Manage Your Stress
It’s all about evolution. Hard-wired into every mammal’s brain is an apparatus for automatic and unconscious scanning of our surroundings, assessing for danger, safety, predators, and much more.
These days it is unlikely that we will be eaten by a hungry predator. But our ancient brains still respond the way they have for millions of years. Of course, in today’s world we have many different kinds of stressors. Instead of having four legs, they often have four wheels or rechargeable batteries.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Stress:
1. Frequent headaches, jaw clenching or pain
2. Gritting, grinding teeth
3. Stuttering or stammering
4. Tremors, trembling of lips, hands
5. Neck ache, back pain, muscle spasms
6. Light headedness, faintness, dizziness
7. Ringing, buzzing or "popping” sounds
8. Frequent blushing, sweating
9. Cold or sweaty hands, feet
10. Dry mouth, problems swallowing
11. Frequent colds, infections, herpes sores
12. Rashes, itching, hives, "goose bumps"
13. Unexplained or frequent "allergy" attacks
14. Heartburn, stomach pain, nausea
15. Excess belching, flatulence
16. Constipation, diarrhea
17. Difficulty breathing, sighing
18. Sudden attacks of panic
19. Chest pain, palpitations
20. Frequent urination
21. Poor sexual desire or performance
22. Excess anxiety, worry, guilt, nervousness
23. Increased anger, frustration, hostility
24. Depression, frequent or wild mood swings
25. Increased or decreased appetite
26. Insomnia, nightmares, disturbing dreams
27. Difficulty concentrating, racing thoughts
28. Trouble learning new information
29. Forgetfulness, disorganization, confusion
30. Difficulty in making decisions
31. Feeling overloaded or overwhelmed
32. Frequent crying spells or suicidal thoughts
33. Feelings of loneliness or worthlessness
34. Little interest in appearance, punctuality
35. Nervous habits, fidgeting, feet tapping
36. Increased frustration, irritability, edginess
37. Overreaction to petty annoyances
38. Increased number of minor accidents
39. Obsessive or compulsive behavior
40. Reduced work efficiency or productivity
41. Lies or excuses to cover up poor work
42. Rapid or mumbled speech
43. Excessive defensiveness or suspiciousness
44. Problems in communication, sharing
45. Social withdrawal and isolation
46. Constant tiredness, weakness, fatigue
47. Frequent use of over-the-counter drugs
48. Weight gain or loss without diet
49. Increased smoking, alcohol or drug use
50. Excessive gambling or impulse buying
We’ve all heard the phrase, “stop and smell the roses,” to get you to slow down and enjoy life. Indeed, that’s one way to keep stress at bay. But when it comes to scents that can seriously decrease stress, skip the roses and grab a lemon, a mango, or some lavender. These fragrant plants have been found to contain “linalool,” a naturally occurring chemical in many flowers and spice plants. For the first time, Japanese researchers have shown that inhaling certain fragrances can actually change gene activity and blood chemistry in ways that reduce stress.
Whether the moments are small or large in another person’s life, you can have a profound effect on other people’s experiences, especially their stress levels. Whether you’re aware of your ability help alleviate others’ stress or not, it is likely you have done it without knowing you’re doing anything more than being thoughtful, kind, or neighborly. It’s important to recognize that those things really do matter when it comes to relieving individual as well as societal stress.
In fact, our brain chemistry is actually altered when we help others, or they help us. You feel good when another driver allows you to proceed first. Someone else feels good when you hold the door open for him or her. …It is oxytocin, also a hormone, which is released by the brain when people receive help from another human being, as well as offer help.
We know from personal experience that the stress of someone else can cause stress in ourselves. But did you know that stress can be passed down to the next generation? The stress you experience in your lifetime can be passed down through your genes to your kids. We call this new science and awareness “epigenetics.”
Since the discovery of DNA, scientists have been delving ever deeper into the mysteries of genetics. What they’re learning is that certain of the genes we carry can be switched on or switched off. Sometimes these changes make us more susceptible to certain types of illness and disease. Sometimes they make us less susceptible. Quite recently, scientists have also identified potential DNA markers for the stress response and increased cortisol, making it another genetic trait lying in wait to be switched on - or not.
In their quest to understand this mystery, scientists stumbled upon a most interesting and vitally important discovery: Sometimes the on-off signals are not in-born or inherited, but the result of influences from the world that we live in. Genetics is just part of the show, not the entire reason why we are who we are. This new knowledge has exciting, terrifying, profound, and promising implications. This is the power and promise of epigenetics.
Joseph Shrand, M.D., is an Instructor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, an Assistant Child Psychiatrist on the medical staff of Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Medical Director of Castle (Clean and Sober Teens Living Empowered), an intervention unit for at-risk teens which is part of the High Point Treatment Center. Shrand has served as Medical Director of the Child and Adolescent outpatient program at McLean Hospital, has run several inpatient psychiatric units, and is currently the Medical Director of the Adult Inpatient Psychiatric Unit for High Point Treatment Centers in Plymouth. He is also the Medical Director of Road to Responsibility, a community based program that tends to adults with significant developmental disability. He is the author of Manage Your Stress.