Inappropriate reaction patterns make you vulnerable to overwhelm, which causes the symptoms of stress. Pressure and prolonged tension can lead to migraines, backaches, tendonitis, RSI or fibromyalgia. If these are ignored or symptomatically relieved with medication, it can follow that their intensity or frequency increases or they become chronic.
Chronic stress can also increase susceptibility to infection, sleep disturbance, exhaustion, adrenal fatigue, post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSD), anxiety, depression and an underactive thyroid. The diffusion of stress hormones and inflammatory mediators has a direct influence on the formation and maintenance of numerous inflammatory reactions of the skin or mucous membranes. The release of inflammatory mediators such as histamine from immune cells is a source of allergic inflammations.
Chronic or profound stress decreases activity in all the brain regions concerned with your sense of self and your understanding of your relationship to the environment, making it difficult to register your own internal states and assess the relevance of incoming information. You then do not manage conflicts well, and you do not know to any great extent how to regulate your own internal pressure and tension.
Trying harder is part of the problem not the solution. If you are not sufficiently respectful of your personal boundaries, but instead have an idealised concept of ‘competence’, a propensity to over-extend yourself or a mastery style that emphasises willpower, you will not allow the body’s regeneration phase the time it needs to operate. This favours a process of your illnesses becoming chronic.
It can become hard to differentiate cause and effect. The influences between body and mind are reciprocal. An illness of the body has a direct influence on mental states and on your ability to function well – at work, in your relationships etc. Depression and anxiety can, in turn, lead to changes in the immune system and metabolism and, in time, to physical illnesses, skin problems, migraines and chronic conditions such as asthma and IBS.
The sense of helplessness and frustrating inefficiency that arises from repetitive, failed efforts to assist or cure yourself only serves to raise both the tension and exhaustion levels, trapping you in a vicious circle. With augmenting severity of symptoms, anxiety and frustration increase. In this state of chronic stress, small events are enough to provoke new symptomatic relapses.
Every crisis is a signal that personal boundaries or limits have been overstepped. A common (unconscious) attempt to manage the resultant stress is to compress it into depression, leak it out into anger and conflict, or numb it with obsessive-compulsive behaviours including what are commonly called ‘eating disorders’. Some people have internal worlds that predispose them to reach for a substance or activity as an alternative to experiencing pain, boredom, discomfort or loneliness which they do not know how to live with.