|"Balancing Life Stress" By Allen Weiss, MD, MBA, President and CEO|
Balancing Life Stress
August 15th, 2011 - Greetings to all you women from the “sandwich generation.”
Many of you are young enough to be caring for older parents, but old enough to also have children, grandchildren, and husbands in your lives. As a result, the many details and worries—large and small—on your minds can lead to ill health because of harmful stress.
My message today is: How to cope with major stressors and continue enjoying the non-stressful and satisfying parts of your life!
The first question to ask yourself is: Are you too stressed? Everyone manages stress differently. What triggers stress in one person doesn’t necessarily stress another person. Everyone has a different threshold for various stressors.
For instance, being rushed or late may bother some people more than others. Or, not turning in an absolutely perfect presentation or paper may be catastrophic for some—but others are fine with not letting perfect interfere with simply being good. Obviously, we are all different in so many ways, but there are common destructive themes found in overly stressed individuals.
Now, we should differentiate here between acute and chronic stress—an observation made by an NCH Healthcare partner, Spirit of Women, which has helped build programs for women at more than 80 hospitals. Acute stress is defined as a sudden event that immediately elicits the stress reaction. Examples include a traumatic accident, death, an emergency situation, onset of a new illness or diagnosis of a terminal illness, and other life-changing events.
Chronic stress has a long duration with, typically, a gradual onset with a difficult to define starting time. Chronic stress evolves, cycles and stays in the background. Examples include everyday family responsibilities, living with chronic disease, or functioning in an undesirable home or work environment.
According to experts, the following life experiences create the most stress in individuals. Please note that some of these are positive life events, and others are negative.
Death of a spouseDeath of a close family memberDivorceMarital separationPersonal illness or injuryMarriagePregnancyRetirementJail time
Major stressful life events that are especially traumatic can lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)—most commonly associated with wartime vets, rape victims and other violent crime victims. Those with PTSD repeatedly experience the ordeal in the form of flashback episodes, memories, nightmares, or frightening thoughts, especially when they are exposed to events or objects that remind them of the trauma. Feelings of intense guilt are common, especially if others did not survive the traumatic event.
Stress affects your mental health and can cause some of the following:
- Lack of energy
- Lack of concentration
- Tension and/or anxiety
Stress also affects your physical health by causing:
- Difficulty with sleep
- Constipation/diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome
- Altered eating habits
- Weight gain or loss
- Heart disease such as high blood pressure
- Worsening diabetes
- Neck/back pain
- Change in sexual desire
- Difficulty conceiving
- Skin rashes/hives
It’s high time we discuss the positive side—how to manage and cope with what stresses you.
For openers, here are five easy-to-do stress busters:
- Hit the gym. This is my personal favorite. Whether it’s in a gym or outside for a brisk walk, regular exercise dissipates stress through your muscles and boosts your mood through the release of endorphins.
- Make an appointment with yourself. Write it down in your date book or place it on your digital calendar—an appointment to do something you enjoy. (It might just be a manicure and pedicure.)
- Breathe deeply. Inhaling and exhaling slowly and fully can be very calming. Lie down or sit in a chair and rest your hands on your stomach. Slowly count to four and inhale through your nose. Then slowly exhale over a four second count. Repeated 5-10 times, this simple, safe exercise can help you calm down.
- Get some sun. Even a brief break outdoors can lift your spirits and help you sleep at night. (Be sure to wear a hat and use sunscreen.)
- Stretch yourself. This is why yoga has such calming effects and has been used since antiquity.
There are many other ways to manage and reduce stress.
Relating to other people is a proven way to reduce emotional stress. Getting involved in a group activity such as a book club or religious organization can be very helpful. Giving yourself a “time out” by shutting off incoming information for a few minutes can be a big relief in this rapid-paced life.
Skip the candy; the sugar offers only a temporary feeling of well being, but in the long run doesn’t help you manage stress. Relaxing your muscles and just doing some chair stretching is a good quick release.
It’s also helpful to anticipate and adapt to what will cause stress. You can prepare yourself in advance by changing an activity or interaction, which may help you temper your response. Humor also has a role in stress release. One of the best ways to relieve stress is to make fun of it.
We are fortunate in southwest Florida to live in a perfect area for exercise outdoors year round. NCH has two beautiful Wellness Centers and we continue to be involved with improving the local population’s health. We also support scores of groups involved in a multitude of interesting activities.
Bottom line: Know yourself and use all the good stress relievers we have available so you can live a healthier and happier life
Past Health Advice Articles
Dr. Allen Weiss is CEO & President of the NCH Healthcare System. He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Rheumatology and Geriatrics, and was in private practice in Naples, Florida from 1977 - 2000. Dr. Weiss is active in a variety of professional organizations and boards, and has been published in numerous medical journals, including the American Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Investigation.