♫ ♪ I’m always walkin’
Searching for you
I stopped to see a weeping willow
Cryin’ on his pillow
Maybe he’s crying for me
And as the skies turn gloomy
Night winds whisper to me
I’m lonesome as I can be
I go out walkin’
After midnight searcin’ for youuuu ♫ ♪
An old fave by the late great Patsy Cline. Did she sound depressed?? Before I go off on that tangent, the latest medical update straight from Dr. Kildare’s office. By
the way did anyone else notice that name and feel someone was playing little tricks on us… like do YOU want your Dr.’s name to be Kill – Dare? Not I said the little red hen. Medical forecast from the skinny little island in the Gulf. Late next week a fun filled two days spent at the diabetes doc’s and the shot in the knee capping it off with more pain and less comfort. Sounds like a bust to me. Oh well…I will keep you informed since I shouldn’t have to bear this alone.
Now, back to the great subject to end the week on while we supposedly enter into a hilariously fun weekend – Depression & Stress. (I knew you’d like ’em) Some people cover with baking, some with mindless hours spent on the computer, (huh?), some with humor (double huh?) But stress, heart attacks, stroke and related illnesses are dropping us like flies in this fast paced (better?) world we inhabit.
Stress is an intense physical and/or emotional response to a difficult or painful experience. Stressful events can range from taking a test in school to dealing with a loved one’s death. Reacting to such events, the body’s stress response system can cause a rapid heartbeat, a rise in blood pressure, and other physical changes. Stress-related illnesses are physical or mental problems that sometimes seem to be brought on by or made worse by stress. They can include headaches, stomachaches, sleeplessness, depression, anxiety, and many other conditions.
Stress Is Not All in the Head
Imagine Alicia, the goalie on the traveling soccer team, with the opposing team barreling toward her with the ball in possession. Imagine Eduardo at 7:59 a.m., running for the school bus that leaves at 8:00 a.m. Imagine Maria, whose dog has just been run over by a car. Anyone who has been in situations such as these knows what stress feels like: The pulse quickens, the heart races, breathing becomes heavier, and muscles tense. Some people feel nauseated and start to sweat. Others freeze and feel a sense of dread.
* hormone is a chemical that is produced by different glands in the body. A hormone is like the body’s ambassador: it is created in one place but is sent through the body to have specific regulatory effects in different places.
The stress response
All these changes in the body happen because stress sets off an alarm in the brain. This alarm triggers the release of hormones * , which trigger the release of oxygen and glucose, which send emergency energy to the brain and muscles. This is called the “fight or flight” response because it prepares the body to fight or run.
The hypothalamus is a part of the brain that produces hormones. When the stress response begins, the hypothalamus sends a hormone called corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) to the pituitary gland, which then sends a hormone called adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) through the bloodstream to the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands produce cortisol (in response to ACTH) and epinephrine (in response to signals sent from the brain through the nervous system), which help the body produce emergency energy and support the “fight or flight” response. As long as the brain perceives stress, it continues to produce CRF. The body’s stress response ends when the brain relaxes, allowing hormone levels to return to normal. Scientists think the “fight or flight” response developed because it helped primitive humans deal with such threats as attacks by wild animals. In many cases, the stress response is still helpful—it may help Alicia react more quickly to block the ball and Eduardo race to the bus stop in time. And a certain amount of stress helps keep life exciting and challenging. But in other cases, like Maria’s grief over her dog, the natural stress response may not be helpful at all.
Events that trigger the stress response usually do not last for very long. When long-term problems with school or family or illness create chronic * stress, however, they keep the body’s stress response system activated over too long a period of time. This can contribute to many psychological disorders. Doctors think it also can lead to physical problems, such as chest pain, headaches, and upset stomach. Researchers suspect that, over time, high stress levels can contribute to more serious illnesses, such as high blood pressure and heart disease. They also suspect that chronic stress may suppress the immune system, the body’s natural defense against infection, leaving people more prone to illness, perhaps even to some forms of cancer. Much work must still be done, however, to determine whether those suspected links are real and to unravel the complex relationships between physical and psychological factors in health.
* chronic (KRON-ik) means continuing for a long period of time.
Which Illnesses Are Stress-Related?
It is hard for researchers to establish a definite cause and effect relationship between stress and specific physical symptoms or illnesses. Not only do people’s minds and bodies react differently to stress, but there also are other factors at work when someone gets sick. The following conditions are known or believed to be stress-related (as opposed to stress-caused):
- Pain caused by muscular problems, such as tension headaches, back pain, jaw pain, and repetitive stress syndrome. Pain of many kinds seems to be caused or made worse by stress.
- Gastrointestinal (gas-tro-in-TES-ti-nal) problems, such as heart-burn, stomach pain, and diarrhea.
- Insomnia, or difficulty sleeping.
- Substance abuse, including smoking, drug addiction, and heavy drinking of alcohol. Substance abuse, in turn, can lead to other ill-nesses, including heart disease and cancer.
- Asthma attacks in people who already have the condition or who are susceptible to it.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder, a mental disorder in which people repeatedly relive a terrifying experience in dreams and memories long after the event has passed; and acute stress disorder, in which they have similar symptoms immediately after the event.
- Other mental disorders, including eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and possibly schizophrenia.
- Cardiovascular (car-dee-o-VAS-kyu-lar) problems, such as irregular heartbeat, hardening of the arteries, and heart attack. Stress makes the heart beat more quickly and increases blood pressure temporarily. Although long-term effects have not been proven, many scientists suspect that they exist.
The Mind-Body Connection
Why do scientists believe that stress plays a role in causing illness? Although they still are unraveling the complex relationship between physical and psychological health, many studies suggest links between stress, illness, and the immune system’s ability to fight off illness. Some examples:
Studies have found that people who recently lost a husband, wife, or other loved one—which causes intense stress—are more likely to die themselves, from a wide variety of causes.
Workers who reported high levels of stress were estimated to incur nearly 50 percent more in health care expenditures.
Researchers reported that two groups of people under stress—medical students taking exams and people caring for Alzheimer’s disease patients—showed decreases in their immune system activity.
Learning to Deal with Stress
Stress is inevitable, but people can learn how to cope with it. Doctors sometimes suggest the following strategies for managing stress:
- Exercising takes the mind off stressful thoughts, and causes the release of chemicals called endorphins (en-DOR-fins) in the brain that provide feelings of calmness and well-being.
- Making time for hobbies and enjoyable activities outside school and work can decrease stress levels.
- Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, visualizing pleasant images, meditation, and yoga can lower the heart rate and blood pressure while reducing muscle tension.
- Scaling back on activities and responsibilities and managing one’s time effectively can head off stress-causing situations.
- Participating in support groups or sessions with professionally trained counselors or psychologists can help provide an outlet for emotional stresses.
Using drugs, alcohol, and smoking to cope with stress can make stress-related problems and illnesses worse.
Many people find that relaxation meditation is a good way to relieve some of the stresses of everyday life. People who meditate regularly recommend the following:
- Finding a quiet room or place away from disturbances.
- Sitting in a comfortable position with the spine straight.
- Repeating a special word or phrase throughout the session.
- Keeping eyes closed or eyes focused on an object.
- Clearing the mind of distracting thoughts, repeating the chosen phrase, and concentrating on the chosen point of focus.
Where does this leave us?? I feel we are standing in the middle of the road, headlights bearing down on us and we are in the “fight or flight” mode. We need to get a handle on all of this stress and take back control of our lives. Do you know how once in awhile we remember something we did as a kid and how it makes us smile wistfully wishing we could have that peace and fun again? That is because our lives at that time was short a basket load of something. What were we short on? “Ya got stress, my friends, stress right here in River City. With a capital “S,”
And that rhymes with “Mess” and that stands for STRESS!” (Forgive me for butchering a song from “The Music Man”.
What can we do?? I think the starting place should be “Simplying” our lives. Just give a good old heave ho to the complications in life. Don’t feel like going to Aunt Bessie’s for a huge meal and hours of mindless babbling after? Don’t go. Don’t feel like getting upset over your co-workers smirking at the water cooler over how you lost out on that promotion? Whisk them away like yesterday’s dust bunnies under the couch. Kids in too many activities at school or out and they have you doing a road race to get to all of them on time?? Cut them back to 1 or 2 a ctivities that don’t require instrument fees, miles of travel that YOU have to do, sessions held during the dinner hour. And speaking of the dinner hour, and I was, make it a point, as in have a family meeting and lay down the law, no radio, no tv, no ipods, no cel phones during mealtime. We will all attend all meals unless otherwise excused by YOU and YOU alone. We will not bring up any touchy subjects that are sure to be the Prologue to a fight of the year. Now, that is just a start. Will you be the most favored parent of all time or will you be the recipient of dirty looks, tongues sticking out and “the hand” up showing they do not want to engage in anything with you. Isn’t the peace and quiet at mealtime a dream come true??? Ahhhhh………….