Stress & Trauma

Stress Response

Under normal conditions, stress is a part of life that can help us learn and grow, but sometimes it can cause significant physical, emotional or psychological problems.

What is a natural response to stress?

Our bodies are trained on a biological level to respond to stress as if it was a physical threat. Therefore, a stressful event usually causes us to flinch or jump, take faster and shallower breaths, our pulse to race, and feel angry or scared, or both. This is what is called a “fight or flight” response, and it is caused by our bodies automatically preparing us to take the appropriate action in response to the perceived threat, or stressful event.

When the threat or crisis is averted or over, the body will typically revert to its normal, at-rest levels of breathing, emotion and heart rate.

In the day-to-day life of our modern world, stressful events are rarely life-threatening, but they can still trigger the survival response described above. Today our survival response (stress control mechanism) can react in the same way to an intense argument as if it were a physical attack, the pressure of making a deadline, being rear-ended in traffic, or even a simple fall.

But what happens when you can’t calm down, when your body refuses to return to its normal state? Why does this happen?

Even if they are not life-threatening, events can still be too overwhelming for your system to handle, or react to in a way that would relieve the stress; i.e. being trapped by your seatbelt after a car accident when you wanted to take the “flight” response.

The constant pressures of everyday life can build up over time, never giving us the chance to return to that normal state, keeping us in a state of survival response.

This can cause the uncomfortable symptoms of sleep deprivation, anxiety, depression or numbness, the inability to stop obsessive thoughts or even relax and enjoy the company of family and friends. Physical symptoms can also manifest, including headaches, body pain and intestinal disturbances.

Maintaining this highly activated state is not only abnormal for the body, it means that the nervous system never gets a break from being on constant alert.

Therefore, as this state persists, we become consistently less able to handle stress of any kind, and progressively more likely to overreact to even minor stressors and under-react to a major threat. Examples include having a major meltdown because you can’t find your glasses, or glossing over the fact that you were missed being run over by a bus by mere inches.

The signs of unresolved stress show up in all parts of our physical and mental makeup, and may be cognitive, emotional, physical or behavioral. They include:-

  • Poor judgment
  • A general negative outlook
  • Excessive worrying, moodiness or irritability
  • The inability to relax
  • Feeling lonely, isolated or depressed
  • Aches and pains in the body, especially the neck
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain or rapid heartbeat
  • Over- or under-eating
  • Social withdrawal
  • Procrastination or neglecting responsibilities
  • Increased alcohol, drug or nicotine consumption
  • Nervous habits, such as pacing or nail-biting

If you’d like to find out more about how we can help restore balance to your stress control mechanism, please call for a free 15-minute consultation. Please call 949-400-5951.