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Stress-related addictions and behavioural troubles

    When the body’s stress response is turned on, your body releases a cocktail of hormones which speed up your heart rate and cause many other physical side-effects.

While these natural responses can be helpful in real stressful situations, over time, they can negatively impact health and wellbeing. Chronic stress and anxiety are often responsible for mood-related emotional and behavioural problems.

The neuromodulatory changes that occur during intense stress, anxiety or other overwhelming feelings, rapidly disrupt prefrontal cortex (PFC) network connections and impair PFC function. Thus, intense emotions don't just affect the way we feel, they can also have a significant impact on our daily behaviours, including our ability to make sound decisions.

However, it is good to know that stress and anxiety are not normative concepts, nor are they diseases in themselves. Although your stress and anxiety are not imaginary, there is no laboratory test available to confirm or measure them. Yet you feel them, and therefore you are best positioned to assess whether or not you feel stressed or anxious.

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.

Emotions are not just mental states and emotional feelings. Today's view of emotions is that emotions are experienced at four different, but 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 stress, fear and anxiety.

The scientific study of emotion and of the bodily changes that accompany diverse emotional experience, known as psychosomatic medicine, marks a relatively new era in medicine. The central concept of psychosomatic medicine is the scientific fact that mind and body are integral aspects of all human function. The term ‘psychosomatic disorder’ is used for a physical disease that is thought to be triggered, made worse or caused by emotional factors. To an extent, most diseases are considered psychosomatic, as there is an emotional aspect to every physical disease.

The most well-known negative behaviours related to lasting stress, anxiety and other overwhelming emotions include: 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.

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 people to substance abuse and, ultimately, addiction. According to various authors, stress and anxiety are the main driving force behind addictive behaviour. Individuals with compulsive disorders including gambling, overeating, smoking, and other bad behavior often increase negative behaviour, or undergo a relapse, after they have been through a stressful time period.

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. According to the American Psychosomatic Society “… there is no such thing as psychosomatic disease. All disease can be looked at from this point of view”.

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

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.”

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 social 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.”

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Disclaimer: The above content is intended for general informational purposes and does not constitute any psychological or other medical professional advice. I don't diagnose medical conditions, nor do I interfere with any treatments given by your medical professional.

If you are already under the care of a doctor or under medical treatment, follow the advice and treatment recommended by your doctor. For any medical emergency, call the Info-Santé service by dialing 8-1-1

*The results may vary from person to person.

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