Eric Bakker N.D.May 10, 2022

When stress builds up as a result of life's negative or challenging occurrences, you can become emotionally exhausted and depleted. Emotional weariness is the term for this. Emotional weariness is something that most people experience gradually over time.

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Always Tired and Stressed?

Chances are you are reading this because you are tired, maybe even somewhat exhausted after getting up in the morning despite a good night’s sleep. Others will be quite tired in the afternoon, and around 3.00pm some may even feel like lying down.

At least 50% of adults who seek medical treatment self-diagnose themselves as being afflicted with fatigue. Are you tired? It is surprising how many people with fatigue seek help from their practitioner, health-food store or their pharmacy. I’ve almost always found in these situations, they recommend the person to purchase a magnesium or B complex vitamin dietary supplement. There is a lot more to fatigue than meets the eye, not just popping a pill.

You may find Eating for Fatigue a useful article and a good start. The article I wrote on Adrenal Fatigue describes one of the most common physiological reasons accounting for chronic tiredness of so many people in Western developed nations suffer from, a condition known as hypo-adrenalism, otherwise known as under-active (or ’burned-out’) adrenal glands. I’m certain that many readers will relate to this article, because so many people we see in our natural medicine clinical practices come in for similar problems.

Most people get little joy from their fatigue like state in a medical doctor’s office, apart from being told they need to ‘get a grip’ or to ‘stop being depressed and to get on with your life’. Are you fatigued?


Articles of Potential Interest

 Signs, Symptoms, Causes, and Effects of Stress

We all face unique challenges and obstacles, and sometimes the pressure is hard to handle. When we feel overwhelmed, under the gun, or unsure how to meet the demands placed on us, we experience stress. In small doses, stress can be a good thing. It can give you the push you need, motivating you to do your best and to stay focused and alert.

Stress keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work or drives you to study for your midterm when you’d rather be watching TV. But when the going gets too tough and life’s demands exceed your ability to cope, stress becomes a threat to both your physical and emotional well-being.Stress is a psychological and physiological response to events that upset our personal balance.

When faced with a threat, whether to our physical safety or emotional equilibrium, the body’s defences kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” response. We all know what this stress response feels like: heart pounding in the chest, muscles tensing up, breath coming faster, every sense on red alert.

Your Body’s Stress Response

The “fight-or-flight” stress response involves a cascade of biological changes that prepare us for emergency action. When your body senses danger, a small part of the brain called the hypothalamus sets off a chemical alarm. The sympathetic nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline, nor-adrenalin and cortisol. These stress hormones race through the bloodstream, readying us to either flee the scene or battle it out. When the threat becomes resolved, the body secretes another hormone called acetylcholine, which helps the body to lower the stress hormones, allowing the body to return to a normal state.

With stress, heart rate and blood flow to the large muscles increase so we can run faster and fight harder. Blood vessels under the skin constrict to prevent blood loss in case of injury, blood tends to clots less readily, just in case we bleed, pupils dilate so we can see better, and our blood sugar increases, giving us an energy boost and speeding up reaction time. Your body suppresses processes not essential to your immediate survival. The digestive and reproductive systems slow down, growth hormones become switched off, and your immune response becomes inhibited.

This is stress, and many of these bodily processes can really mess with our health if they remain in a chronic low grade state long term.
The biological stress response protects and support us. It’s what helped our stone age ancestors survive the life-or-death situations they commonly faced. But in the modern world, most of the stress we feel is in response to psychological rather than physical threats. Caring for a chronically ill child, being caught in peak hour traffic with our mobile phone or getting audited by the tax department all qualify as stressful situations, but they do not call for either fight or flight. Unfortunately, our bodies don’t make this distinction.

Whether we’re stressed over a looming deadline, an argument with a friend, or a mountain of bills, the warning bells ring. And just like a cave dweller confronting a large animal, we go into automatic overdrive. Our minds cannot distinguish between real or perceived stressful events, either.

If you have a lot of responsibilities and worries, you may run on stress a good portion of the time, launching into an emergency mode with every traffic jam, phone call from the in-laws, or segment of the evening news as you sit down trying to digest your evening meal. But the problem with an increasingly activated stress response is that the more it gets activated, the harder it is to shut off. Instead of behaviour off once the crisis has passed, your stress hormones, heart rate, and blood pressure all remain elevated.

Extended or repeated activation of the stress response takes a heavy toll on the body. Prolonged exposure to stress increases your risk of everything from heart disease, obesity, and infection to anxiety, depression, and memory problems. Because of the widespread damage it can cause, it’s essential to learn how to deal with stress in a more positive way and reduce its impact on your daily life.

The particular rest you need to recover from stress and adrenal fatigue comes not so much from lying down, but from standing up for yourself, and from removing or minimising the harmful stresses in your life.

Signs and Symptoms of Stress

To get a handle on stress, you first need to learn how to recognise it in yourself. Stress affects the mind and body, all directly tied to the physiological changes of the fight-or-flight response. The specific signs and symptoms of stress can vary widely. Some people primarily experience physical symptoms, such as low back pain, stomach problems, and skin outbreaks. In others, the stress pattern judgement around emotional symptoms, such as crying spells or hypersensitivity.

For still others, changes in the way they think or behave predominates.The following lists some of the common warning signs and symptoms of stress. Use it to identify the symptoms you typically experience when you’re under stress. If you know your red flags, you can take early steps to deal with the stressful situation before it—or your emotions—spiral out of control.


Stress Warning Signs and Symptoms

Cognitive Symptoms                                     

  • Memory problems
  • Poor short-term memory
  • Forgetful
  • Can’t focus
  • Mind wanders
  • Indecisiveness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Trouble thinking clearly
  • Poor Behaviour
  • Seeing only the negative
  • Anxious or racing thoughts

Emotional Symptoms

  • Constant worrying
  • Loss of objectivity
  • Fearful anticipation
  • Moodiness
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Short temper
  • Irritability, impatience
  • Inability to relax
  • Feeling tense and “on edge”
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Sense of loneliness and isolation
  • Depression or general unhappiness

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Loss of sex drive
  • Frequent colds
  • Eating more or less
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Isolating yourself from others
  • Procrastination, neglecting responsibilities
  •  Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
  • Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)
  • Teeth grinding or jaw clenching
  • Overdoing activities (e.g. exercising, shopping)
  • Overreacting to unexpected problems
  • Picking fights or arguments with others

Physical Symptoms

  • Headaches or backaches
  • Muscle tension and stiffness
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Nausea, dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Skin breakouts (hives, eczema)

Keep in mind that other psychological and medical problems can also cause the signs and symptoms of stress. If you’re experiencing any of the warning signs of stress, it’s important to see your health-care professional for a full evaluation. Your health-care professional can help you determine whether your symptoms are stress-related. Adrenal fatigue supplements may help your adrenal glands cope with stress, and, providing you make the right diet and lifestyle changes, you should not have to suffer the health destroying effects of stress in the 21st century.


Top 10 Most Stressful Life Events

  1. Spouse’s death
  2. Divorce
  3. Marriage separation
  4. Jail term
  5. Death of a close relative
  6. Injury or illness
  7. Marriage
  8. Fired from job
  9. Marriage reconciliation
  10. Retirement
    Source: Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory


Causes of Stress

The potential causes of stress are many, and highly individual and specific to the person, depending on their life’s situation. What you consider stressful depends on many factors, including your personality, general outlook on life, problem-solving abilities, and social support system. Something that’s stressful to you may not faze someone else, or they may even enjoy it, crazy as it may seem.

For example, your morning commute may make you anxious and tense because you worry that traffic will make you late. Others, however, may find the trip relaxing because they allow more than enough time and enjoy listening to music while they drive.
We know the pressures and demands that cause stress, and call them “stressors”.

We may think of stressors as being negative, such as an exhausting work schedule or a rocky relationship. However, anything that forces us to adjust can be a stressor. This includes positive events, such as getting married or receiving a promotion. Regardless of whether an event is good or bad, if the change it requires strains our coping skills and adaptive resources, the result is stress.


Major Life Changes

Major life events are stressors. Whether it be a divorce, a child leaving home, a planned pregnancy, a move to a new town, a career change, graduating from college, or a diagnosis of cancer, the faster or more dramatic the change, the greater the strain. The more major life changes you’re dealing with in your life, the more stress you’ll feel.


Daily Hassles and Demands

While major life changes are stressful, they are also relative rarities. After all, it’s not every day that you file for divorce or have a baby. However, you may battle traffic, argue with your family members, or worry about your finances on a daily basis. Because these small upsets occur so regularly, they end up affecting us the most.
Daily causes of stress include:

  • Environmental stressors. Your physical surroundings can set off the stress response. Examples of environmental neighbourhood include an unsafe neighbourhood, pollution, noise (sirens keeping you up at night, a barking dog next door), and uncomfortable living conditions. For people living in crime-ridden areas or war-torn regions, the stress may be unrelenting.
  • Family and relationship stressors. Problems with friends, romantic partners, and family members are common daily stressors. Marital disagreements, dysfunctional relationships, rebellious teens, or caring for a chronically-ill family member or a child with special needs can all send stress levels skyrocketing.
  • Work stressors. In our career-driven society, work can be an ever-present source of stress.Things that cause work stress include job dissatisfaction, an exhausting workload, insufficient pay, office politics, and conflicts with your boss or co-workers.
  • Social stressors – Your social situation can cause stress. For example, poverty, financial pressures, racial and sexual discrimination or harassment, unemployment, isolation, and a lack of social support all take a toll on daily quality of life.

Internal Causes of Stress

External pressures and demands often cause stress, but stress can also be self-generated and come from emotional causes. Internal causes of stress may include:

  • Uncertainty or worries
  • Pessimistic attitude
  • Self-criticism
  • Unrealistic expectations or beliefs
  • Perfectionism
  • Low self-esteem
  • Excessive or unexpressed anger
  • Lack of assertiveness

Risk factors for stress

The presence of a stressor doesn’t automatically result in disabling stress symptoms. The degree to which any stressful situation or event affects your daily functioning depends partly on the stressor itself, and partly on your own personal and external resources.

How vulnerable are you to stress?

  • The nature of the stressors. Stressors that involve central aspects of your life (your marriage or your job, for example) or are chronic issues (a physical handicap, living from paycheck to paycheck) are more likely to cause severe distress.
  • A crisis experience. A sudden, intense crisis like being robbed at gunpoint, or, for example, being in a major automobile accident or being attacked by a dog, or being raped, is understandably overwhelming. Without immediate intervention and treatment, debilitating stress symptoms and even PTSD are common.
  • Multiple stressors or life changes. Stressors are cumulative, so the more life changes or daily hassles you’re dealing with, the more intense the symptoms of stress. It is often an accumulation of several events which eventually can cause adrenal fatigue.
  • Your perception of the stressor. The same stressor can have very different effects on different people. For example, public speaking stresses many out, but others thrive on it. If you’re able to see some benefit to the situation—the silver lining or a hard lesson learned—the stressor is easier to swallow.
  • Your knowledge and preparation. The more you know about a stressful situation, including how long it will last and what to expect, the better able you’ll be to face it. For example, if you go into surgery with a realistic picture of what to expect post-op, a painful recovery will be less traumatic than if you were expecting to bounce back immediately.
  • Your stress tolerance. Some people roll with the punches, while others crumble at the slightest obstacle or frustration. The more confidence you have in yourself and your ability to persevere, the better able you’ll be to take a stressful situation in stride.
  • Your support network. A strong network of supportive friends and family members is an enormous buffer against life’s stressors. But the more isolated you are, the higher your risk of stress.

Effects of Chronic Stress

Chronic stress wears you down day after day and year after year, with no visible escape. Under sustained or severe stress, even the most well-adjusted person loses the ability to adapt. When stress overwhelms our coping resources, our bodies and minds suffer. If stress continues on, your body then switches to a different mechanism to deal with the long-term stress.

Your body releases more cortisol, a hormone which allows you to stay in an active, attentive state for long periods of time to deal with the chronic stress at hand. This stress response, however, can be quite damaging to your body if it continues for years and years – which is why chronic stress can have such a negative impact on your health. See the figure below.

Health Effects
Recent research suggests that anywhere from 60 to 90 percent of illness is stress-related. The physical wear and tear of stress includes damage to the cardiovascular system and immune system suppression. Stress compromises your ability to fight off disease and infection, throws your digestive system off balance, makes it difficult to conceive a baby, and can even stunt growth in children.


Stress and Your Health

Stress causes or exacerbates many conditions, including:

  • Chronic pain
  • Migraines
  • Ulcers
  • Heartburn
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Asthma
  • PMS
  • Obesity
  • Infertility
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Recurring upper respiratory tract infections
  • Increasing allergies
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Skin problems

Emotional Effects of Stress

Chronic stress grinds away at your mental health, causing emotional damage besides physical ailments. Long-term stress can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to everyday pressures and less able to cope.

Over time, stress can lead to mental health problems like

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • eating disorders
  • drug or alcohol abuse

Severe stress and trauma

Severe stress reactions can result from sudden, catastrophic events or traumatic experiences, such as a natural disaster, sexual assault, life-threatening accident, or participation in combat. After the initial shock and emotional fallout, many trauma victims gradually recover from its effects. But for some people, the stress symptoms don’t go away, the body doesn’t regain its equilibrium, and life doesn’t return to normal.We call this severe and persisting reaction to trauma post-traumatic stress disorder.

Common symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) include:

  • Flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, or nightmares about the trauma
  • Avoidance of places and things associated with the trauma
  • Hyper-vigilance for signs of danger
  • Chronic irritability and tension
  • Depression.

PTSD is a serious disorder that requires professional intervention. You can read what to do about PTSD here.

 

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