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By J. Manuel Cordova, M. D.t
Stress—The Other Killer
Stress results from individualized, personal response to different situations and circumstances that create pressures. It is a normal and perhaps necessary part of our lives. It is a normal physiological response to specific stimuli or “stressors.” These responses produce body systems so that they can help us adapt to the constant demands and changes of our lives.
Sometimes stress responses may be so mild that they go virtually unnoticed. At other times, they can seem to be an overwhelming burden. One of the greatest current stressors may be the feeling that we should not have the discomfort associated with increased stress. When this discomfort happens, some of us may assume that we are not coping well or that this is a sign of illness. The assumption that we should feel good all the time, no matter what changes or problems we are facing, can add to the pressures we already feel.
There are two basic types of stressful circumstances or events: One is intense, an alarm reaction that readies your body for an emergency situation. The other is less intense and alerts your body to meet a long-term problem that calls for endurance. The effects of stress are not always instantaneous or fleeting. In many people, the impact can be deferred for weeks or months. As a result, many illnesses are thought to be affected by accumulated stress, whether the illness has been either brought on or worsened by stress. Simply stated, stress produces or worsens symptoms when demands outweigh personal resources to cope with them.
Many are not very good at recognizing the emotional reactions we have and consequently find that first we notice the physical responses to stress. Stress can produce such symptoms as headache, insomnia, lost or gain weight, sexual impotence and disorders, upset stomach or digestive changes, chest pain. You may feel physical symptoms or emotional fatigue as the first clues of increased stress. An old nervous habit such as nail-biting may reappear. Because you may not recognize that you are under increased stress, you may interpret the symptoms as those of an illness rather than the manifestation of an adjustment or adaptation process.
The thought that you may have an illness can be frightening and can add to the emotional burden you already have. We need to make some considerations about stress. The stress experience also may become apparent through psychological changes. The most common change is increased irritability with people who are close to you.
You also may feel more cynical, pessimistic, or resentful than usual. Many people report a sense of being victimized, misunderstood, or unappreciated. You find that things to which you normally look forward seem burdensome. Some people become anxious or reclusive or prone to crying or laughing or to inappropriate aggressive behavior.
To be continued
(Editor’s Note: Dr Cordova lives full time at Lakeside. He is an Internal Medicine & Geriatrics Specialist and recently was elected president of the Lakeside Chapala Medical College.)