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Bad habits, addictions, stress & anxiety

    When you experience a dangerous situation that scares you, your body releases a cocktail of hormones that speed up your heart rate and cause many other somatic (physical) symptoms.

While these natural responses can be helpful in a truly dangerous real-life situation, when dangers are imaginary, the feelings of fear you experience - such as stress and anxiety - can negatively impact your well-being and health. When stress and anxiety become very intense or chronic, they may have a negative impact on behavior.

However, it is good to know that stress and anxiety are not normative concepts, nor diseases in themselves. Although your stress and anxiety are real emotional experiences, not things you make up, there are no standard lab tests available to confirm or measure them. Yet you feel them inside of you. Therefore you are best positioned to assess whether or not you are feeling stressed or anxious.

Emotions are not only mental states and emotional feelings. Today's view of emotions is that emotions are experienced at four different yet closely interrelated levels: the mental or psychological level (the brain), the physiological level (the chemistry of your body), the somatic level (bodily emotional feelings), and the behavioral level. These complementary aspects are present in all human emotions, even in the most basic ones like fear, stress, and anxiety.

Neuromodulatory changes that occur during intense stress, anxiety, or other overwhelming feelings quickly disrupt the prefrontal cortex (CPF) network connections and impair the functioning of the CPF. Therefore, intense emotions don't only affect the way we feel, they can also have a significant impact on our thinking, our ability to make informed decisions, and our day-to-day behaviors.

Stress and anxiety induced adrenaline release prepares the body to face life's extreme challenges by redirecting blood flow and causing a cascade of changes to how the brain works. Intense stress and anxiety have a selective effect and specifically target the neuronal activity that supports decision making. Excessive stimulation of dopaminergic and noradrenergic receptors induced by high stress and anxiety may selectively impair or disengage a particular neuronal area of the prefrontal cortex involved in smart decision making and short-term memory. 

First, stress and anxiety leads to bad decisions. Then, dealing with the bad decisions made under anxiety overwhelms and numbs the entire prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex plays a pivotal role in executive functions that include: long-term planning, higher-order thinking, understanding rules, calculating the consequences of risk and reward, regulating emotions, problem solving, and decision-making based on relevant rules. This is how a stress and anxiety overload can lead to compulsive disorders including gambling, overeating, smoking, and other bad behaviors.

As you already know, rather than passively observing what happens to you, your subconscious mind is actually in charge of the proper functioning of your conscious mind and your body through the regulatory mechanisms of your autonomous nervous system. When you feel relaxed and safe, the parasympathetic branch of the autonomous nervous system kicks in and your body is nourished, healed and energy is restored. Whenever you are facing a threat, the sympathetic branch of the autonomous nervous system kicks in and the stress response will mobilize all your resources for your survival inbuilt fight or flight response.

While you are in the middle of a stress response, the stress response will mobilize all your resources for your survival, and your body's nourishing, restorative, maintenance and self-repair functions come to a screeching halt. Unfortunately, when the threat is imaginary, the subconscious mind doesn't realize that there is no real threat. Over time, when this stress response is repetitively triggered by imaginary threats, nature's biological response ends up doing more harm than good.

Long term, if your body is not properly nourished, restored, maintained and repaired, the effects of chronic wear and tear on your body takes its toll and you will end up mentally and physically sick. Therefore, by releasing stress and anxiety, your body creates a loop of positive feedback through the  autonomic nervous system, feedback that can rebalance your sympathetic and parasympathetic branches and lead so to significant improvement in symptoms of your stress and anxiety related addictions and behavioural troubles. The degree of improvement you can reasonably expect by relieving your persistent stress and anxiety depends on how much you feel that your emotional state affects your health issues.

When dealing with a fractured bone, the standard medical approach is to align and join the broken parts of the bone and let it heal, as this ancestral approach works for everyone and every time. However, when dealing with stress and anxiety, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach. Therefore the psychiatry, psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, neuro-linguistic-programming, E.F.T. (emotional freedom tapping), pet therapy, art-therapy, mindfulness, yoga, craniosacral therapy, gravity blanket, mini-horses therapy and many other approaches based on very contradictory and yet scientific concepts, are all available to solve emotional issues.

Chronic, intense or repetitive stress and anxiety can lead to various emotional troubles and even psychiatric or physical medical conditions. As the nervous system modulates the physiological functions, and the brain takes into account the emotional state in all that it does, the strong emotions always end up having an impact on the mood, behavior and on the etiopathogenesis of all kinds of negative and addictive behavioral issues.

The most well-known negative behaviours related to lasting stress, anxiety and other overwhelming emotional feelings include: various addictive behaviour, insomnia, fear of being in public, fear of losing control, of being overwhelmed, of making mistakes, panic attacks, fear that you are losing your mind, that you are passing out, going crazy or are dying, as well as avoiding eye contact and acquiring various bad habits such as nail biting, teeth squeaking, jaw clenching, hasty specking, chewing pens and feet tapping.

The following behavioral troubles may be aggravated, triggered or even caused by stress and anxiety, or may be conditions for which you may be at increased risk if you are exposed to prolonged or intense anxiety and stress.

Exposure to high levels of stress has a big impact on your ability to think clearly “A study of more than 2,000 people, most of them in their 40s, found that participants with the highest levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol performed worse on tests of memory, organization, visual perception and attention. When you are stressed, cortisol levels increase and impacts your ability to think clearly. The stresses of daily our lives can take a toll on the brain for the worse. Stressful events and experiences throughout life can impact the brain decades later. "

Stress leads to bad decisions: “Study shows how mental strain impairs the brain and makes us forget what really matters to us. Researchers have identified how stress affects a part of the brain that controls decision-making. They found that stress could cause a sort of confusion between good and bad choices. Chronic stress can cause you to make risky decisions like picking a job with a good salary but strenuous hours, say scientists. The study showed that stress leads to a sort of mental confusion between choices that will or won't be rewarding, and can last for months.”

Anxiety Could Be The Reason You Made A Bad Decision:  "Anxiety doesn’t just affect the way we feel — it can also have a significant impact on our daily behaviors, including our ability to make sound decisions.  A new study from neuroscientists at the University of Pittsburgh finds that anxiety disengages the prefrontal cortex, a brain region that’s critical for flexible decision-making, as well as attention and higher-order thinking.  “Anxiety is a mental health issue that affects our day-to-day life, including our decision-making,” Dr. Bita Moghaddam, a neuroscientist at the university and the study’s lead author, told The Huffington Post in an email. “By understanding the biological processes that make this happen, we can hopefully come up with better ways of treating this aspect of anxiety.”

How stress affects decision making: "When we’re stressed and perceive a threat, a part of the brain called the limbic system takes over. It controls behavioural and emotional responses related to our survival, including the fight-or-flight response. As a result, the prefrontal cortex, which looks after complex cognitive tasks like reasoning and decision making, is pushed aside.
"The limbic system is the first part of the brain that develops in utero, and it’s wired for survival,” says Emi Golding, director of psychology at the Workplace Mental Health Institute. “It’s there to keep us alive, it doesn’t care about wellbeing and it’s not wired for complex decision making."

Childhood anxiety tied to school absences: “Kids with school attendance or truancy problems might be suffering from anxiety, a research review suggests. Chronic physical problems like asthma and diabetes have long been linked to an increased risk of school absences, poor grades and test scores, and lower odds of obtaining a college degree or a high-paying job. We were surprised to find evidence that anxiety is associated with unexcused absences, or truancy, which is often assumed to be related to behavioral difficulties rather than emotional difficulties like anxiety or depression, as well as authorized absences,” Finning said by email. Poor attendance could be a sign of anxiety, no matter what type of absence,”

Extreme stress during childhood can hurt learning for years to come. Previous research on the consequences of early life stress and child maltreatment shows that these children will be more likely to develop a multitude of social and mental health problems. Teens and adults who experienced early adversity such as abuse, neglect or extreme deprivation are more likely to be socially isolated, spend time in jail, and develop psychological disorders including anxiety and depression. Psychologists know that early life stress affects people’s ability to control or regulate their emotions and the brain regions that support these skills. For example, children who have experienced a lot of stress seem to have more difficulty containing negative emotions like anger or anxiety.”

Nicotine dependence and psychological distress: "Scientists analyzed data from 172,938 adult respondents and observed that smokers and those attempting to quit had higher levels of psychological distress when compared to those who never smoked. The rate of smoking increased with psychological distress (from 17.7% to 41.9%) and subjects with high levels of psychological distress were more likely to be current smokers. Psychological distress is a nonspecific dimension which refers both to symptoms and also to normal emotional responses to adversity. It encompasses sadness, frustration, anxiety, and a number of other negative mood states, such as hopelessness, nervousness, and depressive mood. However, nicotine dependence and the psychological distress experienced while quitting are widely recognized as particularly relevant predictors of smoking cessation."

High rates of stress among college students tied to mental health issues: Survey data from a large sample of U.S. college students revealed a high rate of multiple stress exposures among this population, which was strongly linked to a greater risk for suicide attempts and mental health diagnoses.

The link between stress and bipolar disorder:  “Stress has such an impact on our minds, bodies, and spirits that it exacerbates mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder. Stress is a significant trigger for episodes of bipolar disorder. Obviously, people who don't have bipolar disorder get irritable, impatient, and short-tempered when faced with chronic stress, but for people with bipolar disorder, uncontrolled stress can lead to dangerous manic or depressive symptoms.”

Stress Can Cause Depression; “A study at Johns Hopkins concluded that long-term stress may affect the way that the genes controlling mood and behavior are expressed, leading a stressed-out person to be at a higher risk of depression. Tests on mice found that stress led to an increase in a protein produced by a gene called Fkbp5, which in humans has been linked to depression and bipolar disease.”

Depression "Here’s something so that you start taking stress more seriously. People who suffer from chronic stress and anxiety may be at an increased risk for developing depression and even dementia, says a new study suggests. Experiencing anxiety, fear and stress is considered a normal part of life when it is occasional and temporary, such as feeling anxious and stressed before an exam or a job interview. However, when those acute emotional reactions become more frequent or chronic, they can significantly interfere with daily living activities such as work, school and relationships, according to researchers at Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences in Canada."

Bipolar disorder:Bipolar disorder is a condition that features extreme shifts in mood and fluctuations in energy and activity levels that can make day-to-day living difficult. Previously known as manic depression, it is a serious mental illness that, if left untreated, can destroy relationships, undermine career prospects, and seriously affect academic performance. In some cases, it can lead to suicide. Abuse, mental stress, a "significant loss," or some other traumatic event may contribute to or trigger bipolar disorder.”

Stress Can Lead to Insomnia; “Stress gets us all riled up and causes hyper-arousal, making it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep and making the quality of our sleep worse.”

Why Panic and Anxiety Cause Sleep Issues: "People with panic disorder, panic attacks, and other anxiety disorders are often susceptible to sleep issues. These can include insomnia (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or both), panic attacks, or other sleep problems. Since lack of sleep may exacerbate symptoms of anxiety, it is important to try to treat these sleep problems."

Stress hormone has major effect on perception and perceptual learning “When we train them, we can sharpen our senses thereby improve our perceptual performance. The stress hormone cortisol completely blocks this important ability. "Previous research has already shown that stress can prevent the retrieval of memories. But now we have discovered that it also has a major effect on our perception and perceptual learning," explains Dr Hubert Dinse, one of the authors of the study.”

Stress Can Affect Learning and Memory: Short-term stress lasting as little as a few hours can impair brain-cell communication in areas associated with learning and memory, researchers have found. It has been known that severe stress lasting weeks or months can impair cell communication in the brain's learning and memory region, but this study provides the first evidence that short-term stress has the same effect.

Nail Biting "Nails are not immune to showing outward signs of stress, and some people develop the nervous habit of biting their nails or picking at them when they feel stressed. Another stress-related nail habit that Dr. Mayoral discussed is people who rub their fingers over their thumb nail, which can create a ridge across the nail."

Speech-Language Pathology/Stuttering/Stress-Related Changes: “Under stress, people's voices change. They tense their speech-production muscles, increasing their vocal pitch. They try to talk faster. They repeat words or phrases. The "conventional wisdom" is that stutterers are always nervous or stressed out. Many psychological studies have proven that this isn't true. But stress has an important role in stuttering. All stutterers can talk fluently. In relaxed, low-stress situations we can say any sound or word fluently. If you're a severe stutterer, there might not be many such situations. But there are some.”

Stuttering - How does it start; "In most of the cases, it is impossible to state when a child stuttered for the first time. However, research shows that environmental pressure and emotional distress can trigger a predisposed child to stutter. These environmental factors can include moving to a new neighbourhood, family discourses, losing a best friend or even bullying in school."

Stuttering - Beginning stuttering in adulthood; "Stuttering in adults is less common than it is in children. It can begin suddenly ... after an emotional trauma or psychological stress – although very rare, psychogenic stuttering occurs in people who have experienced sudden emotional setbacks or psychological trauma. PTSD can precipitate sudden speech disfluencies in adults who have no history of stammering."

Anxiety & Shaky voice; "Perhaps the most well-known speech issue is simply a shaky voice. When you're talking, it feels like your voice box is shaking along with the rest of your body (and it is). That can make it sound like it is cracking or vibrating, both of which are a sign to others that you're nervous."

Anxiety & Quiet voice; "Those with anxiety - especially social phobia - often find that they also have a hard time speaking up in public. This type of quietness is very common, and while not technically a speech pattern, it can make your entire voice and the way you speak sound different to others. Although many will think of this in terms of volume, talking down at your feet will also exacerbate the effect."

Anxiety & Dry throat/Loss of voice; "Some people find that anxiety seems to dry out their throat, or cause them to feel as though they're losing their voice.. One possible reason is that anxiety can make acid reflux symptoms worse, and those with acid reflux do have a tendency to wake up with sore throat and a loss of voice. Anxiety also increases the activity of your nervous system; when your fight or flight response is activated your mouth will naturally produce less saliva as a natural side effect."

Anxiety & Trouble putting thoughts into words; "Not all of the speech pattern symptoms of anxiety are physical either. Some of them are mental. Anxiety can make it much harder to for you to think about the words you're going to say, which can cause you to step over yourself, forget words, replace words with incorrect words, and more. Speaking generally has to be natural to be clear, and when you overthink it's not uncommon to find the opposite effect."

Anxiety & Stuttering; "Similarly, anxiety can create stuttering. Stuttering itself is a separate disorder that can be made worse by anxiety. But beyond that, those that are overthinking their own sentences and word choices often find they end up stuttering a considerable amount, which in turn can create this feeling of embarrassment."

Stress causes shaking; “Stress kicks your body into its fight or flight mode, ramping up the release of certain hormones and preparing you to deal with danger. The result can sometimes be hands that shake like maracas.”

Tremor of hands, legs: "Most of the time, tremors are not a sign of a chronic disease. They can be due, for example, to a temporary lack of sugar in the blood (hypoglycemia), to fatigue, to emotions (anguish, fear, anger ...), medication or fever. "

 Teeth Grinding (Bruxism) : “Bruxism is a problem in which you unconsciously grind or clench your teeth. You may clench and grind your teeth during the day. Or, at night while you sleep (sleep bruxism).  Oral health specialists often point to too much stress and certain personality types as causes of bruxism. Bruxism often affects people with nervous tension, such as anger, pain, or frustration. It also affects people with aggressive, hurried, or overly competitive tendencies.”

Encopresis " Emotional stress. Factors that create emotional anxiety or stress in children may interrupt their regular bowel routine and cause constipation. Events that lead to stress include parental dispute, birth of a sibling, challenges at school or moving to a new home. Children who are not toilet trained or are toilet trained too early may feel emotional and social distress. Other known childhood/adolescence emotional disorders that can trigger encopresis include oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder."


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Disclaimer: The above article may contain statements that reflect the opinion of the author. It is intended for general informational purposes and does not constitute psychological or medical professional advice. I don't diagnose medical conditions, nor do I interfere with any treatments given by your medical professional.

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