Entries in anxiety (2)



It is clear that stress can lead to many types of physical symptoms. It seems that some of the physical symptoms we have are related to past physical symptoms we had that did not appear to be caused by stress. I wonder if the brain thinks that a new situation that we react to in a similar way as our reaction to the original physical symptom, requires the same type of symptom to help us to cope. This may be what happens when people have "pseudoseizures" as these look like actual seizures but there is no evidence of electrical disturbances in the brain that characterize actual seizures.  On the other hand, there is a strong correlation between pseudoseizures and actual seizures as if the actual seizures may have been the model for the pseudoseizures. Then there are physical symptoms that seem related to the impact of chronic stress.  Dr. Sapolsky at Stanford University, in a lecture series from "The Great Courses" entitled "Stress and Your Body," reports that chronic stress can lead to chest pain [heart muscle lack of oxygen], headaches from high blood pressure, obesity, abdominal pain or bloating, acid reflux, difficulty getting pregnant, increased miscarriages, low libido, etc. Some of these symptoms may be caused by actual neuronal cell death that is caused by the repeated stress reactions.

Importantly, even intermittant but repeated experiences of stress can lead to the same type of symptoms. This intermittant stress may represent what happens with PTSD, when past stresses are repeatedly recalled. It takes our brains longer and longer to recover from our brain's response to stress, thus becoming like a constant stress reaction. Apparently our lives are not supposed to be made up of frequent stresses, as our brains have trouble managing these. 

There are a number of physical symptoms related to stress that are familiar to us from our own experiences.  These include: gatrointestinal [GI] symptoms such as pain, cramping and diarrhea; neck pain and pain in the occipital [back of the head] area of the head; and pain in muscles as stress can cause us to tense muscles for extended periods. Stress can also lead to changes in women's menstrual cycles including stopping them. 

I wonder if these physical symptoms are ways that our brain's are helping us cope with the stress even if these symptoms are uncomfortable. What do you think?



Over and over I witness people who come to me for help, struggling with stress that they can't stop or even limit.  They feel controlled by the stress that is usually in the form of worries and fears that they think about over and over.  They have frequently been diagnosed as having an obsessive compulsive disorder [OCD]. In reviewing their symptoms, it appears that they have some OCD type symptoms, but they are mostly focused on repetitive worries and some compulsive behaviors. However, these symptoms do not interfere significantly with their lives. For example, they are not stuck doing things over and over for hours.  So, it seems that their OCD symptoms are coping mechanisms helping them deal with the anxiety that they experience related to past traumatic events. If they can learn to not worry about past events then their OCD symptoms will stop.

Well, what about changing patterns of worry that can control our lives? I mention the worries and OCD type symptoms to emphasize that just as the symptoms are temporary [meant to temporarily help us manage anxiety related to past events] the worries are also temporary as a way of coping with past traumatic events. What is significant is that even though in the past we might have had to cope by worrying, as this helped us to feel more in control as by taking on responsibility when those who were supposed to be responsible weren't and we felt that we were preventing something worse from happening, we do not need to do that now. So how do we convince ourselves and our brains that we do not need to worry anymore.  

We humans modify patterns of behavior and memory patterns frequently without much apparent effort. We calmly tell our brains to change the pattern and why it is ok to do so. When we have experienced stressful events we are reluctant to recall these events as we fear a return of anxiety as if we were still at risk for something bad happening. This is one reason that the patterns remain even though we want relief from the anxiety. We also tend to react to new stresses as if they are the same kind of threat as in the past.  This tells our brain to keep worrying and being stressed and anxious. We seem to have difficulty recognizing that we now have better coping skills and self-awareness, and are not dependent on others as we were in the past. Therefore, new stresses are not threats to us as they were in the past and we can manage them. So, we need to calmly chose to recall stressful events and tell ourselves that we have nothing to fear.