Spring 2005
Spring 2005
  • Stress Management: 2005

    Stress Management: 2005

    Physical Stress

    Physical stress is easy to quantify and measure. Your physician has various high-tech and low-tech tests and methods to measure the effects of physical stress on your heart and other organs and systems in your body. We can measure your blood pressure, see if your weight is causing stress on your heart and joints, and have you perform an exercise stress test to see if your lungs are functioning optimally. We also know exactly what limits of physical stress you should subject your body to each day. Aerobic exercise at 70-80% of one's maximal capacity for 30–40 minutes for at least 3-4 days per week is recommended to improve health. Too little exercise contributes to obesity and a depressed immune system, as well as a whole host of other physical problems. Excess physical stress can lead to musculoskeletal injuries or heart problems.

    Mental Stress

    Mental stress is not as easy to assess. You may know it when you feel it—in your personal life and in your professional life. It creeps up on you when you get stuck in a traffic jam on I–95; it becomes a daily presence when you have a crunch deadline at work; and it explodes in your body if your life is threatened by an oncoming truck.

    A certain amount of stress is healthy. However, chronic mental stress, which may be difficult to recognize, can lead to generalized fatigue, anxiety and depression and may make you more susceptible to a host of chronic diseases.

    The Fight, Flight or Freeze Response

    Mental stress also has an effect on your body. It's all about the “fight, flight or freeze” response, which has been hard-wired into human brains since we were cavemen and
    -women. When you sense a dangerous situation, your brain automatically determines what to do and you are instantly ready to act. You may fight (if you're physically attacked, for example), flee (if you discover your room is on fire), or freeze (when a car comes at you as you start to cross the street) to save your life. These are instinctive physical responses to stress.

    How are you able to respond so quickly, almost without thinking? Quietly and immediately inside your body, a cascade of hormones floods your system to allow you to respond with as much strength, speed, and skill as possible. Your heart rate, breathing and blood pressure increase; your blood platelets become stickier (to allow your blood to clot faster if you are cut); your muscles tense up and you flip into a heightened state of awareness where your senses—vision, smell, hearing—become more acute. Your digestive and reproductive systems shut down and you are prepared: to do battle, to run for your life, to hold perfectly still—whatever is needed. Perfect—if your life is in danger!

    Chronic Low Levels of Stress

    But what if this internal chemistry is activated again and again during a typical day when you experience stress? When you run into traffic on I–95, a slow cashier at the grocery store, a line at the bank, a healthy kid who parks in the handicapped spot, or a work situation or relationship that is chronically stressful. Then you’re constantly in a state of heightened readiness—how exhausting!

    In stressful situations, some of us experience that "road-rage" fight response. Some of us freeze with a plastic smile while inside our blood is boiling, and some of us flee, or rearrange our personal lives to avoid any potentially stressful situations. Still, no matter how you internalize it, physically experiencing chronic stress leads to a whole array of common illnesses and diseases, including coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, an altered immune system, loss of bone mass, suppression of the reproductive system, memory problems, low back pain, irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, depression, anxiety, panic disorders, and obesity. Quite a list!

    In fact, it is estimated that upwards of 60 percent of all doctor visits are stress-related. In the work force it is estimated that more than $200 billion is spent annually on stress-related absenteeism, sub-par performance, tardiness, and worker's compensation claims related to stress.

    Stress Management 2005

    What can you do about your stress overload? Take the time to learn how to manage stress. It will lead to improved physical health, mental clarity, clearer focus, and greater creativity.

    Tried and true techniques, such as meditation, mindfulness, yoga, relaxation and cognitive behavioral therapy, have been used for centuries to help train the mind to relax, rest, and think clearly. These techniques can foster the introspection it takes to discover what your particular stress factors are and learn how to respond and cope with them. If you have the discipline to practice these skills frequently, they will have beneficial physical and mental effects. You’ll find that learning to manage your stress becomes just as important as your 30 minutes of exercise each day.