( By K. P. S. Kamath )

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Some Stress-related Phenomena

In this brief chapter, we will discuss some important stress-related phenomena that often baffle stressed-out people.

1. What is Mid-life Crisis?

We read elsewhere how buried painful emotions can resurface later and cause double whammy. In mid-life crisis, it is not the buried emotions that resurface but buried desires, dependency needs, cravings, wishes and yearnings from our childhood days which were not met. When this happens, one experiences an intense need to fulfill those unmet needs and desires. Usually, this is triggered by a seemingly insignificant event. The consequences, though, could be great and often disastrous. Most men and women having affairs in their mid-forties are going through their mid-life crises.

Mid-life crisis does not have to hit one during one?s mid-life. It would come on any time during the adult life. During the so-called crisis, one intensely craves to be admired, loved, worshipped, attended to, appreciated or taken care of. Married men and women could find a person outside their marriage who seemingly meets these needs. They find their spouses totally unable or inadequate to meet these almost insatiable needs.

A middle aged woman, married unhappily to an alcoholic, met an old boyfriend at a barbecue party. The ex-boy friend said and did things that made her happy. This chance meeting suddenly brought up to the surface intense unmet desires and cravings to be admired and worshipped. She had suppressed these needs as a child. Her parents had split up when she was three years old. Her step father gave her no love. Her alcoholic husband paid little attention to her needs. The sudden re-acquaintance with an old flame rekindled her buried desires and she went on to have a tempestuous affair with him.

Mid-life crisis is an increasingly common phenomenon in modern times due to the fact that millions of people are growing up without meeting their basic emotional needs on account of parental neglect and self centeredness. The net result is that spouses are traumatized; families breakup and children are put through hell. This cycle repeats itself in the lives of the children and their children.

Not everyone going through mid-life crisis has an affair. Many get involved with causes, crusades, movements, litigation, conflicts, war and the like, to fulfill those insatiable needs and desires. Many become heroes, movie stars and leaders. Others end up on the garbage heap of history. Most people in the thick of their mid-life crisis honestly believe in what they are feeling and doing at the moment and it is hard to convince them otherwise.

2. What happens in Premenstrual Tension Syndrome (P. M. S)?

Many women of child bearing age suffer from what is called premenstrual syndrome. A few days before their menstruation they develop a variety of symptoms such as irritability, hostility, depression, mood swings anxiety, tension, agitation and many more. Immediately after the menstruation, these symptoms disappear or ease up. These women go on a fruitless search for a hormonal cure for their problem. The medications that have been found to be most helpful are certain antidepressant medications clearly indicating that chemical changes in the brain have something to do with their symptoms.

What is happening here? Careful history will reveal that all these women have been through a series of major stressful events and problems in their lives. Their bottle is saturated and their balloon is inflated (stress stage three above). During the premenstrual period, the changing female hormones seem to affect the brain chemicals adversely. In effect, the ?balloon inflates? even more during that time period and so stress symptoms get worse resulting in premenstrual syndrome (P. M. S). When female hormones go back to their original state following menstruation, brain chemicals, too, go back to the former state (and balloon shrinks too), and symptoms improve.

Picture 28: P. M. S: Hormonal changes worsen chemical imbalance

As can be expected, most of these women ultimately reach their breaking point and come down with a stress-related disorder such as depression or anxiety disorder. Explains why some of them respond well to antidepressant medications. The best treatment for

P. M. S., however, is talking therapy to shrink the balloon, combined with an antidepressant medication and stress management. Try to tell that to P. M. S. sufferers.

They will certainly blow up at you! ?This is not stress-related problem, buster! This is hormones!? Of course, it is hormones, but only indirectly. Most P. M. S. sufferers seem to have a serious need to identify their problem as related to female hormones rather than stress because they perceive hormonal problem as ?physical? and stress problem as ?mental.?

Here is a straight forward case of a 39 year old woman who came for complaints of P. M. S of two years? duration. She said she felt just fine till five days before her menstruation began. Then she would suffer from multiple symptoms: tearfulness, irritability, sleeplessness, anxiety, mood swings and whatnot. Initially she said everything in her life was great. It must be hormonal imbalance. In the course of our conversation she revealed that just before her symptoms started two years earlier, she went through a traumatic experience with her husband of twenty years. Her husband and she were going some place in the car when all of a sudden he flipped out and started yelling and screaming at her. He blamed her for all his problems and cursed her left and right for fifteen minutes. This outburst was such a nasty surprise and so shocking to her that she was completely dumbfounded. She said nothing. After ranting and raving for another fifteen minutes, his balloon seemed to have shrunk but hers went up! She was under the impression all these years that hers was a great marriage. She had no clue that he had harbored such ill will toward her all these years. Her relationship with her husband changed forever after this sordid event. The result was that from then onwards she suffered P. M. S. symptoms.

After I explained to her what must have happened, she left my office and went straight to the local library. She borrowed a book on anger. Through insight, awareness and expression of emotions, she shrank her balloon and got over her P. M. S. The key to P. M. S. cure is open-mindedness about mind-body connection.

3. What is ?acting -out??

There are several meanings to this phrase. The basic meaning is that instead of speaking out his feelings, one is acting them out. In its grossest form it means that a person is showing his emotions in the form of an overt action or behavior. One might slam the door, throw a book, crash a car, break a window, put a hole through a wall, spit on face, and what not to show his anger. Acting-out is an immature way of expressing one?s painful emotion. Children mostly act out. Adults are supposed to speak-out.

In its more subtle form, acting out means one is engaging in a purposeful, behavior, usually destructive to self or to others, as a way of dealing with his inner painful emotions and conflicts. A husband secretly angry at his wife might have an affair as a way of getting back at his wife. An angry boss might harass his underling by giving him a more difficult task. Often, this type of acting-out behavior has been labeled ?passive-aggressive? behavior, which means one is covertly aggressive toward another person instead of openly dealing with the underlying anger. When Princes Diana dated Al Fayed, the Egyptian, she was acting-out her anger toward her high brow in-laws.

Most acting-out people are not aware of the meaning of their behavior. When painful emotions are buried, they go out of awareness and they might manifest themselves in the form of a behavior. For example, if I am angry at a person and not know it, I might forget to keep an appointment with that person. Or, I might dump cigarette butts on his parking lot. Or, do some such stupid stuff as a way of expressing my secret dislike. Not until we become aware of our true emotions would we change our behavior.

Sometimes people act-out their feelings by being a champion of the downtrodden. Such constructive efforts in favor of worthy causes is called sublimation. Mothers grieving over the death of their children from drunk driving started the movement MADD. We can see around us numerous examples of people who have sublimated their inner emotions to achieve nobler goals.

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