Staying Healthy In A Stressful World

Stress is one of the most critical health issues of our time. We are bombarded by pressure to perform well in our jobs, to meet our financial responsibilities, to spend more quality time with our families. And now, in this post-September 11th Era we worry about our very safety and the safety of our loved ones.

There is a price we pay for living in a state of constant stress. A recent study noted, that 80 to 85 percent of all visits to primary care physicians are stress related. Medical journals are publishing a growing number of articles linking stress with virtually every physical illness. Although stress may not be the sole cause of an illness, it is almost always a major contributing factor.

Many of us have recognized that stress is a serious problem and have become increasingly health conscious. We go for regular check ups. We try to exercise and improve our diets. We take herbs and vitamins. These efforts, while useful, are primarily focused on our physical well-being. But despite our efforts, we continue to be plagued by high degrees of stress, and increasingly high rates of serious physical illnesses. Why is this so? Because we have forgotten, the age-old wisdom, linking the integrity of the body, to the workings of the mind.

The father of modern Western medicine, Hippocrates said, “I would rather know what sort of a man has a disease, than what sort of a disease a man has.” He understood that our inner lives- our thoughts and emotions, play as much of a role in our well-being, as our physical state or symptoms.

Stanford University researchers conducted a study of 1035 heart attack patients. 95% of the patients reported of having gone through a particularly stressful experience prior to their heart attack. All patients were divided into three groups. One group, was simply examined by a physician; the other was examined by a physician and advised on diet and exercise. The third group, in addition to receiving the aforementioned, was taught how to change their attitudes and behavior. After five years, the findings showed that this last group had 1/3 recurring heart attacks as did the “diet and exercise” group, and 1 /4 recurring heart attacks than those who just saw a physician.

What this study demonstrated, is, that 3 out of 4 people, could have avoided having a heart attack if they had learned how to change their attitudes and behavior.

Here are some tips for working on your attitude and behavior:

Do not judge.

No matter who you judge-- yourself or others—you pay the price.

Judgment gives birth to anger, and that, in turn, sets off a whole alarm reaction, known as a fight or flight response. Only, there is no one to fight, no place to run. So, your body turns against itself. Many hormones are elevated in the body during this fight or flight reaction. Two such hormones are norepinephrine, and cortisol. Norepinephrine has the greatest effect in increasing heart rate and blood pressure. When cortisol is elevated in the bloodstream for prolonged periods of time, it causes ulcerations in the lining of the stomach because of increased acid formation.

The Buddha also understood the danger of judgment and its offspring, anger. He asked, “Being angry at someone is like grabbing a handful of hot coals to throw at them. Whose hand burns first?”…Life is. Anything can happen and does. The question is, what action do you want to take?

Choose the right channel.

If you decide to watch television you can choose a channel with a horror movie or with a program about Mother Teresa. One will make you feel terrified, the other will inspire you go and make the world a better place. The same is with what you focus your mind on.

Watch your language.

Never say anything to yourself that you do not want to become true. From research on hypnosis we know- suggestions work. Do you ever say to yourself such things like “I am not good at this,” or “my memory is bad,” or “I am not smart”? Be aware… statements like these, when said over and over, are accepted into your subconscious mind as truth.

Do not ask “Why?”

Imagine going on a computer and typing in a question “Why doesn’t the economy of such and such a country work? The computer will analyze data and produce answers that will come will all be about why this country’s economy doesn’t work, very little about how to make the country prosper. If you ask yourself “What can I do to make my personal economy succeed, the computer searches for all possible answers to that question. So it is with our mind. So do not ask why something doesn’t work. Rather, ask what steps you can take to succeed.

Give yourself a break.

We are human beings, not human doings. Allow yourself to take short breaks during the workday. I have seen people in my psychotherapy practice who hate smoking. I say “So, why do you do it.” They say, “Well, it’s nice to have a break here and there.” In fact, our physiology is not designed to sit in chairs all day. But we don’t need to smoke to justify taking a break. Taking a short walk or doing some midday stretching will do wonders for your physical health and mental focus. And it will feel great.

For much greater guidance to combating the effects of stress and learning how to transform stress into a life-enriching experience, you may be interested in my CD, “Staying Healthy in a Stressful World: a Complete Manual for Self-Mastery and Freedom from Stress.