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Stress is a common health problem. Statistics show that about 90% of patients who consult a primary healthcare provider are suffering from stress-related disease, with 30 to 40% of the population suffering stress at any one time.

Stress is a major cause of, and is linked to, many different illnesses and diseases, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Tension headaches
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Depression
  • High blood pressure
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Peptic ulcers
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Chronic infections
  • Cancer
  • Strokes
  • Decreased immune function
  • Weight loss or weight gain

The list above is by no means exhaustive. Suffice to say, stress is linked to heart disease and depression, which are the two most common diseases afflicting mankind. On a world wide basis, the most frequently prescribed drugs are those used for the treatment of heart disease and depression. People who suffer from stress usually are forced to change their lifestyles, normally resulting in a lowered sense of personal fulfilment and decreased productivity. Thus, stress not only causes personal physical and psychological suffering, but also results in economic loss to both the individual and the community.

You may be suffering stress yourself, or perhaps your spouse or child, a relative or friend is the victim. Irrespective, you will find useful advice here.

What happens when we are stressed?

The human body is equipped with an Autonomic Nervous System, which reacts to stress and relaxation. The Sympathetic Nervous System is the part of the Autonomic Nervous System that triggers the stress response. The Parasympathetic Nervous System is the part responsible for the relaxation response. Normally, the Autonomic Nervous System remains in a state of equilibrium so that we do not become too stressed.

When we become stressed, the Autonomic Nervous System becomes imbalanced. The Sympathetic Nervous System predominates. Our body goes into a fight-flight response, so called because the body is prepared to react to danger by either confronting the stressful situation or stimulus, or by running away.

Normally, the body switches off the fight-flight response after the threatening situation has disappeared, and returns to a state of equilibrium. When this does not happen, we can experience symptoms of stress. Chronic stress may lead to anxiety or depression.

How do we feel when we are stressed?

Physiologically, the fight-flight response is triggered by an over-production of certain chemical substances in our bodies, including adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. This mobilises glucose and free fatty acids to fuel increased energy consumption and increase heart activity.

This is necessary to boost circulation and increase breathing in order to lift oxygenation. When in fight-flight state, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Palpitations
  • Feeling of tension
  • Shortness of breath
  • Gastric upset
  • Sweatiness
  • Restlessness and listlessness
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of sleep
  • Pins and needles sensation in limbs or face
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Chest tightness
  • Concentration difficulty
  • Muscle tension
  • Poor short term memory

If you are exhibiting one or more of these symptoms, you are experiencing stress. You should deal with it now!

Other tell tale signs
When a person suffers from stress and is unable to cope, their life will be affected.

Here is a checklist of stress symptoms for adult sufferers. You may be:

  1. Displaying fight-flight symptoms.
  2. Finding it difficult to control your emotions.
  3. Having unexplained physical symptoms of lethargy, tiredness, pain, insomnia or excessive sleep.
  4. Under-performing at work, finding it hard to meet deadlines and commitments.
  5. Over-eating or consuming copious amount of alcohol or coffee.
  6. Experiencing a weight problem.

Here is a checklist of symptoms for children and adolescents. Your child may be displaying:

  1. Fight-flight symptoms.
  2. Poor concentration, short-term memory problems, short attention span and distractibility (sometimes this is wrongly diagnosed as an attention deficit disorder requiring a psycho stimulant drug).
  3. Falling grades, in spite of the fact that they may have been studying hard.
  4. Unexplained physical aches and pains, indigestion, excessive weight changes, sleep disturbance, lack of motivation, agitation or lethargy (sometimes incorrectly diagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome).
  5. Aggressive, irritable, teary, impulsive and explosive behaviour, with no apparent cause.
  6. Relationship problems at school and at home.
  7. Illicit drugs abuse, such as alcohol, marijuana or other substances.
  8. Sexually promiscuous behaviour.
  9. Delinquent behaviour.

What should you do when you or your child is suffering from stress?

Normally, stress does not dissipate unless the problem is addressed. Young people, in particular, are normally slow to recognise that they are in trouble. The younger the child, the less they are able to verbalise their feelings. Parents need to be vigilant enough to detect that their child is in trouble. Research shows that psychologically healthy children and adolescents go through life with little difficulty. Adolescent turmoil is not a normal part of adolescent life. If your adolescent is in turmoil or constantly angry, he is in trouble and needs help.


Seek professional help.
Readjust your lifestyle, or that of your child.
Commit to a self-help program to combat stress.

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