(by guest author John Preston, Psy.D)
Common symptoms of stress include:
- Trembling; feeling shaky
- Muscle tension
- Nervousness; edginess
- Sweating; cold hands and feet
- Initial insomnia (difficulty falling asleep)
Symptoms associated with moderate to severe anxiety:
- Shortness of breath
- Diarrhea ; frequent urination
- Panicky feelings; fears of losing control
Symptoms associated with specific anxiety disorders:
- Extremely intense, rapidly escalating anxiety generally lasting for 1-10 minutes (Panic disorder)
- Recurring, significant worries about: maintaining order in ones environment (accompanied by checking behavior; e.g. checking and rechecking if doors are locked, oven is turned off, etc.); unrealistic fears of dirt, contamination (accompanied by rituals, e.g. hand washing) (obsessive-compulsive disorder)
- Recurring nightmares, intrusive memories, anxiety attacks, and times feeling numb (Post-traumatic stress disorder)
Note: these three anxiety disorders have very small rates of spontaneous remission. Without professional treatment they can last for years.
Symptoms that can significantly interfere with functioning at school or work
- Impaired concentration and attention
- Inability to maintain focus
- Memory problems
- Very low frustration tolerance
The five symptoms listed above can severely interfere with functioning, and failure to succeed academically or occupationally can, in itself, become another source of increased anxiety.
Stress symptoms are often brought about by exposure to either very significant life events (e.g. the death of a loved one; being reprimanded or fired from a job). But also such symptoms often arise not from specific, highly stressful experiences, but from the accumulation of many lower-level stressors (e.g. when people take on too much).
There are four factors that are at the root of many stress symptoms:
- Loss of perspective which often leads to a perceived loss of control
- Lack of adaptive outlets for reacting to the stressors
- Sleep deprivation
- The use/overuse of caffeine and/or alcohol, both of which can contribute significantly to stress symptoms.
These are causes, but also each point the way to effective stress management.
Stress management: First it is worth noting that when people are experiencing severe stress reactions it is very common for friends or loved ones to offer useless advice, such as “You just need to relax;” “Don’t take things so seriously;” “You are too sensitive.” You better believe it, everyone who is experiencing severe stress has already done everything they can to turn the volume on stress symptoms. To have someone offer one of these platitudes never helps and often results in the person feeling misunderstood or angry.
Techniques that work: Continue reading “Stress and Anxiety”