How are stress and symptoms related? The post on the health effects of stress told how stress has a physical effect on the body, preparing it to run away from the stressor or to fight it if running away is impossible. It does this by causing the release of neuropeptides and hormones that attach to receptors in the cell membranes. These substances have both physical and psychological effects. The purpose of this post is to make you aware of the symptoms that may alert you to the presence of stress.
What is Stress
People may be aware of feeling stressed or stress can be repressed – it is there but the person is not aware of it. Stress is not actually a subjective feeling. but a measurable set of physiological responses in the body that arise from a variety of stimuli. These include physical damage from infection or injury, threat of harm, emotional trauma, or threat of such trauma. Even imagining or thinking about potential threat of trauma is stressful, and the body will respond to it. And the bodily response is the same whether the threat is real or imagined. If your boss calls you into his office and you think he is going to fire you, your body will react as if he had.
Candace Pert, the scientist who discovered the receptor for serotonin, the neuropeptide released when people are happy, called neuropeptides ‘molecules of emotion’. Emotions are both physiological events and feelings, and are often the first sign that something is causing us to be stressed. Scans, called functional MRIs, taken of people while they were suddenly exposed to something stressful, showed that the emotional area of the brain (the limbic system) reacted before the thinking area (the cortex). So ancient man likely felt fear before realising that he was facing a sabre-tooth tiger.
What Happens in the Body
Meanwhile his body was internally being prepared for fight or flight by the neuropeptides and other substances being released. Blood was shunted from his gut to his muscles, and his heart-rate, blood pressure and blood-sugar rose so that the muscles would be provided with adequate nourishment and energy for the effort required to escape. Body systems and processes not required in an emergency, the immune system, growth functions, the digestive system and the reproductive system were temporarily curbed to allow maximum energy to go to the muscles.
Symptoms of Stress
These changes are useful and short-lived in cases of acute physical danger, but when the stress is psychological and long term the body stays in an alert state and symptoms related to this state may develop. For example, on-going tension in the muscles can cause pain, and the rise in heart-rate and blood-pressure may cause hypertension and heart problems. Lowered blood supply to the gut can also cause abdominal pain and digestive upsets and eventually may lead to irritable bowel syndrome. Strangely it can also lead to or worsen skin conditions, since the skin, like the bowel, eliminates toxins from the body, and if the bowel is not doing its part, the skin has more work to do.
Infections and even cancer can result from the lowered immune system and the compromised system that normally aids growth and repair of tissues. Also, constantly being on alert leads to anxiety, exhaustion and to difficulty sleeping which compounds the exhaustion. Over time prolonged stress can lead to depression, in part because of the different actions of the stress hormone adrenalin and cortisol. You can read about how this works here.
These are some of the common stress symptoms that many people experience without knowing where they come from. If you have any of them you may want to look at where the stressors are in your life.
The following posts will help you find your stressors and tell you how you can reduce stress.
Let me know what you think and if there is anything you would like me to cover.
Photo by Bark