Nearly 90 percent of all medical visits are stress-related, according to the American Institute of Stress (AIS). Not only does stress have wide-ranging effects on emotions, mood and behavior, the impact on health can be enormous, affecting various systems, organs and tissues of the body. For military families, while frequent moves, absence of a military parent and other stressors are common, deployment of a parent to a combat zone is a challenge of a different magnitude.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), for the parent staying behind, increased family responsibilities, financial issues, isolation and fear for their spouse’s safety can cause anxiety, loneliness, sadness and a feeling of being overwhelmed. Children’s reactions vary by child, development stage and age. Common reactions include separation anxiety, temper tantrums and changes in eating habits. School-age children may experience a decline in academic performance, mood changes and/or physical complaints. However, parents reporting clinically significant stress are more likely to have children identified as “high risk” for psychological and behavioral problems. Therefore, the health of the parent(s) is particularly vital.
Stress can continue throughout a person’s lifetime with numerous emotional and physical disorders connected to it, including depression, anxiety, heart attacks and stroke. Viral-linked disorders include the common cold, herpes, AIDS and certain cancers, as well as autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. In addition, stress can have direct effects on the skin in the form of rashes and/or hives and the gastrointestinal system in the form of irritable bowel syndrome and/or ulcerative colitis. Stress can also contribute to insomnia and degenerative neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease. In fact, stress can play an aggravating role in any part of the body.
According to AIS’ U.S. Stress Statistics, 77 percent of the population regularly experience physical symptoms and 73 percent psychological symptoms caused by stress. Of those surveyed, 33 percent feel they are living with extreme stress and 48 percent feel their stress has increased within the past five years.
According to AIS, the number one cause of stress in the United States is job pressure, such as coworker tension, bosses and work overload. Money followed as the number two cause of stress. The top seven causes are:
- Job pressure;
- A health crisis, terminal or chronic illness;
- Loneliness or relationship changes like divorce, death of a spouse or arguments with friends;
- Inadequate nutrition, caffeine, processed foods, refined sugars;
- Media overload caused by too much television, radio, internet, email or social networking;
- Sleep deprivation, which creates the inability to release adrenaline and other stress hormones.
Of those surveyed, 54 percent said stress has caused them to fight with people close to them while 48 percent said stress has a negative impact on their personal and professional life. And, approximately 30 percent say they are “always” under stress at work, which significantly interferes with family and/or personal time.
Physical symptoms from stress included fatigue (50 percent), headache (44 percent) and upset stomach (34 percent). Psychological symptoms included irritability or anger (50 percent), nervousness (45 percent) and lack of energy (45 percent).
AIS has created a list of 50 Common Signs and Symptoms of Stress to help individuals better identify, understand and, hopefully, regulate stress (see list below). Paying attention to and better understanding stress “triggers” may help individuals better manage stress.
50 Common Signs and Symptoms of Stress
- Frequent headaches, jaw clenching or pain
- Gritting, grinding teeth
- Stuttering or stammering
- Tremors, trembling of lips, hands
- Neck ache, back pain, muscle spasms
- Light headedness, faintness, dizziness
- Ringing, buzzing or “popping” sounds
- Frequent blushing, sweating
- Cold or sweaty hands, feet
- Dry mouth, problems swallowing
- Frequent colds, infections, herpes sores
- Rashes, itching, hives, “goose bumps”
- Unexplained or frequent “allergy” attacks
- Heartburn, stomach pain, nausea
- Excess belching, flatulence
- Constipation, diarrhea, loss of control
- Difficulty breathing, frequent sighing
- Sudden attacks of life threatening panic
- Chest pain, palpitations, rapid pulse
- Frequent urination
- Diminished sexual desire or performance
- Excess anxiety, worry, guilt, nervousness
- Increased anger, frustration, hostility]
- Depression, frequent or wild mood swings
- Increased or decreased appetite
- Insomnia, nightmares, disturbing dreams
- Difficulty concentrating, racing thoughts
- Trouble learning new information
- Forgetfulness, disorganization, confusion
- Difficulty making decisions
- Feeling overloaded or overwhelmed
- Frequent crying spells or suicidal thoughts
- Feelings of loneliness or worthlessness
- Little interest in appearance, punctuality
- Nervous habits, fidgeting, feet tapping
- Increased frustration, irritability, edginess
- Overreaction to petty annoyances
- Increased number of minor accidents
- Obsessive or compulsive behavior
- Reduced work efficiency or productivity
- Lies or excuses to cover up poor work
- Rapid or mumbled speech
- Excessive defensiveness or suspiciousness
- Problems in communication, sharing
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Constant tiredness, weakness, fatigue
- Frequent use of over-the-counter drugs
- Weight gain or weight loss without diet
- Increased smoking, alcohol or drug use
- Excessive gambling or impulse buying
Reference: American Institute of Stress