Feeling stressed is a normal human condition and can motivate us into action, it is also one of the ways that allows us to adapt to survive in the world. We already have a very special switch which controls our flight or fight response. This mechanism in the brain guarantees our survival without our conscious mind having to do anything.
This ‘switch’ has existed in the human brain for thousands of years, and operates in the same way it did centuries ago. Imagine that back in the caveman days we were confronted by a Lion, the fear and anxiety would immediately take over. We became ‘hijacked’ by our subconscious mind, in that moment our conscious mind which controls out thought processes steps aside.
Our brain takes over and activates plenty of stress hormones and chemicals, these include Adrenalin and Cortozol.
Our brain decides that our body needs to escape (flight), it increases the flow of adrenalin, thus powering the muscles and limbs to shake, enabling our bodies into action. It can give us strength to fight, you have heard of mothers lifting cars of trapped children! It can also cause us to have bowel problems or sickness, as if we are nauseous or have diarrhoea, the Lion will think we are off meat and not eat us.
Another symptom maybe the freeze response, where we are unable to move our limbs or escape, because again if we are dead then the Lion wont eat us, animals in the wild will deploy this tactic instinctively, to fool the Lion.
This was useful during the days of the caveman, however the heightened levels of Stress and Anxiety in everyday life extends beyond an event lasting a few minutes or a couple of hours, it can last for days, weeks, months and even years. Thereby releasing harmful stress hormones into our systems for extended periods of time.
This can cause Physical as well as Psychological symptoms.
Physical symptoms may include:
Palpitations, increased heart beat, sweating, hot flushes, sweaty hands, shortness of breath, agitation, increased blood pressure, tingling in hands, face and feet, dizziness, dry mouth, shaking, chest pains, nausea and abdominal pain, feelings of panic and fear, fear of passing out, or dying, although not extensive these are the most commonly reported.
Short term stress is useful for motivating us to take a driving test or performing in some way, it keeps us focused and sharp, to complete the task to the best of our ability. However extended periods of stress can lead to feelings of anxiety which if left untreated, can in turn, develop into Panic Attacks.
Unfortunately with stress levels on the increase, more people are suffering from extended periods of severe stress and anxiety, which impact their ability to work and lead a normal life. Extended periods are damaging to the body as we produce too much acid, our bodies can not cope. We can then develop further symptoms such as acidity, reflux problems, IBS, over functioning bladder , digestive and immune system malfunction. After all if you are going to be eaten by a Lion you do not need to be digesting food or keep the immune system active. These are secondary to the brain, as protection of life takes priority.
Other noticeable symptoms occur early on these include loss of libido , sleep disorders, or being unable to go to sleep as the conscious mind becomes over active. The subconscious mind tries to dream out anxiety and stress through REM (rapid eye movement or dream state) activity. However because the brain is not achieving deep levels of sleep which recoup the bodies energies nor builds Seratonin, the chemical that makes us feel good, we can end up exhausted in the mornings. A lack of good quality sleep extended over long periods of time can lead to depression.
See depression for more information.