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Coping with Stress

Tuesday, January 05th, 2016

How Stress Affects Us by Dr. Morgan Ashurst

In today’s fast-paced world each of us is exposed to a thousand times more stress than our great grandparents, making us particularly sensitive to social and emotional stressors. Stress occurs whenever our body has to adapt to a change in our external or internal environment – Heat, cold, illness, good news, and bad news, all of these calls for the body to respond.  Our body responds by releasing the chemicals adrenaline and cortisol, which go into effect when we are in a fight or flight situation.

Unfortunately, these same chemicals and released in response to emotional stress but are not utilized for physical exertion and therefore, tend to accumulate. Many researchers believe that an excess of these chemicals may play a significant role in the development of heart disease, high blood pressure, headaches, ulcers and many other illnesses. Too much stress also contributes to unhealthy lifestyles and may lead to obesity, cigarette consumption, alcohol abuse, and if severe, even suicide.  It is important to learn how to manage stress so that it doesn’t overwhelm us.

Dr. Andrew E. Slaby feels that stress is a challenge and that the right amount of stress encourages us to develop our talents and adapt to changing world.  Too much stress, however, produces distress, which can express itself in physical and emotional ways. The most common presentations of too much stress are anger, anxiety and depression.

Anger – This emotion is characterized by hostility, impatience, and irritability.

Anxiety – This can be characterized by nervousness, inability to relax, heart palpitations, shortness of breath and fear, which is out of proportion to the dangerousness of the situation. Dr. Virginia Huffer describes anxiety as a signal that something is threatening our internal psychological balance much like a fever is a sign of infection in the body. She further feels that external stress is most likely to produce chronic anxiety if it reopens old emotional wounds left over from childhood. Panic attacks are intense acute anxiety attacks, which have all the characteristics of severe anxiety plus the intense fear of impending doom or death.

Depression – Those with depression experience sad feelings, loss of the joy of living, and decreased energy. Dr. Joseph Tally, a depression expert, feels that most depression is caused by “chemical imbalance in the brain.” Dr. Tally also feels that “depression is a type of illness over which patients have little control and thus cannot fight successfully without help.” He lists the following, as symptoms most depressed patients will usually experience:

  1. Feeling tired most of the time, even without having worked, and adequate rest;
  2. Disturbances in sleep habits, often sleeplessness during most of the night, or sometimes excessive sleepiness even during the day;
  3. Irritability, leading to upsets over little things that ordinarily would not be bothersome;
  4. Sadness, for no apparent reason, often breaking into tears without knowing why;
  5. Loss of sex drive, often complete;
  6. A headache, which is usually not severe, but which seems to be present much of the time as a dull ache or band around the head, and tending to radiate down the neck;
  7. Chronic pain in the back, abdomen, or almost anywhere else, which may be quite severe and is real, not imaginary;
  8. Lack of enthusiasm or feelings of enjoyment, even for doing those things that were formally favorites;
  9. Inability to concentrate, to make decisions, to study, to get things done;
  10. Indigestion, constipation or diarrhea, changes in appetite that often lead to weight loss or, in a few cases, overeating and weight gain;
  11. Feeling unwanted, sinful, guilty, and worthless, sometimes leading to the thought that life is not worth living.

Because physical illness itself is so stressful, it is not unusual to find depression in association with chronic illness.



About Morgan Ashurst, MD

  • Hometown– Montgomery, Alabama
  • Undergraduate– University of Alabama
  • Medical School– University of Alabama Medical School
  • Internship and Residency– University of Alabama and University of South Alabama
  • Specialty– Internal Medicine
  • Certification– American Board of Internal Medicine, Geriatric Medicine and Hypertension
  • Personal – Ashurst has been with Internal Medicine Center, LLC since 1976, and is married with three children.
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