Saturday, 14 December 2013

Stress

I found this great personal account of the impact of stress on our bodies and the ways in which it manifests in patients with M.E/ CFS http://www.recoveryfromcfs.org/chapter13.htm.

But why would I be researching this? Or just typing some key words into Google, as it were. Well because the last few weeks I have really noticed the impact that stress can have on the body. In other words I have been stressed. And of course we are now in the season of added stress. Christmas or the holidays should I say (thank you Lindsey Kelk) can be very stressful at times. Work deadlines. Cooking. Fighting for a parking space at over crowded shopping centres. Trying to please everyone. Trying to wrap a round present and making a total bodge of it (hey, at least they'll never guess what it is.) Whilst all the while being reminded that you are supposed to be cheerful. 

What is stress? What does it mean to be stressed? Well stress is subjective to each individual. What one person finds stressful will not affect someone else. Which may be down to certain fears, phobias or exposure to stresses. The word stressed, is used a lot in modern culture. Perhaps due to our faster pace of living and the financial, physical and emotional effects of the recession. However, to be stressed does not directly corelate to being in high pressure situations or to experience that for long periods of time. Of course they are stressful and can have negative impacts on our health, but a stressor, something that causes us to stress can be momentary. Again think about a tiger entering a room where you are, it's not been approaching for weeks. If it had then you would hopefully have moved out of it's way. Our natural instinct is to to get ourselves out of harms way, as would be your natural response in a momentary situation.

When we find ourselves faced with something stressful it triggers our bodies natural fight or flight instinct. Something that has been helping humans to survive for as long as humans have been around (can you tell I have no idea how long that is?) Our bodies produce adrenaline. Our heart rate quickens, to allow oxygen to get to our muscles quicker, so that we can run away if need be. Our temperature rises and we sweat. We can also feel asthough we need to go to the toilet. Both of these excretions are due to our bodies trying to make themselves as light as possible to aid a quick get away. As I have mentioned before in one of my posts, physiologically we are still programmed like cave people. We see something that will cause us harm (a stressor) and our instinct is to survive, whether that be to stick around and fight or to run.

However they are only momentary stresses. In the modern world stress has become a long term condition. Again to use the Christmas analogy or the pressures of work and providing for a family, they are issues that are faced every day and many people bury their heads in the sands to them. In the case of so many people that now suffer with M.E, for how long did we keep driving through all the signs that we weren't coping and try to carry on as normal. Despite 6 hospital admissions in as many weeks, falling down the stairs, or my face blowing up to Quasimodo proportions or having a major panic attack at a train station I didn't get the message. But that was my body saying " Hello! I really can't cope!" And there lies the nub of it, we are not designed to tolerate stress for long periods of time. Like I said, physiologically we are still cave men and women who should only experiene stress when a saber tooth tiger comes our way. But today's stressors come in many forms. I wouldn't have said that what I was doing before the onset of my M.E was overly stressful, because I was having the time of my life. But at the same time I was in a high pressued environment, working long hours, leading a team of people, theatrical temprements and all that.

So in general a lot of us are more exposed to stressors for longer periods of time, which we are not designed to deal with. Of course, some people do and they fare just fine. However if we are in a lengthened period of stress it can affect our health both physically and mentally. Being constantly in a state of stress, where that fight or flight signal is on high alert constantly is symptomatic of anxiety, and anxiety can be a debilitating mental health issue. Trust me, I've been there. Anxiety is a clear signal that your body and brain are not responding to a stressor in the right way and therefore sending you into turmoil. In many cases instead of dealing with stresses as they arise or letting issues bottle up can mean that you are over exposed to stress and remember we are only meant to deal with it momentarily. We can also be dealing with many stresses all at once, again the pressures of work and financial issues that stem from that. By being exposed to stress or multiple stressors without dealing with them can make people vulnerable to physical and mental illnesses. It can also mean that we are tuning out of our bodies natural instincts. Stress like pain is a warning signal that you are in danger of harm. So if we stop listening to that and just carry on that natural response can become weakend.

Again to go back to the onset of M.E, how many times did I ignore those pain and stress signals and plough through until my body literally broke down and I ended up in hospital because I was asleep for 3 days. And now my responses to stress and pain are all mis-wired. Our bodies are constantly telling us we're tired even though we have had enough sleep or the old "but I haven't done anything to warrant being this tired, I only sat up." Then there is the pain when we know that we shouldn't really be experiencing the type of exruciating pain that we are, there's no inflammation, no pulled muscles or broken bones. And if you have fibromalgia too, then just the lightest touch can make you wince in pain or the weight of a blanket. I can no longer wear close fitting leather boots because of the pain at the back of my legs. The sound of a phone ringing or doorbell can makes us jolt.

But as the article says just because we do little doesn't mean that we are immune to life's other stresses. We are still a part of the larger world, even though it doesn't feel like it at times. Whatever is affecting your family and friends still affects you. Only we have the added pressure of doing very little about it. We stress about finances and not being able to earn the money that we need to live from being able to work. About whether we're annoying others by needing them to care for us and the stress of not being able to do the very simple things that we used to take for granted, feed ourselves, hold a book upright, concentrate on a television programme. And all that added stress can make our symptoms much worse. Last week I had my first panic attack in ages because I was so wound up. By body just couldn't cope and went haywire. Unfortunately this meant coming on a week earlier and having a 2 week period ( apologies Male readers I'm just trying to show just how out of sync I was.)

Of course we can't completely avoid stress but we can learn techniques to help us cope with it and learn to avoid some things that cause us unnecessary stress. See my post on mindfullness for some techniques or try gentle yoga, relaxation cd's and meditation. Give yourself the tlc that you need. As for avoiding things or people well sometimes that's not easy. But you can learn to stop putting other people before yourself, especially if they do little for you. You can hide statuses from your facebook feed so as not to be bombarded by annoying comments. You can not watch the news or sad programmes that can have a negative impact on your mood. Same goes for music. You can avoid going to places when they are at their busiest.

See the link for some more ideas and I hope that your holidays are as stress free as possible.


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