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Health & Safety

How Does Stress Affect Your Health?

When a tribal member was brought down with a physical malady, the Navajo Indians engaged in a complicated ritual involving chants, prayers, exercise, meditation, and herbal remedies. The purpose was to restore the spiritual harmony of the mind and body, the accomplishment of which would then enhance the effectiveness of medicinal roots and herbs.

At one time, the Navajo Way was regarded as so much hocus pocus, meriting study only as pagan myth or tribal superstition. More recently however, modern therapists, alternative care doctors, herbologists, psychologists and counselors, and many other concerned professionals who have had occasion to observe the ineffectiveness of modern medicine have begun to recognize that our Native American friends understood something that modern medicine has long overlooked. Simply put, the Navajo people and other groups, in restoring a "harmony" were approaching medicine from the perspective that nearly all physical ailments except injury are caused by the opposite of harmony—that is disharmony or chaos—i.e. stress.

According to some statistics, 80 to 90 % of all human illnesses are caused by stress. That's phenomenal when you consider that most stress is self-imposed, mishandled, misdiagnosed and ignored. Stress can come from any direction and any activity of life, including joyful events. Under normal circumstance, the challenges of life help one keep the senses sharp and help a person mature, solve problems, conceive new inventions, and protect one's interests. From a physical perspective, when a challenging situation occurs--such as the need to escape some danger, the demands of a classroom test, the excitement of almost obtaining a solution, the tight focus needed to win at a sport—the body produces a substance called adrenalin. Adrenalin allows a person to focus more intently with heightened sensitivity and interest. However, when those challenges become overwhelming, and the production of adrenalin becomes extreme, the body interprets the adrenalin, and a "partner substance, cortisol," just as it would any other foreign substance. Breathing increases and can become irregular, muscles tighten in anticipation of a blow, blood vessels contract away from the skin—a protection against the anticipation of bleeding--and internal organs react—also in self-defense.

In a "normal" stress-filled situation, the stress occurs for a short time—such as taking a test—and then is over, and the adrenalin levels return to their normal levels. In extreme or unrelieved stressful conditions, the excessive production of adrenal hormones results in ulcers, skin ailments, heart conditions, diabetes and a host of other diseases, all caused or at least allowed by our body's inability to return to pre-stress levels. In fact, stress even causes obesitynot because a person eats more when stressed, (although that can happen) but because the body stores more of what one eats as fat in an anticipation of a coming need for more energy and because during stressful situations, the body is unable to burn fat that is already stored

Although it is only one of many ailments caused by stress, since it is one of the most common, high blood pressure provides a good example of the effect of stress and the failure of modern medicine to treat it properly. If you suffer from high blood pressure, even though your doctor may acknowledge that it could be caused by stress, he will give you some prescription drug. The drug will lower your blood pressure, making you think the problem is being handled. The reality is, the drug artificially lowers the blood pressure by some mechanism—perhaps a diuretic which makes the blood thinner, or a beta blocker which causes the heart to beat slower and the blood thus to flow at a less demanding pace. The actual cause of the high blood pressure is not being dealt with at all; this is not because the doctors are negligent, but because they learned their practice in medical schools where administration of medicine and treatment of symptoms is the primary focus of the education—not for the benefit of patients, but for the support of the pharmaceutical industry. The truth is, a person who suffers from chronic high blood pressure will eventually die of the consequences of the high blood pressure—regardless of the medications. The only alternative is to cure the cause of the high blood pressure—or any other disease. The cause, all too often, is stress which cannot be cured with prescription drugs.

Stress cannot be cured because it is not a disease per se. It is a normal part of life. However, it becomes life threatening when it becomes continuous, uncontrolled or chronic. Stress can be coped with by recognizing it and by changing your habits and life style.  Take the following steps to identify and control the stress in your life.

  • Recognize the source of your stress. Realize that the stress may actually be manifested deceptively. That is, you might be exhausting yourself at work and still trying to do everything expected of someone in the home. The cause of the stress may not be the home-front even that that is where you feel the worst.
  • Focus on solutions to the stress rather than on the stress itself.
  • Develop a deliberate plan—get professional help if necessary, but try to avoid anti-depressants or other prescription drugs which tend to artificially make you feel better without actually solving any problem.
  • Take time to get enough sleep. What you can't get done in a normal day will wait until another day. If it won't, you need to begin delegating more.
  • Change your diet. A diet high in grains (such as bread and pasta) will make you feel more tired and less able to accomplish your tasks—which in turn increases stress over the things you couldn't get done. Eat more vegetables along with healthy fats and proteins.
  • Schedule 30 minutes of exercise every day. It may be necessary to enter your exercise plan into your daytimer so it doesn't get put off. In the long run, you will be more physically and mentally alert and able to accomplish more without experiencing burn-out.
  • Reward yourself and your family with a day off now and then, a three day weekend, or a real vacation. Do not allow yourself to become indispensable, and don't take work with you on the vacation. Your employees or co-workers will appreciate you more and take more interest in the work if you allow them to participate in a more meaningful way.
  • Drink plenty of water—just plain water, not carbonated beverages loaded with sugar or toxin aspartame. Water helps your body cleanse itself of pollutants that build up in response to stress.

Are you unsure of whether your problem is stress? Check out the sidebar and see if any of the descriptions fit your situation.

Learn from our Navajo friends. When the harmony of the body is restored, less of your mental energy is expended in protecting against disease, leaving you free to focus more on your interests and responsibilities and less on how sick or tired you feel.

You might be suffering from stress if:

  • You have frequent, unexplained headaches;
  • You have difficulty gaining or losing weight;
  • You spend most of your weekends sleeping;
  • You seem to catch every virus in the air;
  • You have chronic pain with no apparent ailment (often diagnosed as fibromyalgia;
  • You have a loss of appetiteor are always hungry;
  • You have almost no time to yourself, and when you do, you feel like you can't get anything accomplished;
  • You feel depressed or discouraged much of the time.
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