Thursday, December 3, 2009

Back pain? It could be stress

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Back pain? It could be stress

Modern life can be a blur of dropping the children off at school, preparing for an important meeting at work and then managing a big project for the boss only to get to the weekend and face a mountain of household chores.

It all translates into stress for a lot of people, which means a series of negative signals, both mental and physical. Many start to feel worn out. Some fall ill.

"Stress is harmful in the long run," says psychologist Joachim Kugler of Germany's Dresden Technical University. But every person experiences stress differently.

"What's stressful for one is just a challenge for the second. A third might see it as a neutral."

A person's time limitations don't make a difference, adds Frank Schneider, president of the German Association for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Neurology. Stress means brushing up against one's limits.

Anyone who doesn't face the problem squarely runs the risk of getting caught in a downward spiral. "Stress is a signal, like when you're driving and the petrol level drops and a little yellow lamp lights up," says Nossrat Peseschkian, a psychotherapeutic physician and neurologist. He sees stress as the expression of conflict, which manifests itself as disease.

Stress can show itself in a variety of ways. It can be subjective: A person might just feel stressed and try to learn more about it.

But it can also manifest itself on a physical level, with psychosomatic illnesses like stomach, head or back pains, a racing heart or asthma attacks, says Kugler. Stress shows itself at the behavioral level by upsetting sleep schedules or driving people to abuse substances like alcohol.

Additionally, people who lose or gain weight, often seem scared, wake up suddenly or are prone to popping pills might suffer from stress. "Chronic stress symptoms resemble depression," says Schneider.

Hormonal status provides a more objective test. Just like someone who jogs 10 km a day, people with elevated stress levels will see a jump in cortisone levels in their saliva. Football coaches awaiting a big game or top-level stock market traders ahead of the opening bell would never admit to being stressed, says Kugler. But studies have shown they have elevated cortisone levels.

That change can explain the stomach problems which some people experience during stress. "The stress hormone cortisol strips away the acid protection of the stomach lining." It also boosts immunity in the short term, but weakens it in the long term, meaning people suffering from stress are more likely to catch the sniffles.

That means it is important to manage both positive and negative stress. Relaxation methods like autogenic training or progressive muscle relaxation in the Jacobsen style are both possibilities.

"That makes it possible to learn how to survive certain situations without damaging stress," says Schneider. He says he will often put aside the telephone for a moment or two in stressful situations and take two minutes to compose himself.

"When someone learns to split his energy between multiple areas of life, then he can cope quite well with life's surprises," says Peseschkian. He says it is important to find the positive in stress. Fear is a sign that someone is avoiding particular questions. Aggression shows a need to express feelings. Depression shows that someone has yet to make a decision.

Stress management means keeping an eye on what happens next. Keeping an inventory is important. How, where and when did the stressful situation develop? What was the reaction? What was learned from the crisis? How did a person get past it?

Finally, it's important to keep one thing in mind: "When a person has a goal, it's possible to push stress to the side."

taken from : China Daily

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