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What Do Your Symptoms Mean?

Jul 10, 2008
If you are an energetic person who likes to succeed, who likes to get things done yesterday, you might find it extremely helpful to slow down your pace when learning stress management techniques. Here's why:

Enthusiasm may push you to take on many techniques at once and do them for too long. You run a high risk of burning out and losing interest if you try to do too much too fast. Furthermore, you are likely to feel guilty for coming up with excuses to avoid exercising at all.

You may feel confused when you begin to experience more energy as a result of doing relaxation and stress management exercises. Resist the temptation to pour this extra energy back into your work. Rather, use it for further rest and enjoyment.

Sometimes, symptoms of stress persist in spite of regular relaxation and stress reduction. If you are a conscientious person, and have been practicing regularly, this is disheartening. The following are just a few of the most common reasons why this might be happening to you.

Some people are highly suggestible and begin to experience every symptom that they hear about. For example, one very tense policeman joined a relaxation group to overcome his tendency to hyperventilate after periods of high stress. He found himself experiencing all of the physical symptoms described by other group members: migraines, lower back pain, rapid heartbeat, and so forth. These tendencies may be combated by combining thought-stopping or coping statements with progress muscle relaxation.

A surprising number of people are attached to their symptoms, which serve a very definite purpose. For example, your headaches may get you out of interpersonal situations you want to avoid, without having to take responsibility for disappointing others. You can discover whether your symptom rescue you from more unpleasant experiences by keeping a log of when you get your symptoms and the activities (or would-be activities) that surround them. If you suspect that your symptoms provide you "secondary gain" in this manner, you may want to consider getting assertiveness training. It should provide you with the incentive and the tools to be more direct in saying no.

Your symptoms of tension may be a signal that you are not dealing effectively with something in your life and that you are covering up your feelings. For example, you may be angry with your family but not sharing this fact with them. You might be putting off talking about a particular conflict because you don't see any way of improving matters. A nurse was visited every other weekend by a very spoiled stepdaughter. She had agreed to the arrangement when she married and now felt trapped by it. Within three years, the visits invariably produced a migraine headache. To counteract this symptom, she finally negotiated a new contract with her husband to spend visiting days on her own doing what she liked, while he "babysat."

The people around you are apt to be aware that you are withholding stressful feelings and that something is wrong. Nevertheless, they can't read your mind and are unlikely to come to your rescue. You know best what it is you need. Letting others know your feelings and what you want opens the way to engaging them in helping you make a change.

Your symptoms may be a way of getting taken care of when you feel that you can't directly ask for help or consideration. If you feel tired and have a backache, someone else may have to do the cooking and cleaning and keeping the house quiet. Ask yourself when your symptoms first began. What was going on in your life that might have contributed to them? One elderly woman who had suffered from periodic colitis since childhood recalled that her abdominal cramps began when her younger twin brothers were born. She remembered that the only time her busy mother ever held her and rocked her was when she had the symptoms. She noted that she tended to get colitis only when her husband left her alone in the evenings.

It is possible that you have developed the symptoms of an important person in your life as part of your identification with them. For example, you may not only have learned to be hard-working and successful from your father, but also to deal with stress in a similar manner. Carrying your tension in your stomach, you may come to the point of getting an ulcer just like your father. Since characteristic ways of responding to stress are generally learned, ask yourself who in your family shares your same symptoms. It's often easier to learn how they are not dealing effectively with the stress in their lives than to see it in yourself. The next step is to observe and see if the same is true for you.

If you continue to have difficulty reducing stress in your life, consider consulting a professional. You may be interested in stress management groups that are becoming more commonly available. Your medical doctor or health plan is a good place to start.
About the Author
I have been helping people reach their personal and professional goals for the past 14 years. There's nothing more satisfying than helping someone reach their potential for success. I would like the opportunity to help you reach your goals. I am a Professional Coach with a Ph.D. in Psychology and a specialty in Goal Achievement and Transitions. Check out my website: www.ParamountTransitions.com then call me for a free consultation.
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