How To Avoid The Bad Health Effects of Stressful Times
Have you been feeling more stressed than usual lately?
The worst economic crisis in most people's lifetime, plummeting stock prices, record home foreclosures and rising unemployment insurance applications are causing quite a bit of stress around the world... and in many homes and workplaces.
is plenty of stress to go around and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight. What effect is all this extra stress, heaped onto the normal stress we're used to living with, having on our health and what can we do about it?
Keith Churchwell, M.D., executive medical director of the Vanderbilt Heart and Vascular Institute, has a unique perspective on the results of not being able to blow off steam in our pressure cooker of a world.
His opinion is, Prolonged stress, both emotional and physical, impacts the overall cardiovascular status of our patients, particularly their blood pressure.
retirement savings, and the dreams that they stand for slipping away; facing mounting medical costs and declining services; trying to get some control, or at least a basic understanding,
of what is going on; looking at leaders who seem to have less knowledge than you do... making decisions that are continuing to erode your personal wealth and effect your lifestyle...
These are all real concerns. They trigger fear and fear triggers stress. It's a normal reaction to a dangerous situation.
How emotional stress effects your body
Stress can cause increasing physical demands on the body, constriction of the coronary blood vessels, heightened electrical instability in the heart and increase of blood sugar levels.
stress can lead to decreased heart rate variability and elevated blood pressure, making the heart work harder by putting even greater stress on the whole cardiovascular system. The long-term elevation of blood pressure can have a harmful effect on the heart and the entire vascular system. Stress hormones called catecholamines, including adrenaline, can have damaging effects on the heart muscle if exposed to elevated levels for a long time, Churchwell said.
The problem with emotional stress is that it confuses the body. We are supposed to feel our heart race and start to breathe deeper when we face a threat. The adrenal glands release adrenaline to add sugar to the blood for energy and pump up the
physical ability to fight the danger or get away... fast!
you are safe, the system shuts down, you return to a calm state and your body flushes out the remnants of the momentary hormonal overload. But with emotional stress, we don't ever get to a safe place. We worry day and night about paying bills... or losing our homes... or coming up with college tuitions... or taking care of aging parents... of being aging parents living on a steadily declining
fixed income. The stress is chronic and so is the effect on your heart, lungs, brain... your entire body.
A study of more than 10,300 civil servants found that employees under 50 who suffered chronic stress had a 68 percent higher risk of heart disease than those who were not stressed at work. The findings were reported in the European Heart Journal in January by researchers from University College in London. According to the
study, stress at work can lead to coronary heart disease through direct activation of neuroendocrine stress pathways and indirectly through health behaviors.
Its almost always multifactorial, Churchwell said. Its not just
the stress, but also how people adapt to stress.
Many people react to stress by eating poorly, stopping exercise, not sleeping properly, smoking, drinking and missing medications. If someone comes in to the Emergency Department at Churchwell's hospital complaining of chest pain, the ER doctors will ask about emotional related stress, in addition to performing a medical evaluation to find the causes.
We will see a number of people come through the Vanderbilt Heart and Vascular Clinic
for an evaluation of chest pain, elevated blood pressure, and shortness of breath that are outward manifestations of the emotional currents going on in their work lives, Churchwell said. They will either be dragged in by a family member who is worried about them or by a co-worker.
How to avoid mental and emotional stress
Here are some tips based on Churchwell's experiences that may help you to avoid letting
stress get the better of you:
If you have to work mandatory overtime and are clocking 12-14 hours a day, take the
time to eat healthy. Avoid junk food. It may help to plan special outings on your days off that really give you a break from stress. Forget about the lists of things to do for your days off. Try to add a short task to your schedule every day. It may make you feel a bit more normal to spend 15 to 20 minutes working on something you need to do
for yourself or your home before you end the day... and you won't feel guilty about not getting to those chores on your day off!
It probably won't help much, but try to remember that there are millions of people who can't find any work at all and would gladly work a 12-24 hour day! See if a community organization or your church has any volunteer programs that work with helping needy families.
Donate time to mentor a child or work in a food bank. This will help to keep your own difficulties in perspective and expose you to folks who are using positive coping skills to get through the troubled times. Knowing that you are making a positive difference in someone's life helps you as much as it helps them!
If you get down-sized, excessed, furloughed, forced to take an extend vacation, offered mandatory early retirement, or any of the other current 'nice' ways of saying fired, realize that as dismal as it may seem, there are still people working which means that there
are still jobs out there. This is a challenge. You may not be able to find work in the same field or craft, but you can still make a very good living. Explore your options. Look at your hobbies and skills. Can you make those work for you in another area or in your own business?
If you have a positive routine in terms of stress relief, such as exercise,
stay on it. If you don't, find one now! As hard as it may sometimes be, get up in the morning and have breakfast before you start your day. A regular schedule helps keep depression at bay. Spend the hours that used to be "work" looking for new work, training for a new field or building your own business.
If you feel hopeless or overwhelmed, go out and take a long walk. Concentrate
on the world outside your head. Give yourself a task such as finding seven oak leaves or ten silver cars. Forcing an outside focus keeps your mind from spinning back to the thoughts that are keeping you stressed.
Get to bed at a regular time and find something to distract you from worry so you can sleep. Books on positive life styles and self improvement, or biographies of people who overcame
great challenges to succeed are a good idea. A soothing cup of mint tea with honey might also help... or that childhood standby a glass of warm milk with
Exercise your sense of humor. Take what Henry Youngman said, "I've got all the money I'll ever need if I die by four o'clock this afternoon," and start from there. Smiling is one of the best stress relievers and a big belly laugh is even better. You know the old saying... if you don't laugh, you'll cry. Although crying does actually help relieve stress (experts believe that tears help wash out stress hormones!), laughing is a much more enjoyable alternative. Even a small smile sends a message to your brain that releases soothing hormones!
So, take a bunch of humor books home from the library and have a good laugh at least once a day. You'll be surprised how much it helps you cope.
Continue to take your medications as prescribed. Getting sick won't help you cope with stress!
resort to smoking and drinking alcohol as stress relievers. Alcohol may make you feel better in the short run, but it is a depressant and it will make the situation worse. Find an herbal tea that works for you and keep it in the fridge for a cold glass when you need to relax. St. John's Wort is a calming herbal supplement that might be
a good addition to your daily routine. If the urge to smoke is getting to you, try fooling yourself with celery sticks or carrot sticks, a good for you alternative that really does work. You may find yourself going through bags of these veggies, but they're healthier and cheaper than packs of cigarettes and alcohol!
If you experience chest pain, seek the care of a health care professional.
Difficult financial periods can be tough, but they always eventually improve. Staying healthy through down times gives you the chance to enjoy the good times when they return. Don't let the stress of the moment have a bad effect on your future health. Keeping your body in good shape, exercising and eating a healthy diet, helps give you something that you can control and improve in this unsteady economic season. That, in itself, helps relieve the stress!