Linking Stresses and Symptoms (1)

Whether you are a patient with stress illness or a clinician, there is an art to finding hidden stresses and their links to physical symptoms.  Fortunately, the basic principles are straightforward.  A good way to start is by writing a chronology of the symptoms, starting with the beginning of the illness and then recording the pattern since.  Next, look for stresses that occurred at times the symptoms were prominent.  The following list of questions may help:

  • When and where did the illness begin?
  • Did anything stressful occur just before the symptoms came on?
  • Did something truly positive occur shortly before the illness started?  (Ironically, positive life events can be stressful for some child abuse survivors.)
  • Has there been a pattern to the symptoms since they began?  (A simple example: one of my patients was often ill while driving to work, but not while driving home from work.)
  • Does the illness mysteriously vanish at times?  (Perhaps when you are on vacation?)
  • What are you doing, where are you and what is different about your life when symptoms improve or worsen?
  • Is there any connection between the symptoms and the spouse, family or workplace?
  • Are you the kind of person who cares for everyone in your world but yourself?  If so, could it be that your body is trying to tell you that you need to put yourself on the list of people for whom you care?
  • What are the major sources of stress in your life right now?

These questions should help uncover connections between symptoms and stresses that occurred near the same time.  If even a few of these stresses can be reduced, the illness may improve as a result.

In the next few posts in this series we will look at some other types of stress that can cause illness.

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