Stress and Your Health

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Stress in the workplace has escalated to epidemic levels in the last 10 years costing U.S. employers close to $200 billion per year. Decreased productivity, stress related health concerns, increases in absenteeism are just a few of the unwanted outcomes. In Canada workplace stress has become “an alarming wake-up call” with growing numbers of Canadians experiencing depression, high rates of workplace absenteeism and an increase in long and short term disability claims related to physical and mental health issues.

Researchers assert that sixty percent of lost workdays each year can be attributed to stress. In addition, an estimated 75 to 90 percent of visits to health care providers are due to stress-related conditions. Stress can also have a direct effect on the way people handle their jobs. Employees under stress may make more mistakes, have trouble concentrating, become disorganized or just stop caring about their work. The Wall Street Journal reported that one third of workers surveyed considered quitting their jobs because of stress. Similarly, students, housewives, athletes, musicians and other performers are also prone to the kinds of intense pressures which can cause a buildup of stress.

What is Stress?
The concept of stress was first introduced in the 1920s by scientists observing the effects of stressors on animals and noting the reaction of the sympathetic nervous system. The stress response was found to be a physical alarm reaction commonly known as the “fight or flight” response. Hans Selye introduced this world famous concept in the British Journal Nature in 1936. He defined stress as the non-specific response of the body to any demand and suggested that stress can be caused by a great variety of variables. These include prolonged food deprivation or a good muscular work-out as well as commonly experienced every day stressful situations which may put an overload on our mental/emotional well-being.

Although this involuntary response of the nervous system is important and useful for protection during emergency situations, inappropriate triggering of this response can take its toll on your health. Stress can weaken the immune system and act as a precursor for heart disease, ulcers and stroke. Acute stress is exhausting and can deplete the adrenal glands and may be a cause of chronic adrenal fatigue. Properly functioning adrenal glands are important for balanced physiological health because they release hormones which regulate metabolism, control blood pressure as well as preparing the body for the “fight or flight” response at times of extreme stress.

Stress symptoms can take many forms including anxiety, emotional distress, irritability, depression, tension headaches, jaw pain, digestive problems as well as increases in blood pressure and other unwanted physical symptoms. Continued long range stress can suppress the immune system making the physiology more susceptible to colds and flu. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is common in victims of violence and war.

A Natural Approach
Many natural health modalities have emerged to deal with stress. Diet, routine, exercise, lifestyle, aroma therapy, vitamins and herbal supplements are all helpful as well as many
types of bodywork including regular massage and chiropractic techniques. Meditation, yoga and other relaxation techniques have also become popular. It is important to remember that rest is the basis of activity and to take regular breaks and time off to downshift and rejuvenate. A balanced lifestyle which is not all work and no play is also essential as is early bedtime. Burning the candle at both ends to meet deadlines will take its toll over time. Although many people know that they should be taking steps to reduce stress, it is important to make stress management an immediate priority as a preventative health measure. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Simi Summer, PhD is an independent researcher and freelance writer. She is a strong proponent of organic consumer education and informed consumer choices.

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