I saw a middle-aged women in the office this week who works at a local tech firm. She came in for her annual free preventative wellness check-up that is a part of Obamacare. Since stress either causes or exacerbates nearly every major disease in our society, and since stressors are a universal human experience, good preventative health requires an effective way to protect yourself from the adverse effects of stress. I think these preventative visits are a good time to talk about how to do that.
But she had an interesting question: how do you know if you’re stressed? She was serious. For her, personality issues with her team-mates, other teams not getting their stuff to her team on time, long work days, high-pressure deadlines, and intense learning curves were the norm. And for everyone she knows. “Isn’t that just normal?” she asked.
If by “normal”, you mean the majority of people experience it, then, yes, being chronically stressed is now normal, but it is not good. Every ten years, the American Institute of Stress conducts a major survey of Americans. Each survey for the last 30 years has shown an increasing number of Americans self-identifying as being highly stressed until the last survey, over fifty percent of Americans so identified.
Interestingly, over the same time period, surveys by the National Institute of Health have shown that the number of Americans living with chronic disease has also been increasing, until the last survey revealed that over fifty percent of Americans are now living with (and dying from) one or more chronic diseases. We don’t know if they are the same fifty percent, put there are plenty of studies linking chronic stress to chronic disease so it is really no surprise that the two have gone up hand-in-hand.
I would like to point out that this has been happening on Conventional medicine’s watch. Conventional medicine has ways to treat most of the symptoms of most chronic diseases but they are not very good at preventing or curing them. Similarly, what most of us are doing to cope with the stressors in our lives is not saving us. We need better ways to deal with the problems of chronic stress and chronic disease…and I’m here to say that we now have them.
But I digress, back to my patient’s question. Once people develop a disease that is related to chronic stress, they often look back and say, “Yup, I guess I’ve been stressed for years.” But that is too late, it’s a lot more work to cure a chronic disease than to prevent it. A better approach would be to first notice when you are experiencing some of the early warning signs that stress is affecting you enough that it will eventually make you sick and then to act immediately and preemptively to make yourself impervious to stressors. You have to listen to your body and look at your life enough to see the early warning signs. Here are some of them:
· Non-restorative sleep—you wake up in the morning as tired as you were when you went to bed. Also, waking up frequently and/or having trouble going back to sleep because your mind gets thinking of things.
· Irritability—if you have a short fuse, if you fly off the handle, if you explode like a volcano, or any of those other great metaphors for losing your cool.
· Decreased libido—too tired to make it and too tired to fight about it.
· Tight neck, back, or shoulders—chronic tension held in your body anywhere, for that matter.
· Bruxism—clenching your teeth in your sleep, if your dentist has recommended or given you a bite plate.
· Headaches—most stress headaches are due to the tight muscles in your neck, but stress can cause other kinds of headaches, too.
· Fatigue—exhausted, pooped, you only have enough energy for work with none left over for the rest of your life.
· Digestive problems—heartburn, stomach pain, bloating, cramping, alternating diarrhea and constipation, loss of appetite.
· Anxiety—feeling trapped in your life, or feeling like something dreadful is going to happen at any minute, or wanting to crawl out of your skin and go hide somewhere else.
· Resignation—feeling like you just want to give up, like you’re too tired to keep going, overwhelmed.
If you have any of these signs, take the time now to learn how to make yourself impervious to stress. By the time you develop high blood pressure, obesity, arthritis, food and environmental sensitivities, leaky gut, autoimmune diseases, headaches, diabetes, cancer, ulcers, chronic back pain, depression and such, you’ve crossed the line and joined the fifty-plus percent of us living with a chronic disease.
You do not need to get sick from life situations over which you have no control. There are good answers to most of your stressors. I can help you with this in the office or check out all the resources available to you at my other website: www.the7tools.com.