( By K. P. S. Kamath )

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Current State of Affairs

1. Why you should know something about stress

While moderate amount of stress is essential for normal growth and maturation, excessive stress combined with poor coping and managing invariably leads to loss of tranquility of mind; emotional disorders such as anxiety and depression; and physical disorders such as obesity, high blood pressure, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, and many other disorders.

Stressed-out people often resort to drinking alcohol, taking street drugs smoking cigarette and overeating, gambling and promiscuous sex in a futile attempt to cope with their stress, not to mention driving around aimlessly. These bad habits, in turn, often cause, or contribute to, heart disease, liver disease, lung disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, sexually transmitted diseases and other common serious physical disorders, not to mention financial problem.

Long term adverse consequences of these bad habits and complications thereof on family, marriage, children, society, personal finances, healthcare cost and national economy are mind-boggling. Over 50 per cent of my patients grew up in families with at least one alcoholic or drug-addicted parent. Over 75% of emergency room visits and 90% of hospitalization are for disorders directly or indirectly caused by stress.

2. Why are people referred to psychiatrists?

The myth that only so-called crazy people see psychiatrists is deeply ingrained in the minds of many people. ?I am not crazy; I don?t know why I am here!? is the defensive statement I often hear from patients when they see me for the very first time. Indeed, a very small percentage of people treated by psychiatrists can be truly branded as ?crazy? or ?psychotic.? Even psychotic disorders, in which patients experience delusions and hallucinations, are now amenable to treatment if the patient cooperates with the doctor.

These days psychiatrists treat a whole cross section of society: doctors, lawyers, accountants, nurses, contractors, laborers, car dealers....... Almost all of these people are well-functioning, productive people in the society. They consult psychiatrists because they suffer from various persistent or recurrent physical and/or mental symptoms for which their personal physicians have found neither a physical basis nor medical relief. Suspecting underlying psychological factors as the cause of these persistent symptoms, physicians refer them to psychiatrists.

Some common persistent stress symptoms are: sleeplessness, exhaustion, loss of appetite, weight loss, poor concentration, loss of interest in usual activities, tearfulness, pain attack somewhere in the body, anxiety, tension, relentless worrying, panic attack, nervousness, crying, aches and pains all over the body, etc. Some common stress symptoms that appear episodically are: chest pain, stomach ache, flip-flopping of heart, shortness of breath, headache attacks, panic attacks, etc.

When no identifiable physical basis is found for these symptoms, they are referred to as stress-related. Stress-related does not mean one is imagining or faking his symptoms. It simply means that the symptoms are caused by chemical changes in the brain brought on by stress. Yes, what we think or how we feel affects every organ in the body.

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