When people get in touch with Birmingham Counselling Services they very often mention too much stress as a problem they are trying to deal with. And sometimes we become aware of physical symptoms without realising that they are caused by stress rather than by an infection. Our bodies are not separate from our minds and emotional centres, we are complex and integrated beings. A bad cold will leave us less able to deal with mental stress, and an emotional disturbance can undermine our immune systems, making us more vulnerable to infection.
We don’t do ourselves any good by regularly pushing ourselves to the limit – just think how a balloon bursts if we blow it up too far, and an elastic band breaks when stretched too thin. Engines can overheat and have to be given time to cool down. We are probably the most efficient machines ever, but that doesn’t mean that we are infallible and inexhaustible. Our bodies have physical limits just like balloons and rubber bands and engines, and our minds and emotions, while their capacity is huge, can also buckle under extreme pressure. We need to take care of ourselves, to keep ourselves in reasonable shape, so that we can function at our best as we live our lives.
Many symptoms can have multiple causes, and we don’t always identify the triggers easily. For example:
Aches and pains, particularly in the neck and shoulders
Sore throat & croaky voice
Upset digestive system
Feeling shaky and fluttery
Disturbed sleep, leading to symptoms like sudden mood swings, dizziness, light-headedness and lack of concentration.
We might even get ourselves as far our doctor’s surgery, and be prescribed medication to deal with the symptoms we have presented. If the cause is stress the medication will not necessarily be the solution – it might simply mask the symptoms for a while, without addressing any external cause.
All the conditions listed above can be and frequently are caused by stress. If you become aware of one or more of them, try not to become unduly anxious – anxiety is yet another precursor to the symptoms. By all means take yourself off for a medical MOT, as this can be part of learning to take better care of yourself. Also try to find a few minutes to run through everything going on in your life, including pressure at work, deadlines to meet, relationships which are difficult, noisy neighbours, a major loss or bereavement, moving house, transport problems – none of these has a physical cause, all of them are recognised as creating too much stress, and all can bring about unpleasant physical side-effects.
Do you ever take time out to relax? That doesn’t mean to sleep, but it could mean to read, to phone someone you care about and whose company you enjoy, to go for a walk, to take up some (non-competitive) sport, to play or listen to music, to learn a new skill not related to the problems you are dealing with, to practise relaxation. There’s an old saying that a change is as good as a rest, and you could make it true for you. Refresh your body and the rest of you will benefit. Don’t forget to consider your diet, and try to cut out some processed foods (especially those with lots of fats and refined sugars) and substitute fresh. You don’t have to be a master chef to grill a chop, bake a piece of fish or boil an egg, and many fruits and vegetables are best eaten raw, especially the salads available in summer. You could even grow your own. A window-sill or window box would be a good start for herbs, tomatoes and salad greens. And if the thought of gardening would stress you, don’t do it!
It may be that you really feel that you need to talk to someone about what is bothering you, and that no-one in your immediate circle is either appropriate or available. In that case you might like to get in touch with our team at Birmingham Counselling Services, by calling 0121 314 9903. Alternatively you can reach us via the contact page on this website, www.BirminghamCounsellingServices.co.uk