Stress

Unlike traditional psychiatry, which rarely looks at the brain, Amen Clinics uses brain imaging technology to identify underlying brain issues that contribute to excessive or chronic stress.

What is Stress?

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.

Who is Affected by Stress?

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

According to the American Institute of Stress:

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

What are the Symptoms of Stress?

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 headaches or muscle tension. Psychological and cognitive symptoms inability to focus, anxious thoughts, or feeling depressed. Behavioral symptoms include social isolation or having difficulty sleeping. See below for a more complete list of the symptoms associated with stress.

What Causes Stress?

Some of the top stressful life events according to the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory:

  • Death of a spouse
  • Divorce or Separation
  • Death of a close family member
  • Major personal injury or illness
  • Being fired from your job
  • Marriage Issues
  • Imprisonment
  • Retirement

Stress is associated with several mental health disorders, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Memory issues
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • PTSD
  • Psychosis

Why Choose Amen Clinics for Treating Stress?

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.

Stressed Brains Work Differently

When stress becomes chronic, it negatively impacts the brain, reducing brain reserve, decreasing mental focus, and interfering with activity in the hippocampus (a region involved with mood, memory, and learning).

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The Stress Response in the Brain & Body

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)
  • 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

 

“With A Better Brain Comes A Better Life”

– Daniel G. Amen, M.D.

 

Recognize the Symptoms of Stress

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, chewing on pens)
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