Under pressure: facing up to stress

Mental Health


You and Jack Bauer have something in common.

Okay, admittedly, you'll probably never be called upon to stop a nuclear bomb, rescue kidnapped family members, infiltrate a drug cartel, or fake your own death, all of which the hero of 24 had to do in the show's 9 seasons. Your typical day may be less dramatic, but we bet you still know what it's like to face overwhelming stress. The question is, how are you handling it? Let's look at stress, what it does to your body, and how to stop it from taking over your life.

Get to know the enemy

We tend to think of stress as a single entity, but there are actually three kinds: acute stress, episodic acute stress, and chronic stress.

Acute stress is the most common type. It's caused by recent pressures and pressures we're anticipating in the near future, but it only lasts for a short time. Sometimes we enjoy stress, and many of us seek it out (for example, by watching scary movies or participating in extreme sports). Sometimes it's caused by a positive life change, such as a job promotion or a new baby. Other times, it's foisted upon us in the form of deadlines, rush hour traffic, or a lost wallet.

In stressful situations, our bodies react with a "fight or flight" response. The autonomic nervous system, which regulates bodily functions including the heartbeat, digestion, breathing, and perspiration, floods your system with stress hormones (epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol). As a result, your heart rate and blood pressure rise and you feel a rush of energy. You may also have a heightened sense of awareness, be better focused, and feel less pain, but you may also have a rapid or irregular heartbeat, breathing difficulties, sweaty palms, a rise in blood pressure, cold hands or feet, dizziness, or chest pain.

Small amounts of stress are exciting, but too much can be draining and even harmful. It can lead to emotional distress (anger, anxiety, depression, irritability), gastrointestinal problems (heartburn, diarrhea, constipation), and muscular tension (headaches, back and jaw pain).

Episodic acute stress is acute stress that won't quit. People in this situation feel perpetually overwhelmed – they face too many demands and never have enough time. They're often tense, irritable, and anxious, which can lead to conflicts with co-workers, family members, or the next person who cuts them off on the expressway. Physical consequences include high blood pressure, persistent tension headaches, migraines, chest pain, and heart disease.

Has anyone ever said that you worry too much? You could have another form of episodic acute stress. Constant worriers expect the worst in every situation and have a bleak view of the world. They also tend to be over-aroused, tense, anxious, and depressed. Or perhaps you work in an especially stressful field. It's not healthy to feel like you're constantly under siege. Speaking to a counselor or psychologist is a step in the right direction.

If you are often in a prolonged state of anxiety, you may have a different mental health issue, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or phobias. An underlying medical problem, such as a thyroid disorder, could also be to blame. Talk to your doctor.

Chronic stress, as the name implies, is a long-term form of stress that slowly eats away at a person's mind and body. It affects people stuck in difficult situations: a dysfunctional family, an unhappy marriage, a hated job. Chronic stress can also be rooted in traumatic experiences that continue to cause emotional pain.

Chronic stress has been linked to serious health problems, including certain gastrointestinal diseases, advanced aging, depression, stroke, and heart attack. Stress can also increase the frequency and severity of migraine headaches, asthma, and blood sugar level fluctuations (which is very important if you are diabetic). Stress is also thought to decrease the strength of your immune system, putting you at risk of more colds and other infections. Treatment for chronic stress may require medical and behavioral treatment, as well as stress management.

What's your escape plan?

We all face pressures in our daily lives. Your mission is to manage your stress before it takes a major toll on your mind and body.

Pay attention to physical cues – are you grinding your teeth at night? Are your shoulders always tight? When did those headaches or that heartburn start?

Try to avoid stress in the first place. Learn to say no, as in "No, I can't take on another project" or "No, I can't run the bake sale this year." Talk to your doctor, a counselor, or the employee assistance program at your workplace about issues that are bothering you. Do some soul-searching and identify the changes you'd like to make and the steps you need to get there. Don't be afraid to call for backup, such as your partner or friends. It can take several weeks or months to change habits, so be patient as you work through any setbacks.

Simple relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation (tensing each group of muscles for a few seconds, then releasing), can help you feel less frazzled. Meditation, practiced regularly, can reduce tension and calm the mind. Visualization exercises are also helpful – try envisioning a quiet, peaceful place.

Regular exercise is a terrific stress-buster. Start by taking walks at lunchtime and gradually increase the intensity. To improve your overall well-being, eat healthy and get plenty of sleep. No matter what type of stress you're under, avoid using alcohol, cigarettes, recreational drugs, or food to deal with negative feelings. If you have tried all of these techniques, but still find yourself tense, speak to your doctor. You can seek advice about any medications that can occasionally help you cope, or even the possibility of seeing a counsellor who could guide you in stress management.

Incorporate time-saving solutions whenever possible. For example, instead of making dinner every night, prepare big batches of your favorite recipes on weekends and freeze the portions. Set aside time for fun activities with people whose company you enjoy. And, of course, for a little bit of good stress, be sure to catch the latest nail-biter episode of your favourite TV drama.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2024. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/Stress-and-Your-Body

Stress and shock: racing in the fast lane

Mental Health


NASCAR races are raucous, body-shaking events. There's the rumble of dozens of engines, the screaming of delirious fans, as well as the shouting of the announcers. And, just beneath the cacophony, there's a vibration that only the drivers, ensconced in their sleek, powerful machines, with their helmets securely fastened, can feel - the rapid pounding of their hearts.

Driving a racecar is nothing short of exhilarating. Imagine having 750 horsepower at your disposal - at NASCAR races, cars can surpass 200 miles per hour! At such high velocity, drivers must have unwavering concentration and lightning-fast reflexes in order to make steering adjustments to avoid or pass other vehicles, stay in control when making turns, and react to trouble on the track. Inevitably, they experience a stress response, or what's known as the fight-or-flight reaction.

As the term suggests, a fight-or-flight reaction prepares us to deal with a dangerous situation. The hypothalamus, the region of the brain that controls body temperature and other functions, signals the adrenal glands, located above the kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, mainly adrenaline and cortisol. As a result, the heart rate and blood pressure rise. The driver's breathing may be affected. Sweaty palms, dilated pupils, dizziness, and chest pain are also signs of a stress response. Meanwhile, cortisol suppresses the bodily functions that aren't immediately needed to deal with the situation - the digestive system, reproductive system, and growth processes. When the stressful event is over (in this case, the race has ended), the hormone levels fall and the body returns to equilibrium.

While the physical aspect of a stress response can be surprising and uncomfortable, it's a "good" kind of stress that can help drivers perform well. The benefits include heightened energy, concentration, and agility.

Shock is a rather different, and potentially harmful, experience. Modern safety equipment, such as safety belts, driver restraints, and fireproof clothing, save the lives of most drivers involved in accidents, but drivers can still experience shock.

Shock can be caused by trauma, injuries, or blood loss caused by injuries. Blood pressure becomes very low, and as a result the organs do not receive enough blood flow or oxygen. Consequently, cells can die when they are deprived of nourishment, which may lead to permanent damage or even death of the racecar driver.

Symptoms of shock include pale, cold, clammy skin, shallow breathing, vomiting, feelings of faintness or weakness, unusual thirst, and a weak pulse. Drivers may also feel sleepy, lethargic, or confused. In some cases, they feel overly excited or anxious. People in shock can be conscious or unconscious.

At NASCAR and other professional racing events, medical teams are present at the track to aid injured drivers. Of course, shock can happen anywhere to anyone who's been involved in a car accident or experienced a traumatic event. If you have a car accident, even a minor fender bender, and experience symptoms of shock, seek medical help immediately.

If you think someone else is in shock, call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number. While waiting for help to arrive, have the person lie still on their back with feet higher than the head, unless raising the legs would injure them further or cause pain. In this case, have the person lie flat. Keep the person warm with a blanket and loosen tight clothing. If the person vomits or bleeds from the mouth, turn them on their side to avoid choking. If they are bleeding elsewhere, tie a towel or cloth to the area and keep applying pressure to stop it. If signs of circulation (breathing, fingers and toes are warm, or movement) are absent, perform CPR.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2024. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/Stress-and-Your-Body