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ask a therapist

Dear Therapist,

 

What are signs of stress that I should look for?

 

Thanks,

Rosa

 

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Dear Rosa,

Fight Flight Freeze Response

Thank you for this question. Besides looking for physical and emotional signs of stress, it is important to understand how your body reacts to stress.

Remember learning about our ancestors having to protect themselves in the wild? As our ancestors hunted, they had to defend themselves by fighting, running away (flight) or hiding (freezing).

Our ancestors’ hormones – including adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol – all kicked into gear to help them survive in the wild.

Even today, we have the same need for survival and the same hormone response. We are living with different stressors than they endured, but our bodies are reacting the same way as theirs.

Physical & Emotional Signs of Stress

Stress signs of our physical body include:

  • Headaches
  • Body pains
  • Tense muscles
  • Upset stomach
  • Other digestive issues
  • Our energy is low or sometimes keeps us from sleeping.
  • Sexual desire is lowered.
  • Some people have chest pains or the heart beats faster than usual.
  • The body’s immunity is lowered and we tend to get colds and/or infections.

Emotionally,  stress comes out as:

  • Moodiness
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling depressed
  • Just not happy
  • Easily agitated
  • Anger
  • Sometimes feel lonely

How Hormones Relate to Stress

Cortisol helps keep the body’s fluid balance and blood pressure managed while regulating the body’s functions that are NOT crucial AT THAT moment, (like your digestion, sexual activity, immunity, and growth). Energy is taken away from non-critical functions to use energy for your body to fight, flight (run away), or freeze (hide).

The adrenaline, or norepinephrine, helps give the energy and blood flow to get muscles ready to take action. Heart rate is increased and blood pressure elevates to boost energy supply. Just like with exercise, this fuels the flight.

If you are interested in learning more about the fight, flight, or freeze response, watch this video.

 

What Can You Do to Reduce Stress?

When we sit with these hormones for too long, all the signs of emotional and physical stress listed above tend to appear. And when it comes to hiding/freeze, this is when we tend to overindulge…eat too much, abuse substances, media use and abuse, and other behaviors done to extremes.

This is why relaxation skills help reduce the signs of stress. Walking, stretching, drinking appropriate amounts of water, gardening, healthy exercise, including weight lifting and dancing.  Art and creative work also help combat the stress symptoms, as well as playing and enjoying music.

These activities give a release to the hormones and enable us to better balance our system.

Be safe and well!

Sincerely,

Roberta, LPC-S

 

Roberta, LPC-S, has been a counselor at Jewish Family Service of San Antonio for more than 17 years. She works with people who are looking for ways to lower depression, anxiety or anxious thoughts. She have experience working with people who have spectrum disorders, and help their family understand disorder issues with the goal of creating an understanding and compassionate bond in the family system. Physical movement, deep breathing exercises and music creativity are some of the many options Roberta offers clients to fill their helping and coping skills tool box.