The first point that must be explained is the fact that stress is a legitimate diagnosed medical condition. It is not something people “make up” as an excuse for other situations. Once that fact is clarified, it is easier to handle the problem from a patient’s point of view.
Stress is what happens when you have more demands placed on you than you can reasonably be expected to cope with. This situation creates stress and can also contribute to other medical problems including: anxiety, depression, cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, blood pressure, asthma, headaches & migraines, gastrointestinal diseases and post-traumatic stress disorder.
This explains why, if you feel stressed, you must see a doctor as soon as possible. It is important to know that most people face stress during their lives; fortunately, since this is a treatable affliction, there is no point “stressing about getting stressed.” To begin with, you should seek treatment for your physical ailments before starting the stress treatment, because it won’t be alleviated while you are worrying about the other ailments.
Your doctor is the first person to speak to regarding treatment; he may want to refer you to other specialists, in order to give you the best possible treatment. However, it is vital to keep your doctor in the loop because he is the pivotal person that cares for your overall health. Understanding how stress is caused and works is necessary for proper treatment.
The hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is a collection of stress responses that has to do with your brain and the adrenal and pituitary glands. Your hypothalamus produces a compound known as the corticotrophin releasing factor (CRF). This flows to your pituitary gland and triggers the adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH).
This ACTH flows into your bloodstream, forcing the adrenal gland’s cortex to release stress hormones including cortisol, a corticosteroid. Cortisol makes more energy available to help the body handle stress. However, if levels stay high for long, muscles can break down, the immune system can become suppressed and there is a reduced reaction to inflammation.
The locus coeruleus (a part of the brainstem) and the HPA axis connect through your hypothalamus into the limbic system in the brain. This system controls memory and emotions and the links are critical. For example, if you hear a ferocious dog barking, the locus coeruleus starts your stress response. But if you see that it is actually a friendly, playful dog, your memory of a tame dog will switch off the response to stress.
There are three other systems linked in. They are called the endogenous (in the body), reward (dopamine) and opiate (opium-like) systems. When you feel stress, your pain decreases and you may feel more euphoric. This is a reason why many people like scary movies and roller coasters.
Understanding stress will get you one step closer to managing it properly. Your doctor only sees you for a short time, so the more you know about stress, the better prepared you are for it when it happens. Never let anyone tell you stress isn’t real. It exists and your doctor can surely help you get rid of it.