Skip to main content

What's Up Magazine

Stress: What's Eating Us?

Apr 09, 2013 07:49PM ● By Anonymous

“I was sick about it.”

“When I heard, my heart sank.”

“I’ve lost sleep over this.”

“I’m just worried to death.”

We’ve all heard these expressions…many have even voiced them. These are physical manifestations of emotions, anxiety, panic, and stress.

While some people are carriers and causers of stress, most of us are just left to live with it. But that’s the point—living with stress is getting more and more difficult.

According to the American Institute of Stress (and doesn’t it speak volumes that there is such an organization?), There are numerous emotional and physical disorders that have been linked to stress, including “depression, anxiety, heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, immune system disturbances that increase susceptibility to infections, a host of viral-linked disorders ranging from the common cold and herpes to AIDS and certain cancers, as well as autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. In addition, stress can have direct effects on the skin (rashes, hives, atopic dermatitis), the gastrointestinal system (GERD, peptic ulcer, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis), and can contribute to insomnia and degenerative neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease. In fact, it’s hard to think of any disease in which stress cannot play an aggravating role or any part of the body that is not affected.”

The Institute has put together a list of 50 common signs and symptoms of stress, including things such as teeth grinding, frequent sighing, trouble learning new information, little interest in appearance or punctuality, rapid or mumbled speech, excessive gambling or impulse buying, and overreaction to petty annoyances (visit to see the full list).

But before we all reach for the Prozac, there are some proactive steps we can take to reduce the effect of stress in our lives. First and foremost, get up and get moving. Whether it’s a perspiration-inducing Zumba workout or a quiet stroll in the park, endorphins arrive and negativity departs. Hobbies, even sedentary ones, also can deliver needed relief by getting our minds off our worries. Being preoccupied with that cross-stitch pattern or a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle cannot only provide a distraction, but also a sense of accomplishment that will boost our self esteem—all good things. Or tune in to a baseball game on TV. It doesn’t even have to be the Orioles or the Nationals, just sit back and appreciate the beauty of the game.

Don’t isolate yourself: Reach out to family and friends. (Better to reach for a friend than an Entenmann’s Chocolate Fudge Cake when you’re in a funk.) Just talking about a problem can file down the sharp edges that trouble us. And try to get some restful sleep. Assess your bedroom for sleepability— do the curtains keep out the light? Are the pillows supportive and comfy? Is the room cool enough and the comforter cozy enough? Consider a white noise machine to lessen street/nature noises, or change the bed linens to put on your favorite sheets.

Additionally, relaxation techniques (such as autogenic relaxation, progressive muscle relaxation, visualization, Tai chi, yoga) can be very helpful. They do, however, require training and practice. Health professionals, such as complementary and alternative medicine practitioners, doctors, and psychotherapists, can teach various techniques. Some can be self-taught and websites such as the Mayo Clinic’s contain detailed instructions. And let’s not forget to laugh. Whether you laugh at the gross-out hilarity of The Hangover or the class dry wit of The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart (available on Amazon and iTunes), spirits are guaranteed to soar when laughing.

All of this brings us to the point that April is National Stress Awareness Month—as if we needed any more stress by being reminded. This makes us think of what comedy writer and director Jane Wagner once said, “Reality is the leading cause of stress for those amongst us in touch with it.”