What is stress doing to you? Before you can answer that question, you need to define what is stressful in your life. It’s useful to think of stress as if it is an actual "lion" in you life. Lions stalk their prey, provoke fear, and pounce at any opportunity. The natural reaction to a lion is to run, hide or fight. These survival instincts are controlled by the body’s built-in protective response called the "fight or flight" system, also known as the sympathetic nervous system. Thus, all stressful "lions" in your life can stimulate this part of the nervous system. Keep this important concept in mind as we discuss the 5 top stress-related problems.
- Lack of Libido: Sex really is not a top priority when you are being chased by a lion. In fact, the body really does shut down the reproductive system in times of stress in order to conserve energy and concentrate all efforts towards survival. If you are worried about where the next meal is going to come from or if you have just lost your shelter, sex is probably going to be furthest thing from your mind. A lack of libido can be related to hormonal imbalances, but often times the root cause is stress.
- Gastrointestinal Problems: Even though you have heard of stress-related stomach ulcers, please also consider bowel irregularities to be stress-related too. Remember, the "fight or flight" nervous system is activated during stressful times. This control system will increase stomach acid production and decrease bowel movement. Your body does not want waste energy on digestion if you are being chased by a lion. It’s just that simple. When being chased by the lions in your life, you are programmed to survive and conserve energy even at the expense of digestion.
- _Trouble Sleeping _: You are certainly not going to be able to sleep if you are being chased by a lion either. Stressful times provoke feelings of worry, anxiety, depression and despair. Since the "fight or flight" nervous system is not programmed for sleep or rest, all of these threatening emotions are going to interfere with your sleep.
- _Poor Immunity _: Have you ever noticed that you get sick when under pressure? Because of a system-wide shut down of your immune system, you are more susceptible to illness and disease during a stressful period of your life. This energy-expensive system that fights infections is deactivated in order to improve your chances to survive your fight with an attacking lion. If you have been running or fighting for a long-time, then your immune system is probably severely compromised.
- _Increased Pain _: Pain is your body’s alarm system; thus, that alarm needs to be extra sensitive when being stalked by stress. In fact, scientists have shown that people experience hyperalgesia (an increased sensitivity to painful stimuli) when also experiencing a stress-related emotion like anger.1 Studies have also shown the pain pathways that lie deep within the nervous system are affected by stress in a manner that increases pain sensitivity as well.2 From a survival perspective, stress-induced hyperalgesia makes sense because pain is good motivator to either run or fight.
None of these top 5 problems related to stress are under your control. They all represent your physical, reflexive, and instinctual reaction to anything that provokes fear, anger, hatred and grief. The "lion" that is causing these emotions is usually not under your control either. So what can you do about stress-related problems? You can control your psychological reactions to stress. Don’t let the lions in your life provoke fear, anger, hatred, or grief. By changing how you react to stress, you can prevent the over-activity of the "fight or flight" nervous system and prevent stress-related health problems. Change does not happen easily, but love, patience, tolerance, acceptance and forgiveness are all choices that you can make in order to help you avoid these top 5 stress-related problems.
Specialist in Pain Management and Spine Rehabilitation