Your body and mind aren't subtle. They are constantly sending out signals. Sometimes we listen: we eat when hungry, drink when thirsty, and hopefully sleep when tired. But are you as responsive when the cause of our discomfort is stress?
Much of the time, when our body and mind are desperately trying to get us to slow down, we pretend not to hear. But the symptoms of stress are loud and clear. Do you know what they are?
Here are the top ten symptoms of stress:
3. Neck/back pain
4. High blood pressure
5. Shortness of breath
6. Gastrointestinal problems (constipation, diarrhea, gas, abdominal pain, heartburn, reflux)
9. Menstrual irregularities
Do you have any of these symptoms? If you do, be honest with yourself. What do you do when you experience any of them? Do you stop, think about possible causes for your symptoms and take better care of yourself? Or do you simply take a pill?
If you were to look up the top selling prescription and over-the-counter medications, you would find that almost all of them treat symptoms that exactly match these stress symptoms. This can only mean one thing.
Our bodies are doing their best to send us a clear signal that we aren't doing a very good job of taking care of ourselves. This is the meaning of our stress symptoms. Yet we treat the symptoms with medication, rather than managing our stress.
A headache? Ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Fatigue? Coffee, tea or an energy drink. GI symptoms? Antacids or proton pump inhibitors. These various pills do work. They make the symptom better or go away entirely. Right?
But what is missing in this equation is the notion of stress prevention. What is making a given symptom temporarily go away is not what your body needs. What your body actually needs is for you to figure out why that symptom is happening in the first place.
When you have a tension headache, your body is telling you that it needs something. It needs more sleep, or less anxiety about your job, or a more considerate partner. When you have acid indigestion, it needs less caffeine, shorter workdays, and more fun.
The next time you experience one of the "top ten", stop, and listen. Before you reach for your medicine cabinet or head to your local pharmacy, realize that your body is trying to tell you something. So listen and learn.