Everyone experiences stress from time to time. Stress disorders, however, are
of a different magnitude. These occur as a result of profound trauma, such as
encountering or witnessing a death, or experiencing serious injury. People with
stress disorders exhibit intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Acute stress
disorder occurs soon after the traumatic event and lasts for a month or less.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may begin within a few days of an event or
may have delayed onset—sometimes as long as 30 to 40
years—and continues for more than three
Signs and Symptoms
A stress disorder is often accompanied by the following signs and
Flashbacks, dreams, and intrusive thoughts
Avoidance of anything that prompts recollection of the
Inability to recall aspects of the traumatic event
Detachment, a decrease in emotional responsiveness
A sense that one's future will be cut short
Overreactions, such as increased arousal and startled
Problems functioning normally in work and social
What Causes It?
Stress conditions are caused by the combination of a traumatic event and a
strong reaction to it. Such traumas include war, rape, inappropriate sexual
experience, illness, bereavement, or natural disaster.
Who's Most At Risk?
People with the following conditions or characteristics are at a
higher-than-average risk for developing a stress disorder.
Women are at greater risk than men
Older people and children
People with the following personality traits: neurotic, extroverted,
poor self-confidence, past history of psychiatric problems
Guilt or shame
Lack of social support or financial security
Early separation from parents, childhood neglect
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
If you are experiencing symptoms associated with stress disorder, you should
see your health care provider. He or she can help make a diagnosis and guide you
in determining which treatment or combination of therapies will work best for
Your provider will do a physical examination, noting if you appear pale,
tired, or disoriented. Diagnostic procedures may include a psychiatric exam and
psychological testing, hypnosis in cases of amnesia, and an electroencephalogram
(EEG) to rule out brain damage or diagnose sleep disorder. Imaging techniques
can also rule out brain damage.
Crisis intervention can help prevent post-traumatic stress disorder from
While symptoms associated with acute stress usually automatically decrease
with time, chronic stress requires a longer and more complex treatment plan.
Crisis intervention may provide support, acceptance, and education.
Psychotherapy can help people master their fears and overcome avoidance
Your provider may prescribe the following medications for symptom relief
(although none has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for this
Benzodiazepines—drugs used as minor
tranquilizers and hypnotics
Antidepressants to reduce anxiety and impulsiveness
Sedating antidepressants to relieve
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
A comprehensive treatment plan for stress disorders may include a range of
complementary and alternative therapies.
Following these nutritional tips may reduce symptoms.
Avoidrefined foods such as sugar and baked goods, as well as
inflammatory foods such as caffeine, alcohol, dairy, and animal
Increase foods that nourish the nervous system, such as whole grains,
fresh vegetables, and foods rich in essential fatty acids such as nuts, seeds,
and cold-water fish.
Potentially beneficial nutrient supplements include the
Digestive enzymes, including betaine HCL, to support proper digestive
B-complex (50 to 100 mg a day), calcium (1,000 mg a day), and
magnesium (400 mg a day), which may be depleted by
The following herbal remedies may provide relief from symptoms: a combination
of equal parts of passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), lemon balm
(Melissa officinalis) and oatstraw (Avena sativa) with one to
three of the following herbs.
With anxiety: kava kava (Piper methysticum), motherwort
With insomnia: valerian (Valeriana officinalis), skullcap
With depression: St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum), wood
betony (Stachys betonica)
With digestive upset: wild yam (Dioscorea villosa), chamomile
With exhaustion: bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus), gotu kola
Siberian ginseng (Eleuthrococcus senticosus) inhibits the alarm phase
of stress. It is best taken four to six months as a fluid extract (1:1) 1/2 to 1
tsp. two to three times per day. Take before 3 pm.
Herbs are generally available as dried extracts (pills, capsules, or
tablets), teas, or tinctures (alcohol extraction, unless otherwise noted). Dose
for teas is 1 heaping tsp./cup water steeped for 10 minutes (roots need 20
Although people who visit acupuncturists commonly complain of stress, there
have been few clinical trials examining the effect of acupuncture specifically
on this condition. One small study found that acupuncture helped reduce blood
pressure levels in people subjected to mental stress. Another study found that
auricular (ear) acupuncture successfully reduced anxiety in some individuals.
Because this condition can affect a variety of meridians, treatment is based on
an individual assessment. Qualified acupuncturists may also recommend
lifestyle/dietary counseling and herbal treatment.
No well-designed studies have evaluated the effect of chiropractic on
individuals with stress, but chiropractors report that spinal manipulation may
reduce stress in some individuals. It is theorized that spinal manipulation may
have a relaxing effect on the body. There is no evidence, however, that this
effect is any greater than that potentially achieved by other physical
relaxation techniques, including massage.
An experienced homeopath can prescribe a regimen for treating stress disorder
that is designed especially for you. Some of the most common acute remedies are
Aconite for panic with heart palpitations, shortness of
Arsenicum for anxiety with restlessness
Phosphorous for free-floating anxiety and
Acute dose is three to five pellets of 12X to 30C every one to four hours
until symptoms are relieved.
People with stress disorder are at greater risk of developing other mood or
anxiety disorders, or experiencing substance abuse. They are predisposed to
conditions such as heart disease, insomnia, and gastrointestinal illness.
Suicide is more common among people with stress disorder.
Patients are treated on an outpatient basis until symptoms have subsided. In
cases where there is a concern about self-abuse or suicide, the patient will be
referred for treatment on an inpatient basis.
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Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Gary Guebert, DC, DACBR,
(Chiropractic section October 2001) Login Chiropractic College, Maryland
Heights, MO; Lonnie Lee, MD, Internal Medicine, Silver Springs, MD; Joseph
Trainor, DC, (Chiropractic section October 2001) Integrative Therapeutics, Inc.,
Natick, MA; Marcellus Walker, MD, LAc, (Acupuncture section October 2001) St.
Vincent's Catholic Medical Center, New York, NY; Leonard Wisneski, MD, FACP,
George Washington University, Rockville, MD; Ira Zunin, MD, MPH, MBA,
(Acupuncture section October 2001) President and Chairman, Hawaii State
Consortium for Integrative Medicine, Honolulu,
The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of
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of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage
to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or
otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents
of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds
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guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information
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regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications
before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed