Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Stress Happens

It seems like everyone has too much stress these days. Nearly everyone I meet feels like they spend most of their just trying to catch up. Thanks to cell phones, IM’s, and email we’re always available to add one more task or deadline to our list of “to-do’s.” We’re a nation of stressed out people, and because stress can adversely affect our health, this needs to change.

It has been suggested that the cost of stress is more than $150 billion dollars each year. This includes workplace accidents, absenteeism, employee turnover, diminished productivity, increased insurance costs, and worker’s compensation awards

A recent Gallup poll found that about 40% of adults in the U.S. had frequent stress. Most of those with chronic stress do not have an effective coping mechanism in place to reduce this stress. The most common method of coping with stress is eating, which is contributing to America being the fattest nation on the planet.

Drug companies are aware of the stress epidemic, and are cashing in on it. There are at least 20 different prescription medications on the market for stress. The top 50 drugs in the U.S. bring in over $900 billion for the drug companies annually.

These numbers illustrate just how rampant stress is in our society. Now, instead of getting stressed out about all the stress you may have, let’s consider what we can do to avoid it. The smartest thing a person can do is give themselves some time to relax each day. It doesn’t need to be long, even 30 minutes or so will help. Taking this time to do something enjoyable can do wonders for decreasing your overall stress levels. I often ask patients about their stress levels, and ask them to rate their stress on a scale of 0 to 10. The majority of answers are between 6 and 10. My follow-up question, which I think is much more important, is “what do you have in place to reduce your stress?” Most people don’t have anything. They often state that out of the 8640 minutes in a day, they don’t have enough time give themselves just 30.

Physiologically, humans aren’t meant to meant to be under stress for extended periods of time. We’re made to endure short bursts of stress, followed by a period of relaxation. Being under stress for the majority of the day very similar to having a prolonged “fight or flight” response. The “fight or flight” response is an chemically-mediated adaptive mechanism our body uses to help us deal with acute stress.

Consider this example: One day you’re hiking along when all of the sudden you come face to face with a mother grizzly bear and her cubs. The instant you see those bears your body reacts to the stress. One response is that all of your peripheral blood vessels constrict to force blood to the heart, muscles, and lungs so that you can either run real fast or put up your dukes. If you’re lucky you can turn around and run like the wind for 5 minutes leaving the bears (and the stress) far behind. After you’ve removed yourself from the situation your body would shift back to normal functioning, such as resuming normal blood flow to the non-vital organs.
As a result of our modern lifestyle we are constantly running from the bears. When we’re running all the time it’s inevitable that we’ll eventually run out of gas. Luckily, it can be fairly easy to minimize the negative effects of stress.

Follow these four basic steps to help rid yourself of stress.

1. Learn techniques, such as deep breathing, to help calm yourself and promote a positive attitude.
2. Exercise regularly. It can be difficult to get into the gym the first week, but once you’ve acclimated your body will crave it.
3. Eat a healthy diet- minimize stimulants, restrict alcohol use, control food allergies, maximize those foods containing potassium.
4. Use supplements like vitamin B5, vitamin C, zinc, and magnesium to help support proper functioning of the body. Botanical medicines like hops (no, not the hops in beer), chamomile, and green tea can be excellent stress- busters.

On Thursday, April 17th at 6:30 pm Naturopathic Family Care is hosting a free lecture on natural ways to effectively deal with stress. This lecture is free and open to anyone who is interested. For directions to the clinic click here.