Stress is caused by external or internal forces. External factors can include your career, physical environment, relationships with others, your home, and all the situations, challenges, difficulties and expectations you are confronted with on a daily basis.
Internal factors determine your body's ability to respond to, and deal with, the external stress-inducing factors. These internal factors which influence your ability to handle stress include your nutritional status, overall health and fitness levels, emotional well-being, and the amount of sleep and rest you get.
With the increasing pace of modern life, we are becoming ever more aware of the effects of stress on our health and quality of life. ‘Stress' became the buzzword of the '80s and '90s and we are now seeing the debilitating effects.
These effects are seen in the widespread use and abuse of tranquillisers, sleeping pills and anti-depressant medications. It is a major factor contributing to addictive behaviours such as smoking, gambling, alcohol abuse and food addiction. Stress contributes to crime, vandalism, domestic violence and suicide.
Excess stress can manifest itself in a variety of emotional, behavioural and physical symptoms. The symptoms of stress vary enormously among different individuals. Common somatic (bodily) symptoms often reported by those experiencing excess stress include:
muscle tension and aches and pains
loss of sex drive
high blood pressure
weight loss or gain
compromised immune system
skin problems – acne, eczema, psoriasis etc.
Emotional and behavioural symptoms that can accompany excess stress include:
anger or rage
changes in eating habits including over-eating or under-eating
loss of enthusiasm or energy
loss of interest in sex
It is also known that people under stress have a greater tendency to engage in unhealthy behaviours, such as excessive use or abuse of alcohol and drugs, cigarette smoking, and making poor nutritional choices. These unhealthy behaviours can further increase the severity of symptoms related to stress, often leading to a vicious cycle of symptoms and unhealthy behaviours.
Uncontrollable, unpredictable, and constant stress has far-reaching consequences on our physical and mental health. Stress can begin in the womb and recur throughout life. One of the pathological (abnormal) consequences of stress is a learned inability to cope that leads to the hopelessness and helplessness of clinical depression. Many illnesses, such as chronic anxiety states, high blood pressure, heart disease, and addictive disorders, (see list above), also seem to be influenced by chronic or overwhelming stress.
It is in these areas that Somatic Psychotherapy, with its holistic approach to the mind and body, can provide deeper understandings and more constructive and self-activated choices in learning and sustaining new ways of working with stressful experiences. This increased awareness also allows for the insight that some stresses can actually trigger new emotional growth and bring about healthy changes.