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Is Stress Ruining Your Health? August 16, 2010

Posted by Dr. Jacqueline E. Campbell in Wellness.
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Stress is the root cause of anxiety and depression. Women are more likely than men to suffer from anxiety and depression. Almost everyone complains about stress and blames it for all the maladies in the world – from headaches to cancer. Stress is actually not a thing, it is a response! It refers to our intellectual, emotional and behavioural response to demands made of us by our internal and external environments. The events to which we respond are known as stressors – so a spouse, financial or work related situations are  (potential) stressors.

Everyone experiences stress. However our individual experiences- symptoms and coping mechanisms- will differ. For example public speaking might completely debilitate one person but be the most empowering activity for another. Our minds and bodies are intimately connected. When the mind perceives an event as stressful, a cascade of hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, are released. While this is extremely useful when you need to slam on your brakes to avoid a collision, it can be harmful if these hormones are not “switched off” when the stressful situation is over. Stress hormones flooding the body for days or weeks at a time can wreak havoc on the immune and cardiovascular systems.

Some amount of stress can do us good .Increased stress can result in increased productivity – up to a point, of course. This is very much like the strings of a violin – not enough tautness produces a dull, raspy sound . Too much leads to a shrill annoying noise or snapping of the string. Just the right amount however produces beautiful music.

Our bodies have a stress response, the “fight or flight” response ,that is hard-wired into our brains and represents a genetic wisdom designed to protect us from bodily harm. In addition our body is able to calm itself by the release of its own tranquilizers called endorphins.

How women differ from men in their response to stress

Women are socialized to be the caretakers of others. Many women have a career in addition to traditional household responsibilities. We are often at risk of letting other people’s needs determine our limits, while our own needs are ignored. We are more likely to experience physical symptoms of stress than men and often cope with stress in different ways than men.

Women “tend and befriend,” taking care of those closest to them, but also drawing support from friends and family. Men on the other hand, are more likely to have the “fight or flight” response. They cope by “escaping” into a relaxing activity or other distraction.

Stress Management

The following are some simple ways to manage stress.

Identify your stressors:   Become aware of your reactions to them.

Don’t major in minors: Ask yourself, “In 5 years, will this matter? Will I even remember this?”

Control Your Anger: The next time you find yourself becoming annoyed or angry at something or someone, practice making a conscious choice not to become angry or upset. RESPOND, DO NOT REACT !

Breathe slowly and deeply: Before reacting to the next “stressor”, take three deep breaths and release them slowly. (This is how you do it – inhale through the nostrils , blow out through the mouth as if you are blowing through a straw.)

Slow Down: Whenever you feel overwhelmed by stress, practice speaking more slowly than usual. You will discover that you think more clearly and react more reasonably to stressful situations.  Stressed persons tend to speak quickly and breathlessly; by slowing down your speech you will appear less anxious and more in control of any situation.

Prioritize: Choose one simple thing you have been putting off (e.g. returning a phone call) and do it immediately. Just taking care of one nagging responsibility can be energizing and can improve your attitude.

Get Some Fresh Air: Get outdoors for a brief break. This can be rejuvenating.

Avoid Hunger and Dehydration: Hunger and dehydration can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and stress. Drink plenty of water and eat small, nutritious meals.

Correct your posture: Bad posture can lead to muscle tension and pain. Hold your head and shoulders upright and avoid stooping or slumping.

This too shall pass: There are seasons in every life. Your life may be stormy now but storms do not last forever. After a storm, there is calm.

Take a chill pill: Leisure time must be considered a necessity, not just a reward for doing more work. Personal time for rejuvenation will never be available unless it is planned. Ladies put aside housework and family concerns for a brief period before bedtime and allow yourself to fully relax.

Remember you can’t be all things to all people all of the time. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Avoid taking on too many projects (note to self!). No is not a bad word.

DR. JACQUELINE E. CAMPBELL B.Sc. (Hons) M.Phil. (Pharmacology) M.B., B.S.

Dr. Jacqueline Elaine Campbell is a family physician whose special interests are Pharmacology, and the use of Alternative/Complementary Medicine in the treatment of diabetes and other diseases that are common in Jamaica.

She is the author of A Patient’s Guide to the Treatment of Diabetes Mellitus.




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