Stress is a word that has become embedded in our vocabulary. Almost everyone can relate to feeling stressed at some time. It appears that it is an unavoidable feature of modern life. Everyone differs in how they experience stress. What for one person might seem to be a catastrophic event may only be a minor setback for another.
The things that trigger stress are known as ‘stressors’. They take many forms and are basically experiences or situations that produce feelings of being overwhelmed, in conflict, uncertain and out of control. For example, the pressure of work, personal misfortunes, relationship difficulties, financial pressures, are all obvious triggers for stress, but the list is potentially endless.
The effects of certain changes in one’s life can be particularly stressful. Changes in your daily routine and changes in your health are both likely to be experienced with a hepatitis C diagnosis, and steps should be taken to deal with the stress they may cause.
At the most basic biological level, stress can provoke a survival response forcing the body to react in a ‘fight or flight’ manner. This is when the autonomic nervous system produces adrenalin and cortisol and releases extra glucose. These chemicals increase your heart and breathing rate, raise blood pressure and provide you with extra energy that enables you to think quicker, move quicker, and react faster. This, of course, is essential in genuine fight or flight situations, but it is only really designed to be a short term response.
The body is designed so that the action taken to cope with the stressful situation, such as running away, burns up the extra hormones and chemicals. The body then needs to relax to complete a return to a state of hormonal balance. The body is not designed to cope with prolonged periods of stress without corresponding periods of action and then proper relaxation. In simple terms it is unhealthy to feel primed for a 100 metre sprint when we are trapped on an overcrowded bus. In particular, high levels of cortisol impair the immune system and its production of T-cells and interferon. Both of these are key parts of the body’s natural defence mechanism against the hepatitis C virus.
There is also some evidence that high levels of cortisol affect the brain, damaging those areas dealing with memory. Prolonged or chronic stress has other impacts too. It can negatively impact both your emotional stability and your energy levels. This can be distressing and cause yet more stress, setting up a vicious circle. It is important therefore to try to reduce stress as much as possible by learning to cope with it.
Acute stress is the most common form of stress and comes from immediate pressure. It can feel exhilarating and motivating and is the burst of energy you experience when you try to finish cleaning the house before your friends turn up for the party! Sexual desire has been described as a form of acute stress. The point about acute stress is that it is short-lived and typically involves a period of relaxation afterwards.
The pressures of modern life generate frequent periods of acute stress sometimes referred to as ‘episodic acute stress.’ These are fine provided they are interrupted by periods of proper relaxation. Unfortunately, what often happens is that these episodes become linked together into continuous chronic stress. Because this is a continuous state, it appears to seem natural.
As a result of this, it can then become difficult to work out whether or not you are stressed. Many of the symptoms of hepatitis C are very similar to those of stress, and one can enhance the other. You may experience symptoms of stress and attribute these to disease progression, which in itself is likely to alarm you and further increase your stress levels. Stress manifests itself in many ways and sometimes you can only recognise it by its effects. It can therefore be very helpful to look at the symptoms.
Symptoms of stress
The following is a list of the most common symptoms of stress. This may help you to determine whether you are stressed. Identifying that you are stressed is the first step towards doing something about it.
- back ache and/or neck ache
- shoulder tension
- teeth grinding
- increased alcohol, drug or tobacco consumption
- digestive upsets
- dry mouth
- tight chest
- breathing difficultly
- dull senses
- poor concentration
- no new ideas
- low productivity
- negative attitude
- lowered sex drive
- fewer contacts with friends
- lashing out
- clamming up
- the blues
- mood swings
- short temper
- crying spells
- easily discouraged