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Everybody experiences stress in day-to-day life. Traffic, work deadlines, illness, relationship troubles—life is full of stressors. Even happy occasions—a wedding, a promotion at work, a new baby—can fill you with tension. Some people handle life’s ups and downs with ease while others get stuck feeling overly stressed about every little thing. When the pressure of daily life begins to feel overwhelming, and you experience unrelenting, chronic stress, it’s time to seek help.


Americans’ stress levels are going up. A 2019 Gallup Poll found that people living in the U.S. reported the highest levels of stress, worry, and anger in the past 10 years. When asked how they felt the previous day, about 55% of adults said they felt stress during “a lot of the day,” 45% felt a lot of worry, and 22% felt anger.

According to the American Institute of Stress:

  • 77% of people regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress
  • 73% of people regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress
  • 33% of people feel they are living with extreme stress
  • 48% of people feel their stress has increased over the past 5 years

Problems with stress hit all age groups. Children, teens, adults, and seniors are all vulnerable to the effects of this all-too-common problem.


In our modern-day society, it seems as if stressors are everywhere. Some of the most common things that cause stress include:

Financial concerns: Whether unpaid bills are piling up, you spend more than you can afford, you and your spouse argue over saving versus spending, money is a major source of stress and anxiety.

Major life changes: The death of a loved one, moving, a health crisis, getting divorced—anything that causes a major disruption in your everyday life can cause stress.

Work or school pressure: Unrealistic deadlines, the threat of layoffs, and conflicts with classmates or coworkers are just some of the reasons why work and school can be so stressful.

Relationship Problems: Your relationships with the important people in your life are either enhancing your quality of life or creating stress and drama. Stress can come from your parents, significant other, kids, siblings, boss, teachers, or any other person with whom you spend time.

The top 10 stressful life events, according to the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory, are:

  1. Death of a spouse
  2. Divorce
  3. Marital separation
  4. Imprisonment
  5. Death of a close family member
  6. Major personal injury or illness
  7. Marriage
  8. Being fired from your job
  9. Marriage reconciliation
  10. Retirement


Stress can cause a number of physical, psychological, cognitive, and behavioral symptoms. Being aware of the most common signs of stress and taking note of how many of them are affecting you can help you understand if you need to seek help.

Physical symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Muscle tension
  • Fatigue
  • Upset stomach
  • Chest pain
  • Changes in appetite
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Teeth grinding
  • Low sex drive
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Frequent colds and flu

Psychological and cognitive symptoms include:

  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Inability to focus
  • Lack of motivation
  • Anger or irritability
  • Memory problems
  • Poor judgment
  • Negative, worried, or anxious thoughts
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Lack of energy
  • Loneliness
  • Feeling unhappy or depressed

Behavioral symptoms include:

  • Social isolation
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Eating more or less than usual
  • Temper flare-ups
  • Drinking more alcohol
  • Using drugs
  • Smoking
  • Nervous habits (biting nails, fidgeting, chewing on pens)


Excessive stress can wreak havoc with your overall well-being and is related to a wide range of mental health issues, including:

Stress has also been linked to ADD/ADHD and can exacerbate symptoms of this condition.


The stress response, known as the fight-or-flight response, is hard-wired into our bodies to help us survive. It is mobilized into action whenever an acute stressor appears, such as being in an earthquake, being robbed at gunpoint, or coming across a bear on a nature hike. Acute stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, which prepares you to either put up a fight or flee a dangerous situation. The fight-or-flight response is triggered by:

  1. the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in the temporal lobes that is part of the limbic or emotional brain, which sends a signal to…
  2. the hypothalamus and pituitary gland to secrete adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which signals…
  3. the adrenal glands, located on the top of the kidneys, to flood the body with cortisol, adrenalin, and other chemicals to rocket you into action.

Here is a list of what happens when this response is set off:

  • Eyes – pupils dilate for better tunnel vision, but there is a loss of peripheral vision
  • Ears – hearing becomes less acute
  • Tears and saliva – lower production of both (dry eyes and mouth)
  • Skin – veins in skin constrict (colder hands and feet) to send more blood to major muscle groups (to fight or flee), causing the “chill” sometimes associated with fear
  • Lungs – air passages open; breathing becomes rapid and shallow
  • Blood sugar level – increases for energy
  • Heart – beats faster and harder
  • Blood pressure – increases
  • Blood vessels – shunt blood to upper arms and upper legs (fight or flee); away from hands and feet, causing vasoconstriction (they get colder), as happened in Beth’s case
  • Muscles – become tense; trembling may occur; muscles around hair follicles constrict, causing goose bumps
  • Digestion – slows
  • Immune system – shuts down
  • Bladder – relaxes
  • Genitals – erections inhibited (other things to think about)
  • Mental focus – Trouble focusing on small tasks, thinking only of dealing with the threat


If you’re struggling with stress and having a hard time coping with the physical, psychological, cognitive, and behavioral symptoms that come with it, it can be hard to get an accurate diagnosis. Unfortunately, most doctors never look at the brain with brain scans, so they can’t detect the brain patterns identified with the mental health and cognitive issues that often co-exist with stress. Understanding if you have conditions that require treatment in addition to learning better ways to overcome chronic stress is one of the keys to turning your life around.


At Amen Clinics, we use brain SPECT imaging as part of a comprehensive assessment to diagnose and treat our patients. We also assess other factors—biological, psychological, social, and spiritual—that can contribute to chronic stress and the mental health conditions related to it. Based on all of this information, we are able to personalize treatment using the least toxic, most effective solutions for a better outcome.

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