If the stress factors are rapidly removed then no harm is done and all the changes are reversed. Equally, if a valid response, of a fight or flight nature, is forthcoming (running away from an angry dog or punching a potential mugger) then the physiological changes will have been used appropriately, and normality will return. Such responses are, however, not appropriate to most modern stress situations (unhappy marriage, financial anxieties, fear of redundancy etc.) and if stress factors are constant, or repeated frequently, and there is no release of the build-up of tension, or adequate rest phase from the physiological changes described, then a variety of symptoms can show themselves, including dizziness, stiff aching muscles; headache; visual problems; hypertension; circulatory and heart problems; breathing difficulties, including asthma; allergies; palpitations; digestive disorders, including ulcers; swallowing difficulties; blood sugar irregularities (high or low); backache; skin disorders; bowel disorders (constipation or colitis); sexual difficulties etc.
All these can result from other causes, of course, but often appear when there is prolonged exposure to stress. Noxious stress factors often fall into categories such as difficult personal relationships; excessive pressure due to deadlines and time factors; financial anxiety; inability to communicate deeply held feelings or resentment; personality problems (self doubt etc.), inability to focus and live in present time (the future or past dominate); dramatic life style changes etc.
Stress is not always noxious, or unpleasant but, as defined by modern clinicians, includes many apparently pleasant events, and is now seen to include almost anything, good or bad, which alters the status quo. An outstanding personal achievement, for example, is seen to create as much stress as a change in responsibility at work. A holiday such as Christmas is seen as being equally stressful to the receiving of a parking ticket. Change, itself, is seen as requiring a response, or adaptive change, on the part of the individual, and this is regarded as stressful. Much stress is indeed health enhancing and life enriching, and, indeed, without a degree of arousal we would be cabbage-like in our existence.
General Adaptation Syndrome
When stress is prolonged, or repeated frequently, though, a series of changes may begin which are part of what is known as the General Adaptation Syndrome (G.A.S.). Initially the self-regulating mechanisms of the body, which maintain internal balance, or homeostasis, cope adequately with the constant episodes of arousal, with all the changes that these call for. Eventually, after months or years though, the ability of one aspect or another of the body to adapt, or cope adequately, will become impaired. Imbalance and breakdown of internal balance begins, and the exhaustion stage of the G.A.S. takes over from the adaptive stage. This is when unpleasant symptoms become noticeable. Depending upon the very personal, and unique, attributes of the individual's physiological and psychological make-up, the way this exhaustion stage manifests itself will vary.
The signs of stress become apparent, and anything from insomnia to asthma, to high blood-pressure, to exhaustion or depression or ulcers may result. If treatment at this stage is aimed at these symptoms then little good can be expected to result. The only real hope is to deal with causes and this involves both the stress factor, and the body and mind, of the individual. This is the holistic concept which permeates 'natural healing’ in general and osteopathy in particular. If nothing positive is done during the exhaustion phase of the G.A.S. then final breakdown and death will eventually result. If treatment is palliative (drugs etc.), then a similar end-result should be anticipated, although the symptoms might be made more bearable for a while. If, however, the 'total' picture is dealt with, there is hope of recovery to optimum health. In dealing with stress all aspects need attention. Primarily the life style of the individual requires an overhaul. How much rest? relaxation? meditation? Is the diet balanced and does it include an adequate amount of vital nutrients? What aspects of the stress problem can be helped by counselling? by psychotherapy? by gaining insights?