Stress and Health: Symptoms and Techniques of Psychotherapeutic Management

By Panda, Satyananda | Indian Journal of Positive Psychology, December 2014 | Go to article overview

Stress and Health: Symptoms and Techniques of Psychotherapeutic Management


Panda, Satyananda, Indian Journal of Positive Psychology


Stress is defined as a state of threatened or perceived by the individual as threatened homeostasis and it is re-established by a complex repertoire of behavioural and physiologic adaptive responses of the organism. Neuroendocrinic hormones have a crucial role in coordinating basic as well as threatened homeostasis; also, they intervene in pathogenesis of dyshomeostatic or cacostatic situations of disease.

The Stress System located both in the central and peripheral nervous system, genetically activated whenever a threshold of any stressor is exceeded, plays a major coordinator role in the re-establishment of homeostasis by eliciting a complex behavioral and physical adaptive response. This response is defined as the stress syndrome and represents the unfolding of a relatively stereotypic, innate program of the organism that has evolved to coordinate homeostasis and protect the individual during stress (Chrousos & Gold, 1992).

Stress, health and illness

According to the World Health Organization (WHO, 2011) stress, especially that relating to work, is the second most frequent health problem, impacting one third of employed people in the European Union. There is a substantial body of research connecting stress to cardiovascular disease, the future manifestation of hypertension related to the individual's response to stress, metabolic syndrome, obesity, emotional overeating, while stress fuels approximately 50% of depression cases through distur-bance of the HPA axis and increased cortisol levels (Lambert, 2010).

Furthermore, biological markers associate the immunoend-ocrinological disturbance brought by stress to infertility (Li et al., 2011). There are also research data pin pointing the role of stress in infectious disease and cancer (McGregor & Antoni, 2009). Given the negative impact of stress at in trapersonal and somatic level, it is important for healthcare professionals to master a repertoire of stress management techniques and teach them to their patients.

It should be noted that stress management techniques are applicable not only to people who manifest a disease or disorder, but also to healthy people, when added to daily routine practice as an effective tool for health enhancement and protection over the life span, serving thus as a valuable intervention for the -healthy population! as well. Health promotion, as one of the main approaches to health enhancement, can serve this multiple role by designing and applying interventions to reduce or prevent distress and adequately contribute to future health and wellness.

Stress warning signs and symptoms: In humans, different types of stressors, the timing (duration) of the stressors, and personal characteristics all influence the response of the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal axis, which is implicated in many theories which related chronic stress with health morbidities. Symptoms of chronic stress can vary from anxiety, depression (Miller et al., 2007), social isolation, headache, abdominal pain or lack of sleep to back pain and difficulty concentrating. Other symptoms include: hypertension, hemorrhoids (Metcalfe et al., 2003), panic attacks or a panic disorder and cardiovascular diseases (Cohen et al., 2007).

Stress can affect all aspects of your life, including your emotions, behaviors, thinking ability, and physical health. No part of the body is immune. But, because people handle stress differently, symptoms of stress can vary. Symptoms can be vague and may be the same as those caused by medical conditions. So it is important to discuss them with your doctor. You may experience any of the following symptoms of stress.

Emotional symptoms of stress include:

* Becoming easily agitated, frustrated, irritability and moody

* Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control

* Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind

* Feeling bad about yourself (low self-esteem), lonely, worthless, and depressed

* Avoiding others

Physical symptoms of stress include:

* Low energy

* Headaches

* Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea

* Aches, pains, and tense muscles

* Chest pain and rapid heartbeat

* Insomnia

* Frequent colds and infections

* Loss of sexual desire and/or ability

* Nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ear, cold or sweaty hands and feet

* Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing

* Clenched jaw and grinding teeth

Cognitive symptoms of stress include:

* Constant worrying

* Anxious or Racing thoughts

* Forgetfulness and disorganization

* Inability to focus

* Poorjudgment

* Being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side

* Seeing only the negative

Behavioral symptoms of stress include:

* Changes in appetite - either not eating or eating too much

* Procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities

* Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes

* Exhibiting more nervous habits, such as nail biting, fidgeting, and pacing

* Sleeping too much or too little

* Isolating yourself from others

Stress Management Techniques:

Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a technique for reducing stress and anxiety by alternately tensing and relaxing the muscles (Jacobson, 1938). …

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