The Medical Basis of Stress, Depression, Anxiety and Drug Use!

explained in a FUN, easy to read format!

By Steve Burns MD


More than FIVE MILLION readers in over 130 countries!

EN ESPANOL Spanish translation by Silvia Winowski.

See Awards Page

CONTENTS

Recognizing Stress
Most people are exposed to much higher levels of stress than they realize.
YOUR STRESS SCALE
A self-test you can use to determine how much stress your are really facing.
Brain Chemical Messengers
Brain cells "talk to each other" by means of chemical messengers. When a person is exposed to too much stress, chemical communication in the brain begins to fail. When these messengers fail, a person suffers from sleep disturbance, aches and pains, depression and anxiety. This condition is called -- OVERSTRESS.
Three Happy Messengers
Three brain messengers control your sleeping, your energy levels, and your feelings of pain and pleasure.
Pick-Me-Up's
Chemicals from the grocery store shelf, as well as drugs, can temporarily restore your brain messenger function -- but not completely, and not for long.These substances are called "Pick-Me-Up's." Pick-Me-Up's are the WRONG way to handle overstress.
Stress Tolerance: Patterns of Inheritance
OVERSTRESS runs rampant in certain families. Studies have shown that a person's stress tolerance is determined by his inheritance.
Pick-Me-Up Rebound
How the use of Pick-Me-Up's causes your sense of well-being to ride a wild up-and-down roller coaster.
Put-Me-Downs
People on this roller coaster become desperate for anything that can make them feel better. They often resort to the use of chemicals called Put-Me-Downs", either prescribed by their doctor, or obtained illegally.
Treatment of OVERSTRESS
Ten simple steps you can follow at home to feel better, and stay that way. Where to go if you need a little extra help in handling your stresses. Three rules to permanently conquer OVERSTRESS.
Checklist for Handling Overstress
It's as easy as checking off the boxes.
Epilogue
The levels of stress in our society will only increase. It is important for each of us to learn to deal with stress now.
Acknowledgement

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Sample Chapters:
Recognizing Stress

Which of these is stress?

which are stress?

ALL OF THESE ARE STRESS

If you are used to thinking that stress is something that makes you worry, you have the wrong idea of stress. Stress is many different kinds of things: happy things, sad things, allergic things, physical things. Many people carry enormous stress loads and they do not even realize it!

WHAT IS STRESS?

We are all familiar with the word "stress". Stress is when you are worried about getting laid off your job, or worried about having enough money to pay your bills, or worried about your mother when the doctor says she may need an operation. In fact, to most of us, stress is synonymous with worry. If it is something that makes you worry, then it is stress.

Your body, however, has a much broader definition of stress. TO YOUR BODY, STRESS IS SYNONYMOUS WITH CHANGE. Anything that causes a change in your life causes stress. It doesn't matter if it is a "good" change, or a "bad" change, they are both stress. When you find your dream apartment and get ready to move, that is stress. If you break your leg, that is stress. Good or bad, if it is a CHANGE in your life, it is stress as far as your body is concerned.

Even IMAGINED CHANGE is stress. (Imagining changes is what we call "worrying".) If you fear that you will not have enough money to pay your rent, that is stress. If you worry that you may get fired, that is stress. If you think that you may receive a promotion at work, that is also stress (even though this would be a good change). Whether the event is good or bad, imagining changes in your life is stressful.

Anything that causes CHANGE IN YOUR DAILY ROUTINE is stressful.

Anything that causes CHANGE IN YOUR BODY HEALTH is stressful.

IMAGINED CHANGES are just as stressful as real changes.

Let us look at several types of stress -- ones that are so commonplace that you might not even realize that they are stressful.......

Emotional Stress

When arguments, disagreements, and conflicts cause CHANGES in your personal life -- that is stress.

Emotional Stress

Illness

Catching a cold, breaking an arm, a skin infection, a sore back, are all CHANGES in your body condition.

illness

Pushing Your Body Too Hard

A major source of stress is overdriving yourself. If you are working (or partying) 16 hours a day, you will have reducedyour available time for rest. Sooner or later, the energy drain on your system will cause the body to fall behind in its repair work. There will not be enough time or energy for the body to fix broken cells, or replace used up brain neurotransmitters. CHANGES will occur in your body's internal environment. You will "hit thewall," "run out of gas". If you continue, permanent damage may be done. The body's fight to stay healthy in the face of the increased energy that your are expending is major stress.

Environmental Factors

Very hot or very cold climates can be stressful. Very high altitude may be a stress. Toxins or poisons are a stress. Each of these factors threatens to cause CHANGES in your body's internal environment.

environmental toxins

The Special Case of Tobacco Use

Tobacco is a powerful toxin!! Smoking destroys cells that clean your trachea, bronchi, and lungs. Smoking causes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, which progress to slow suffocation. The carbon monoxide from cigarette smoking causes chronic carbon monoxide poisoning. Tobacco use damages the arteries in your body, causing insufficient blood supply to the brain, heart, and vital organs. Cigarette smoking increases the risk of cancer 50 fold.

Chewing tobacco or snuff is no safe haven. It also damages your arteries, and it carries the same cancer risk. (Cancers of the head and neck are particularly vicious, disfiguring, and deadly).

Poisoning the body with carbon monoxide, and causing the physical illnesses of emphysema, chronic bronchitis, cancer, and arterial damage, tobacco is a powerful source of added stress to one's life.

Hormonal Factors

PUBERTY

The vast hormonal changes of puberty are severe stressors. A person's body actually CHANGES shape, sexual organs begin to function, new hormones are released in large quantities. Puberty, as we all know, is very stressful.

PRE-MENSTRUAL SYNDROME

Once a woman passes puberty, her body is designed to function best in the presence of female hormones. For women past puberty, a lack of female hormones is a major stress on the body. Once a month, just prior to menstruation, a woman's hormone levels drop sharply. In many women, the stress of sharply falling hormones is enough to create a temporary OVERSTRESS. This temporary OVERSTRESS is popularly known as Pre MenstrualSyndrome (PMS).

POST-PARTUM

Following a pregnancy, hormone levels CHANGE dramatically. After a normal childbirth, or a miscarriage, some women may be thrown into OVERSTRESS by loss of the hormones of pregnancy.

MENOPAUSE

There is another time in a woman's life when hormone levels decline. This is the menopause. The decline in hormones during menopause is slow and steady. Nevertheless, this menopausal decline causes enough stress on the body to produce OVERSTRESS in many women.

Taking Responsibility for Another Person's Actions

When you take responsibility for another person's actions, CHANGES occur in your life over which you have little or no control. Taking responsibility for another person's actions is a major stressor.

Allergic Stress

Allergic reactions are a part of your body's natural defense mechanism. When confronted with a substance which your body considers toxic, your body will try to get rid of it, attack it, or somehow neutralize it. If it is something that lands in your nose, you might get a runny, sneezy nose. If it lands on your skin, you might get blistery skin. If you inhale it, you'll get wheezy lungs. If you eat it, you may break out in itchy red hives all over your body. Allergy is a definite stress, requiring large changes in energy expenditure on the part of your body's defense system to fight off what the body perceives as a dangerous attack by an outside toxin.

 Your Stress Scale

NEW: INTERACTIVE STRESS SCALE
Try it! Check off the boxes.

(If your browser doesn't show the get widget button: Get the TeachHealth Stress Scale widget at Widgetbox)!

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STRESS SCALE FOR ADULTS

In the following table you can look up representative changes in your life and see how much stress value each of these changes is adding to your life. NOTE ANY ITEM THAT YOU MAY HAVE EXPERIENCED IN THE LAST TWELVE MONTHS. Then, total up your score.

(Adapted from the "Social Readjustment Rating Scale" by Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe. This scale was first published in the "Journal of Psychosomatic Research", Copyright 1967, vol.II p. 214. It is used by permission of Pergamon Press Ltd.)

STRESS

EVENT VALUE

DEATH OF SPOUSE

100

DIVORCE

60

MENOPAUSE

60

SEPARATION FROM LIVING PARTNER

60

JAIL TERM OR PROBATION

60

DEATH OF CLOSE FAMILY MEMBER OTHER THAN SPOUSE

60

SERIOUS PERSONAL INJURY OR ILLNESS

45

MARRIAGE OR ESTABLISHING LIFE PARTNERSHIP

45

FIRED AT WORK

45

MARITAL OR RELATIONSHIP RECONCILIATION

40

RETIREMENT

40

CHANGE IN HEALTH OF IMMEDIATE FAMILY MEMBER

40

WORK MORE THAN 40 HOURS PER WEEK

35

PREGNANCY OR CAUSING PREGNANCY

35

SEX DIFFICULTIES

35

GAIN OF NEW FAMILY MEMBER

35

BUSINESS OR WORK ROLE CHANGE

35

CHANGE IN FINANCIAL STATE

35

DEATH OF A CLOSE FRIEND (not a family member)

30

CHANGE IN NUMBER OF ARGUMENTS WITH SPOUSE OR LIFE PARTNER

30

MORTGAGE OR LOAN FOR A MAJOR PURPOSE

25

FORECLOSURE OF MORTGAGE OR LOAN

25

SLEEP LESS THAN 8 HOURS PER NIGHT

25

CHANGE IN RESPONSIBILITIES AT WORK

25

TROUBLE WITH IN-LAWS, OR WITH CHILDREN

25

OUTSTANDING PERSONAL ACHIEVEMENT

25

SPOUSE BEGINS OR STOPS WORK

20

BEGIN OR END SCHOOL

20

CHANGE IN LIVING CONDITIONS (visitors in the home, change in roommates, remodeling house)

20

CHANGE IN PERSONAL HABITS (diet, exercise, smoking, etc.)

20

CHRONIC ALLERGIES

20

TROUBLE WITH BOSS

20

CHANGE IN WORK HOURS OR CONDITIONS

15

MOVING TO NEW RESIDENCE

15

PRESENTLY IN PRE-MENSTRUAL PERIOD

15

CHANGE IN SCHOOLS

15

CHANGE IN RELIGIOUS ACTIVITIES

15

CHANGE IN SOCIAL ACTIVITIES (more or less than before)

15

MINOR FINANCIAL LOAN

10

CHANGE IN FREQUENCY OF FAMILY GET-TOGETHERS

10

VACATION

10

PRESENTLY IN WINTER HOLIDAY SEASON

10

MINOR VIOLATION OF THE LAW

5

 

TOTAL SCORE ___________________________ (See below for meaning of your Stress Score)

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STRESS SCALE FOR YOUTH

STRESS

EVENT VALUE

DEATH OF SPOUSE, PARENT, BOYFRIEND/GIRLFRIEND

100

DIVORCE (of yourself or your parents)

65

PUBERTY

65

PREGNANCY (or causing pregnancy)

65

MARITAL SEPARATION OR BREAKUP WITH BOYFRIEND/GIRLFRIEND

60

JAIL TERM OR PROBATION

60

DEATH OF OTHER FAMILY MEMBER (other than spouse, parent or boyfriend/girlfriend)

60

BROKEN ENGAGEMENT

55

ENGAGEMENT

50

SERIOUS PERSONAL INJURY OR ILLNESS

45

MARRIAGE

45

ENTERING COLLEGE OR BEGINNING NEXT LEVEL OF SCHOOL (starting junior high or high school)

45

CHANGE IN INDEPENDENCE OR RESPONSIBILITY

45

ANY DRUG AND/OR ALCOHOL USE

45

FIRED AT WORK OR EXPELLED FROM SCHOOL

45

CHANGE IN ALCOHOL OR DRUG USE

45

RECONCILIATION WITH MATE, FAMILY OR BOYFRIEND/GIRLFRIEND (getting back together)

40

TROUBLE AT SCHOOL

40

SERIOUS HEALTH PROBLEM OF A FAMILY MEMBER

40

WORKING WHILE ATTENDING SCHOOL

35

WORKING MORE THAN 40 HOURS PER WEEK

35

CHANGING COURSE OF STUDY

35

CHANGE IN FREQUENCY OF DATING

35

SEXUAL ADJUSTMENT PROBLEMS (confusion of sexual identitity)

35

GAIN OF NEW FAMILY MEMBER (new baby born or parent remarries or adopts)

35

CHANGE IN WORK RESPONSIBILITIES

35

CHANGE IN FINANCIAL STATE

30

DEATH OF A CLOSE FRIEND (not a family member)

30

CHANGE TO A DIFFERENT KIND OF WORK

30

CHANGE IN NUMBER OF ARGUMENTS WITH MATE, FAMILY OR FRIENTS

30

SLEEP LESS THAN 8 HOURS PER NIGHT

25

TROUBLE WITH IN-LAWS OR BOYFRIEND'S OR GIRLFRIEND'S FAMILY

25

OUTSTANDING PERSONAL ACHIEVEMENT (awards, grades, etc.)

25

MATE OR PARENTS START OR STOP WORKING

20

BEGIN OR END SCHOOL

20

CHANGE IN LIVING CONDITIONS (visitors in the home, remodeling house, change in roommates)

20

CHANGE IN PERSONAL HABITS (start or stop a habit like smoking or dieting)

20

CHRONIC ALLERGIES

20

TROUBLE WITH THE BOSS

20

CHANGE IN WORK HOURS

15

CHANGE IN RESIDENCE

15

CHANGE TO A NEW SCHOOL (other than graduation)

10

PRESENTLY IN PRE-MENSTRUAL PERIOD

15

CHANGE IN RELIGIOUS ACTIVITY

15

GOING IN DEBT (you or your family)

10

CHANGE IN FREQUENCY OF FAMILY GATHERINGS

10

VACATION

10

PRESENTLY IN WINTER HOLIDAY SEASON

10

MINOR VIOLATION OF THE LAW

5

 

TOTAL SCORE _____________________________________
 

We have asked you to look at the last twelve months of changes in your life. This may surprise you. It is crucial to understand, however, that a major change in your life has effects that carry over for long periods of time. It is like dropping a rock into a pond. After the initial splash, you will experience ripples of stress. And these ripples may continue in your life for at least a year.

So, if you have experienced total stress within the last twelve months of 250 or greater, even with normal stress tolerance, you may be OVERSTRESSED. Persons with Low Stress Tolerance may be OVERSTRESSED at levels as low as 150.

OVERSTRESS will make you sick. Carrying too heavy a stress load is like running your car engine past the red line; or leaving your toaster stuck in the "on" position; or running a nuclear reactor past maximum permissible power. Sooner or later, something will break, burnup, or melt down.

What breaks depends on where the weak links are in your physical body. And this is largely an inherited characteristic.

 

Here are the common "weak links", and the symptoms of their malfunction

 
Brain OVERSTRESS
Fatigue, aches and pains, crying spells, depression, anxiety attacks, sleep disturbance.
Gastrointestinal Tract
Ulcer, cramps and diarrhea, colitis, irritable bowel.
Glandular System
Thyroid gland malfunction.
Cardiovascular
High blood pressure, heart attack, abnormal heart beat, stroke.
Skin
Itchy skin rashes.
Immune System
Decreased resistance to infections and neoplasm.

We have known for a long time that OVERSTRESS could cause physical damage to the gastrointestinal tract, glandular system, skin or cardiovascular system. But only recently have we learned that OVERSTRESS actually causes physical changes in the brain. One of the most exciting medical advances of our decade has been an understanding of how OVERSTRESS physically affects your brain. We now know that the fatigue, aches and pains, crying spells, depression, anxiety attacks and sleep disturbances of OVERSTRESS are caused by brain CHEMICAL MALFUNCTION.

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STEVE BURNS, M.D. is a graduate of U.C.L.A. Medical School. He has been a practicing physician since 1974. Originally trained in Emergency Medicine, his practice for the last three decades has been focused upon the issues of Urgent Care , General Practice, and Occupational Medicine. He has been the medical consultant for more than eight hundred companies in the Southern California area, helping them deal with issues of worker health and safety. In that time period he has treated over 125,000 persons for personal or work related illness. Dr. Burns is married to Kimberley Burns, and they have two sons and a daughter.
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