Stress: Natural Reaction or Psychological Disorder?

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Nowadays, the vast amount of expectations from our environment is often overwhelming and leads us to situations we feel that we cannot control or handle successfully. This is the way stress is created. It is one of the most common feelings we are forced to go up against every day.

Stress levels may vary from simple worry to panic attacks, depending on the situation and the way we interpret it.

These situations could be: sitting for an important examination, a professional meeting, a public appearance, a pressing financial situation, a boss who often resorts to shouting, an overloaded schedule and so on.

While the feeling of anxiety or stress can have numerous causes, its deeper roots lie in thoughts (usually unconscious) of inferiority and inadequacy we may harbour. These negative beliefs rid us of our self-confidence and make us feel unable to carry out any kind of task or activity from the most demanding ones, such as public speaking, to the simplest ones, like having a conversation at a friendly gathering.

Anyone suffering from stress and anxiety will often create a programme of daily activities in order to feel absolute control. Any unintentional change in this programme, however, can create an anxiety attack or even a panic attack, due to the loss of control and the resulting unmanageable emotions.

This is a very painful situation and when it occurs, tranquility and joy is lost. We live in constant fear of today and the future. Everything seems like a huge test of our abilities and we exhaust ourselves – because of the need to constantly prove ourselves. Our nervous system is so addicted to this feeling that, for no reason at all, even when things are going well, we continue to reproduce it, thus, constantly remaining in a state of fear and stress, not knowing how we can break free from this vicious circle. We are usually in a state of confusion, not knowing what it is we want or how we can achieve it. As a result, when we act on something we feel dissatisfied and when we do not do anything we feel even worse, proving our inability to ourselves.

More often than not, we are unable to identify whether our worry and anxiety have crossed normal boundaries. Two certain indicators are the frequency and intensity of those feelings. In any case, whenever we found ourselves immersed in them, it is time to take action and start working on ourselves in order to master these emotional and psychological conditions, which are disempowering and detrimental to our health.

Listed below are some of the most common symptoms helping us recognise such a problem:

Excessive worry: The most common form of anxiety is the one we experience on a daily basis when confronted by any kind of issue, big or small. How can we know if we are worrying too much though? If we catch ourselves focusing on our shortcomings or having negative thoughts over a long period of time and these thoughts cause us depression, feelings of helplessness, anxiety, panic and exhaustion then we may be experiencing levels of anxiety that have surpassed the normal and have started to have a negative effect on our health. Therefore, if we feel that we are suffering and dysfuctioning as an immediate result of worrying excessively, we should probably search for a solution and may need to seek a specialist’s advice.

Self-doubt: The inferiority issues mentioned earlier often lead us to never feeling sure about ourselves and to question our judgement and our self-worth. This puts us in the exhausting position of continuous worry about what to say and how to act. In this case we greatly depend on others to make decisions and the different opinions we receive make it even harder, taking our worry and stress to unbearable levels.

Stage-fright: Most of us feel slightly nervous before appearing in public and this can be considered normal. However, when our worry is intense and lasts for days or even weeks (both before the event, worrying about how we will manage, and after, worrying about the impression created on others) we may be approaching a social disorder or a social phobia. If we feel that situations like these define our worth and determine whether or not we are accepted socially, we might cause ourselves insomnia and exhaustion from trying too hard before the event, a panic attack during the event and great disappointment or even depression after the event if we are not satisfied with its outcome.

Agoraphobia: When we have low self-esteem we may often find it hard to deal with simple, everyday situations; talking to a stranger for example, eating in public or even leaving the house and socialising outside. These are all social anxiety situations. We feel as if everyone’s attention is focused on us, as if we being judged and disapproved of. This causes great anxiety, perspiration, nausea and difficulties in breathing and speech. Such symptoms may be the cause of major discomfort and we end up avoiding social encounters altogether, therefore, failing to meet some of our basic needs such as connecting with other, sharing tenderness, love, etc.; that is, feelings arising from creating and maintaining meaningful relationships.

Chronic Indigestion: As we have shown in other articles, our emotions have an effect both on our health and physiology. Stress is no exception. It usually affects our body by creating stomach-ache, cramps, flatulence, constipation or diarrhoea and generally any digestive system disorder. Although all of these symptoms can be caused by other factors besides stress, the combination of the two can create a very bad situation. The digestive system is prone to psychological stress. On the other hand, the occurrence of chronic indigestion can cause social anxiety, making us feel exposed and truly helpless.

Irrational Fears: Some of us face extreme stress in certain situations, such as travelling by plane, or being in crowded areas, or even fear of an animal or insect. These phobias are usually non-existent or meaningless compared to the actual danger the person is in and may be a sign of a psychological dysfunction. The hard part is that such fears are not always obvious and occur only when faced with the situation. Only then do we discover that we are paralysed by a feeling of intense fear, which can put the brakes on our activities. However, although these symptoms only occur occasionally, they are a clear indication that there is something wrong and we should seek for a solution.

Sleeping Problems: Insomnia occurs regularly when under extreme stress. Our mind cannot stop processing thoughts and this becomes a cause of irritation and exhaustion. When this problem becomes chronic, it may have significant health ramifications and must be addressed.

Panic Attacks: Panic attacks are usually a strong and sudden occurrence of terror that can happen even to the strongest of people. This might occur if we suddenly find ourselves in situations facing life and death, that is, situations that go beyond our control area. This creates an unprecedented feeling of helplessness that shatters the image that we have of ourselves. Panic attacks occur with intense physical reactions, such as difficulty in breathing, numbness, perspiration, rapid heart-beat, dizziness, intense pain in the chest or stomach or changes in body temperature. Feelings of helplessness and fear may only last a few minutes, leaving us in great distress and shock, without being able to react. Panic attacks are not always associated with stress or anxiety, but those who have experienced such crises are constantly vigilant subconsciously, fearing when and under what circumstances they will experience a new crisis, putting them in a state of frequent or even permanent anxiety.

Perfectionism: If we have ever caught ourselves or others continuously seeking perfection- to the point where everything is criticised, or feeling severe stress over the outcome of various situations or over the possibility of making mistakes, then we might be suffering from some king of stress related disorder.

Whatever the origin of anxiety, it is important to know that it can be overcome instantly but also in the long run, whatever its form or intensity, by following one or more of the suggestions below:

  • An immediate way of dealing with anxiety or a panic attack is through breathing exercises. Through breathing, oxygen circulates in the brain, the body relaxes and there is clarity about what is actually happening. Take deep breaths and inhale in four counts, then, hold your breath for as long as you can and exhale in four counts. Repeat this process until you feel your mind and body relax. You should practice this daily in order to help yourself become familiar with the relaxation breathing can offer. In this way the process will become faster and more effective when you need it.
  • Take your mind off the unpleasant situation. Try to focus your attention on something else. Distance yourself from what is happening and immediately change activities. By going for a walk, singing your favourite song out loud or watching a pleasant film, you sever the neurological ties that connect you to the event, consequently helping you calm down.
  • Do not let your mind dwell on what stresses you. Choose to focus on something empowering. You can use the following statements. Choose the ones that suit you and spend time during the day repeating them to yourself.