“Stress is nothing more than a socially acceptable form of mental illness” – Richard Carlson
A few years ago I went through a rough patch that left me feeling constantly stressed. During that time I started to also see some physical manifestations of that emotional turmoil. One day I went to my doctor and he told me that I needed to do something about it or I could wind up doing some serious damage. It hit me like a tonne of bricks – up until that point it had never occurred to me that stress might be damaging my health in the long term.
In this post I want to talk about why your stress levels might be killing you. The more I read about the matter the more I am coming to understand that there are a lot of people out there doing themselves some harm.
The scary links between stress and health problems
My younger brother is studying medicine and as such we often have talks about the link between body and mind. Long gone are the days when the medical world viewed them as two separate things; the current consensus is that what goes on the body is strongly related to the mind. You can look to your own life as an example. Try and remember the last headache you got; I am betting it had something to do with a work or family argument. What about the last time you couldn’t sleep? Was that stress related too? These are prime examples of the body following the mind’s lead.
Its called psychoneuroimmunology and it is the study of the interaction between psychological processes and the nervous and immune systems of the human body. There have been countless studies showing that stress can:
- lead to an increased chance of weight problems
- cause poor sleep which can lead to other health issues
- have an impact on your heart’s health
- impact your immune response
These (and the ones not mentioned) are pretty serious and, over time, can do serious damage to your body. It is extremely important for our health that we understand how stress affects us and learn a few things to get it under control.
The necessary trip
If you think that you might be having problems with stress it is vitally important that you go and see your doctor. This is something that I put off for a long time for fear of coming across too sensitive and dramatic. The truth was, however, if I waited much longer I may have winded up doing some permanent damage.
The amazing thing was that I felt almost instantly better after seeing my doctor. It was a combination of knowing I was doing something to help myself get better and just talking to someone who knew how to help. Sometimes talking to friends and family is extremely helpful, but sometimes it is not. I’m sure we all have those mates who just tell us to “man up” or “keep busy until it goes away”. Sometimes these help, sometimes they harm.
Book a time to see your doctor, especially if you have been having bad sleep, noticed changes in your weight or have been having any other unusual symptoms that you think might be related to your stress.
How to deal with stress in the short term
There are a few little things that you can do in the short term in order to help combat the effects of stress. These things may or may not work for you, they are just some things that I find to be quite helpful on a stressful day at work or home. Remember, an underlying stress condition can seriously impact your long term health and as such it is very important to talk to a professional.
1. Run, run, run
Exercise is a tried and tested method for reducing stress and helping your body recovery from a bad day. Why? Because, as we all know, the body releases a chemical called endorphins which leaves you feeling. Although I can’t find any medical proof for it (any doctors out there?) I once read that the stress hormone is designed to prepare you for a primal “fight or flight” situation which is then perfectly burned off by running. It is almost as if the stress is preparing you for a good jog!
Running also has the dual effect of getting you outside into the open and getting some sunlight. Sunlight is necessary for the production of Vitamin D which is involved in keeping you happy as well as immune healthy. Some studies also suggest that it may help prevent cancer.
2. Eat less meat
There are numerous studies that point to the fact that eating a healthy vegetarian diet can lead to a longer life expectancy and better heart health. There is also some evidence to suggest that you are less likely to get cancer. Now I am not a total vegetarian, I eat meat about twice a week. But since cutting back from daily meat intake I have noticed better energy levels and a much happier feeling. It might not work for you but I would never go back to a meat based diet.
3. Read from the experts
There is so much knowledge to be found in books. All the problems that we are having now have been had and thought about by smart people for thousands of years. Aristotle, Buddha, Plato, Descartes, the Dalai Lama, etc. – all of these people’s thoughts and ideas are written down. And they help. They have practical meaning for our lives today. If you are having problems with stress you might just find a solution or two by reading a book and then applying the ideas to your situation. Family, work, disease… all of these problems have been tackled before.
The opening quote is something that I found to be quite striking. Everyone is stressed but hardly anyone thinks that it is a real problem. But as my doctor showed me and as the studies continue to show us, stress can have a serious impact on your health, well being and longevity. I hope that this short post might serve as a starting point for you to tackle your stress levels. At the very minimum I hope we all go for a jog tonight!