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Five Ways to Manage Stress

By J. Douglas Overbeck, M.D.

Your boss wants that report on his desk by tomorrow morning at 8 a.m., yet it’s 6 p.m. and you still have to cook dinner, get your child to soccer practice and help with a volunteer project.

The mile-long line of traffic hasn’t moved, you’re flight takes off in 30 minutes and you’re still at least five miles from the airport.

You’ve recently moved your elderly parent in with you, and must now manage this person’s well-being as well as your own.

Are you stressed out yet? Is your heart pumping faster? Do you feel overwhelmed, light-headed? These are typical situations that we face every single day, and these stressful scenarios could be chipping away at our health and well-being.  In times of stress, the situation seems uncontrollable, but is it?

Stress is defined as a type of change that causes physical, emotional and psychological strain on the body and mind. Believe it or not, there is good stress and bad stress. Good stress is the type that gets your adrenaline flowing with excitement and it usually has a positive outcome, like running a race. This is called eustress.

What we typically know of as stress is called acute stress. This is the adrenaline we feel when we are having a very busy day. Sometimes this is good and sometimes it’s bad. Episodic acute stress is the chaotic feeling of a hectic, out-of-control lifestyle. Finally, chronic stress is the inescapable feeling of a bad situation, such as a bad marriage or serious illness.

The fact is stress-especially job stress-is impacting death by heart attack, diabetes and other diseases every year.

Warning Signs of Job Stress:

  • Sleeplessness
  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Upset stomach
  • Depression/low morale

According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, there is a direct correlation between job stress and physical health.  The report states that $300 billion, or $7,500 per employee, is spent annually in the U.S. on compensation claims, reduced productivity, absenteeism, health insurance costs, direct medical expenses and employee turnover—all related to stress.

Through a collection of research and surveys, the CDC and NIOSH stated:

  • One-fourth of employees view their jobs as their number one stressor. -Northwestern National Life
  • Three-fourths of employees believe the worker has more on-the-job stress than a generation ago. -Princeton Survey Research Associates
  • Problems at work are more strongly associated with health complaints than are any other life stressor-more so than even financial problems or family problems. - Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co.

In addition, these organizations found that depression, only one type of stress reaction, is predicted to be the leading occupational disease of the 21st century, responsible for more days lost than any other single factor.

A growing global problem, stress seems to affect women more than men. According to study by Roper Starch Worldwide, who surveyed 30,000 people in 30 countries:

  • Women who work full-time and have children under the age of 13 report the greatest stress worldwide.
  • Nearly one in four mothers who work full-time and have children under 13 feel stress almost every day.
  • Globally, 23 percent of women executives and professionals, and 19 percent of their male peers, say they feel “super-stressed.”

As a population, we are becoming stressed out, quite literally.  The Tuscan Center is focused on sharing tips and strategies with our patients on how to better manage the stress in our lives.  Stress causes many physical changes to the body that are not reversible. For example, when you experience emotional stress, your body produces more adrenaline. For those who are “stressed out,” or chronically stressed, excessive amounts of adrenaline surge through the body, which can cause the blood to clot more readily and constrict the coronary arteries. This reduces blood flow, leads to high blood pressure and can ultimately damage the heart muscle.

Stress can also affect the progression of disease in the body as well as affect one’s recovery.  In addition to heart disease, stress has been linked to the CDC’s other top five causes of death in the United States, including cancer, stroke (cerebrovascular disease), chronic lower respiratory diseases, accidents and diabetes.

It’s virtually impossible to live a stress-free life; however, it is possible to live a life where stress is properly controlled. Stress management is a learned technique, and it takes focus and practice to bring stress under control.  Below are a few simple steps you can take to reduce the effects of stress on your life:

  • Learn new responses to stress so that your body doesn’t automatically kick in an adrenaline surge when you see the first sign of trouble. This could be through yoga, meditation, special breathing exercises, or something as simple as looking for the good in a bad situation.
  • Get physically active. This is very important to managing stress. Certainly exercise strengthens the heart and fights signs of obesity that are often leftovers from a stressful lifestyle. Physical exercise also stimulates the brain to produce endorphins, which function as the body’s own natural painkiller and creates a feeling of euphoria.
  • Get the proper amount of sleep. Insomnia, due to stress, impacts proper brain function. Typically, eight hours of sleep per night is recommended.
  • Eat healthy. Food provides your body with energy. Maintain a healthy diet, focusing on more natural foods like vegetable and fruits, and decrease the intake of processed foods. Your body will feel revitalized and you will be able to think and process information with clarity.
  • Take time to do or experience something that you enjoy, even if you feel you’re too busy to do so. By dedicating some time to a hobby or favorite pastime, your body and mind will learn to relax, thus decreasing the amount of “bad” stress.

As a Cardiologist, I’ve been working with cardiac patients for many years and have seen physical proof of adding years to one’s life by managing stress. At the Tuscan Cardiovascular Center, we view steps such as heart catheterization as only half the solution. The other half is focused on preventative care solutions. To learn more information on how you can protect your body and minimize the effects of stress, please call us at (972) 253-2505.