By Dr. Anne-Marie Feyrer-Melk
In today’s fast-paced world, stress is somewhat unavoidable. While we know that excessive stress isn’t good for us, just how bad is stress for our overall health? Stress can cause minor symptoms such as headaches, insomnia and stomach pain, but when left unchecked, stress can take a major toll on our bodies – causing high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes, even death.
Stress can be defined as any type of change producing physical, emotional, or psychological strain. Acute Stress can be positive, like skiing down a slope, or negative, like dealing with road rage. Chronic Stress is the type of stress that seems never-ending and inescapable, like the stress of a bad marriage or extremely taxing job.
Stress can trigger the body’s Fight-or-Flight response. Here, certain hormones like adrenalin and cortisol are released, speeding the heart rate, slowing digestion, shunting blood flow to major muscle groups, hence giving the body a burst of energy and strength. It can become activated in situations where a Fight-or- Flight response from an evolutionary sense is no longer appropriate, like in traffic or during a stressful day at work. When the perceived threat is gone, systems are designed to return o normal via the relaxation response. However, in times of chronic stress, the relaxation response doesn’t’ happen enough, and the autonomic nervous system becomes chronically over activated.
Then, when faced with chronic stress, people begin to see physical symptoms. The fist symptoms are relatively mild, like chronic headaches and increased susceptibility to colds. With ongoing exposure to chronic stress, however, more serious health problems may develop. This stress-induced condition can include: depression, hair loss, heart disease, obesity, anxiety disorder, sexual dysfunction, tooth and gum disease, ulcers, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and sleep disorders. In fact, it has been estimated that as many as 90 percent of doctor visits are for symptoms at least partially stress-related.
To keep chronic stress from damaging your health, it is important to be sure that your body does not experience excessive states of this physiological arousal.
First, acknowledge that some acute stress is unavoidable, but much of chronic stress that damages our health can be avoided or minimized with the use of organization techniques, time management, relationship skills, and other health lifestyle choices. Then, certain techniques can be employed to activate the body’s relaxation response to place the body into a calm state. These include mediation, yoga, deep breathing exercise, journaling, and positive imagery. These techniques can be learned and practiced when under stress, helping you to feel better relatively quickly.
Sometimes, stress becomes so great that people require the use of medications, herbal treatments, or the aid of a professional. Whatever your situation, stress need not damage your health. If you learn to handle your stress now, you can be on the road to a healthier, happier life.
Dr. Anne-Marie Feyrer-Melk has been practicing cardiology in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area since 1997. Dr. Feyrer-Melk’s concierge cardiology practice provides the most advanced diagnostics and therapies in heart attack and stroke prevention available today. She is the first and only cardiologist in the Valley to design a program to provide screenings, specialized technologies and the research time necessary to comprehensively evaluate heart and blood vessel health, and identify and assess cardiac risks before tragedy strikes.