go. It’ll fly out your hands and regain its prior shape as it falls to the ground. The off-colour imprints of your efforts on the balloon’s surface is your first lesson about Stress. It’s simply a biological response to a perceived threat, a stressor which triggers a flight-or-fight surging of hormones and chemicals to help you respond to a particular problem. 

Typically, the body relaxes after the response occurs, becomes like the balloon drifting on the floor if you will, and returns to normal after the inciting event. Stress Disorders take the story a little further, it retrieves the balloon and raises the pressure gently, until, inevitably, the balloon pops. 

Life presents various challenges and risks which deems the intervention of an agent like stress to be vital, but when its presence starts being felt in the ordinary moments you would never stop to think about, something that may require medical attention is happening.

It might seem rather obvious now that too much persistent stress can cause negative effects, but it’s what helped our hunter-gatherer ancestors survive, and it’s just as important in today’s world. It can be healthy when it helps you avoid an accident, meet a tight deadline, or keep your wits about you amid chaos.

For as many reasons as you can add to that list, there’s another person who deals with that problem in a slightly different way. 

Symptoms of Stress:

When stress becomes problematic is when it deviates from the normal biological process and leads to illness. 

Prolonged stress keeps the body in a constant state of readiness for physical action, preventing the reestablishment of equilibrium and weakening the immune system, which can make individuals more susceptible to sickness. 

Prolonged stress disrupts essential bodily processes and increases the risk of various health problems, including memory impairment, fatigue, depression, skin conditions like eczema, sleep difficulties, obesity, heart disease, digestive problems, decreased sex drive, and autoimmune diseases.

Stress can also manifest in specific ways, such as stress headaches (tension headaches) characterised by mild to moderate dull head pain, a band-like pressure around the forehead, and tenderness of the scalp and forehead. 

Additionally, stress can contribute to stomach ulcers, where the physical stress and pain from the ulcer can lead to emotional stress. 

Stress eating is another common response, where individuals may eat excessively or without hunger as a coping mechanism, often choosing unhealthy foods and leading to weight gain and associated health problems.

Work-related stress can be a significant source of stress, whether occasional or chronic. It can stem from a lack of control or power, dissatisfaction with the job without alternatives, conflicts with coworkers, excessive work demands, or being in dangerous professions where one's life or the lives of others are at stake.

Finding work-life balance, pursuing career changes, or taking steps to improve control and satisfaction in the workplace are important for managing work-related stress and maintaining mental health.

Stress and anxiety often go hand in hand, with stress being the result of external demands and anxiety characterised by high levels of worry, unease, or fear. Anxiety can arise as a consequence of episodic or chronic stress.

Having both stress and anxiety can significantly impact health and increase the likelihood of developing conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, panic disorder, and depression. However, there are effective treatments and strategies available to address and manage stress and anxiety.

Causes of Stress:

Stress is a natural biological response that occurs when faced with a potentially dangerous situation. When stress occurs suddenly, the brain releases chemicals and hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, leading to increased heart rate, heightened awareness, and redirected blood flow to vital organs and muscles. 

While adrenaline plays a role in stress, cortisol is the primary stress hormone, serving various functions such as increasing glucose levels in the bloodstream, optimising glucose utilisation in the brain, facilitating tissue repair, prioritising essential functions during life-threatening situations, influencing the immune system response, and affecting brain regions involved in fear, motivation, and mood regulation. This stress response is a normal and crucial process for human survival.

Before we proceed, it's important to discuss some common stressors that individuals may encounter. These include experiencing natural or manmade disasters, living with chronic illness, surviving life-threatening accidents or illnesses, being a victim of a crime, and facing familial stressors such as abusive relationships, unhappy marriages, divorce proceedings, child custody issues, caregiving for chronically ill loved ones, living in poverty or homelessness, working in dangerous professions, having poor work-life balance, working long hours, or being unhappy with one's job, and military deployment.

We’ve left out one additional type of event: happy events. Certain occasions like getting married or having a baby bring with it expectations to be happy or excited.  But these events can bring big changes, and you might experience new or unusual demands. So they can still feel very stressful. This can be difficult to deal with, especially if you also feel pressure to be positive.

In the meantime, if cortisol levels remain elevated for prolonged periods, it can have negative effects on health. Long-term high cortisol levels may contribute to weight gain, high blood pressure, sleep disturbances, lack of energy, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, mental fog, memory problems, weakened immune system, and increased vulnerability to infections. 

Furthermore, chronic stress can impact mood and lead to feelings of being overwhelmed, irritable, or fearful. It may also contribute to substance use as individuals seek relaxation, although such substances often increase stress in the long run, especially when addiction or dependence develops.

Ideally, after the fight-or-flight response, the body should enter a relaxation response through the parasympathetic nervous system, allowing it to return to equilibrium. This response brings heart rate and blood pressure back to normal levels and enables activities like digestion and sleep to resume at their regular pace.

Types of Stress Disorders:

Let's explore the various types of stress before delving into the clinical manifestations of stress-related disorders:

  1. Acute Stress: Acute stress is the immediate response of the body to a new and challenging situation. It can occur in situations like narrowly escaping a car accident or experiencing thrilling activities like riding a roller coaster or skiing down a steep slope. Generally, acute stress is not harmful and may even have benefits. It allows your body and brain to develop effective responses to future stressful situations. Once the danger passes, your body systems should return to normal.

  1. Severe Acute Stress: Severe acute stress arises from life-threatening situations. When faced with such stress, individuals may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other mental health problems.

  1. Episodic Acute Stress: Episodic acute stress occurs when individuals frequently experience acute stress episodes. It may arise from chronic anxiety, constant worry about anticipated events, or leading a chaotic life with one crisis after another. Professions such as law enforcement or firefighting, which involve frequent high-stress situations, can also contribute to episodic acute stress. Like severe acute stress, episodic acute stress can negatively impact physical health and mental well-being.

  1. Chronic Stress: Chronic stress refers to prolonged periods of high-stress levels. Long-term exposure to stress can have adverse effects on health, including high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. Chronic stress may lead to frequent ailments like headaches, upset stomachs, and sleep difficulties.

It's important to note that stress disorder occurs when individuals have difficulty coping with or adjusting to recent stressors. These stressors can be events witnessed firsthand, personally experienced, or experienced by close family members, which increase physical or psychological demands. While many people encounter similar stressors throughout their lives, only a small percentage of individuals experience significant maladjustment to the event, warranting psychological intervention.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Stress is subjective — not measurable with tests. Only the person experiencing it can determine whether it's present and how severe it feels. A healthcare provider may use questionnaires to understand your stress and how it affects your life.

This is fairly crucial to assess accurately because how stressed you feel in different situations may depend on factors like:

  • How comfortable you feel in certain types of situation
  • What else you are going through at the time
  • Your past experiences, and how these affect the way you feel about yourself
  • The resources you have available to you, such as time and money
  • The amount of support you have from other people

These factors allow a professional to deliver a prognosis after gauging details like the source, intensity and duration of stress. It may also be affected by an individual’s available coping skills and social support systems. When stress is high and available coping skills are low, the effects of stress are more likely, which can shorten someone’s lifespan.

There are no specific treatments for stress. But there are treatments for some of the signs and symptoms of stress. 

In the initial stages, after a physician may have run some tests to see how they can help manage the symptoms, they may suggest some options to help you manage your stress, such as wellbeing and relaxation tips. They might be able to refer you to social prescribing, if it is available in your area.

Social prescribing is a form of community-based treatment that helps you deal with social issues affecting your health. For example, this might include support for loneliness, money problems or physical activity. It can also help you find activities that improve your wellbeing, such as arts and gardening classes, or volunteering opportunities.

If the symptoms persist, you may be given some Medication: 

Your doctor might offer to prescribe:

  • Sleeping pills or minor tranquillisers, if you're having trouble sleeping
  • Antidepressants, if you're experiencing depression or anxiety alongside stress
  • Medication to treat any physical symptoms of stress, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or high blood pressure

Before deciding to take any drug, it's important to make sure you have all the facts you need to make an informed choice.

Talking therapy

Talking with a trained professional could help you find ways to deal with stress. And it can help you become more aware of your own thoughts and feelings.

You might also find talking therapies helpful if your stress has caused other mental health problems.

There are lots of different talking therapies. Some of them may help you. But not all of them will be suitable for your situation. 

Complementary and alternative therapies

You may find certain complementary and alternative therapies helpful in treating signs and symptoms of stress. This may include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Aromatherapy
  • Some herbal remedies and cannabis-based medicines
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Massage
  • Tai Chi
  • Yoga and meditation

Stress treatment can add a tremendous amount of coping skills and support to a person in a stressful environment. The best success will occur when treatment targets the source of stress directly, rather than the side effects of stress.

Coping with Stress Disorders:

Taking care of your wellbeing is essential for effectively managing stress. Different strategies work for different people, so here are some ideas you could try:

  1. Be kind to yourself: Learning to treat yourself with kindness can have a positive impact on how you feel in various situations. Take breaks throughout your day to engage in activities you enjoy, and acknowledge and reward yourself for even small achievements.

  2. Make time to relax: Even if you can't change the stressful situation you're facing, allowing yourself short breaks can significantly improve your well-being. Find moments to relax and unwind, which can help reduce the negative impact of stress.

  3. Cultivate interests and hobbies: Spending time on activities you enjoy can serve as a distraction from stressful situations. If stress is making you feel lonely or isolated, consider pursuing shared hobbies that can also provide an opportunity to meet new people.

  4. Connect with nature: Spending time in nature has been shown to reduce stress and enhance overall well-being. Whether it's going for a walk in a green space, tending to indoor plants, or interacting with animals, incorporating nature into your life can have a calming effect.

  5. Prioritise physical health: Taking care of your physical health can make managing stress easier. Ensure you get enough sleep, engage in regular physical activity, and maintain a balanced diet. Even small changes in these areas can have a significant positive impact on stress management.

  6. Build a support network: Research indicates that having a strong support network can increase resilience and make stress more manageable. Seek support from trusted friends, family members, and colleagues. Sharing your feelings and experiences can make stressful situations feel more manageable.

This support network may include:

  • Friends and family: Sharing your feelings with those close to you can make a significant difference, as they may provide support or assistance with the stressors you're facing.
  • Support at work: Seek support from your manager, human resources department, union representatives, or employee assistance programs. Responsible employers should prioritise employee well-being.
  • Peer support: Engage in peer support groups or online communities where you can connect with others who have similar experiences or feelings.

  1. Identify triggers: Understanding what triggers your stress can help you prepare and cope with it effectively. While it may not always be possible to avoid these situations, being aware of your triggers can assist in developing appropriate coping strategies.

  2. Organise your time: Feeling overwhelmed by multiple responsibilities can contribute to stress. Consider reorganising your time to regain a sense of control. Some strategies include:

  • Identifying your most productive times and tackling important tasks during those periods.
  • Creating a to-do list and prioritising tasks based on their urgency.
  • Setting smaller, achievable goals to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
  • Balancing challenging tasks with more enjoyable or calming activities.
  • Avoiding taking on too much at once and being clear with others about your limits.
  • Taking breaks and approaching tasks at a manageable pace.
  • Asking for help from friends or family members to lighten your load.

It's important to note that the goal of stress management isn't to eliminate stress entirely, as stress can be a healthy response in certain situations. Instead, the aim is to develop effective coping mechanisms and support systems to manage stress and promote overall well-being.

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 Stress Disorder

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