By Dr. Rick Morris
Rushing to meet a friend for dinner that you really don’t want to see, you think of the fight you just had with your “significant other”, your difficulty in staying asleep at night and your generalized sense of “blah.” Has the world become more annoying or is there something really wrong with me?/p>
Ellen Silverstein, licensed clinical social worker in Beverly Hills, says that these may all be symptoms of stress. “All humans are vulnerable to internal emotional stress yet many of us are unaware when we’re in it.” Ms. Silverstein believes stress most often occurs when we are “looking at our environment either personally or globally.” Sometimes this emotional inventory takes place beyond our consciousness and wears us down.
Most of us have reasons every day to feel “on edge” and in fact to be fearful of the future. T.V. has learned that fear is the best way to grab our attention. “Two girls abducted in Southern California.” “The chicken you’ve eaten today may have killed thousands.” “The rate of skin cancer has tripled.” What they’re telling us is, “You need to know and do something NOW!”
Today, with 24-hour war coverage and the terrorism alert being raised from yellow to orange to red, many of us have fallen victim to stress without even knowing what hit us.
Dr. Lois Goorwitz, clinical psychologist in Santa Monica, offers a simple checklist to assess our present stress level.
- Do you find yourself snapping at those around you?
- Do the other drivers on the road seem to be less competent than usual?
- Do you find it hard to go to or stay asleep?
- Are you eating more or less than usual?
- Are you using tranquilizers more than usual (e.g. alcohol, xanax, marijuana…)?
- Are you having dreams of someone being in danger, of feeling “out of control” or of being unable to get to a safe place?
If you’re “acing” this little quiz, you may want to make some changes. Chronic stress raises our blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as increases the likelihood of Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, heart disease and many forms of cancer. How’s that for decreasing your stress level? If you don’t stop stressing, it will kill you!
But, there are steps we can take that will definitely help:
- STOP PAIN! There is nothing more stress producing than constant pain. Chronic neck, back, shoulder or leg pain makes it nearly impossible to deal with the other stressors that life throws at us. Don’t try and cover it up with medicine as that often just adds more stress to our bodies. Come in and stop the pain with an adjustment, massage, physical therapy…whatever it takes. Relief is often immediate and you’ll wonder why you put up with it for so long.
- TURN OFF THE STRESSORS including T.V., radio, newspapers and magazines. Be selective…be informed…but only to a point. Learn your tolerance for “bad news.” That’s different for all of us and changes daily depending on other life factors.
- AVOID STIMULANTS such as caffeine, ephedrine and sugar as they stress our already stressed adrenal glands and nervous system.
- During periods of stress increase B6 to 50 mg, Pantothenic Acid to 500 mg and Vitamin C to 1000mg. They are used in greater quantities during these times and need to be replenished to avoid becoming fatigued and weakened. Other “natural” remedies can be very helpful but must be looked at cautiously. Discuss this with us first before testing them on yourself.
- EXERCISE! Increasing your heart rate and sweating reduces the stress induced hormones (catecholamines) and increases the peaceful ones (e.g. endorphins and serotonin).
- GO OUTSIDE and see the real world. People are outside talking, walking, buying food…. The birds are still flying, the flowers are growing and the ocean has not changed in millions of years. In other words, going outside and seeing life unfold takes us inside ourselves and reminds us that we’re just a small player in nature’s never-ending dance.
- FIND THE RIGHT PEOPLE to share your thoughts. They’re easy to recognize as you feel better after spending time together. They are not usually the ones that thrive on “bitching and complaining” nor do they recite mindless “Hallmark” clichés. Instead they listen and share their feelings and experiences. If they can show you the humor or irony in the situation, as well, then they’re a real find. Remember that we listen to our own choice of words, so be a good friend to yourself as well.
- SEEK HELP FROM A THERAPIST OR PSYCHOLOGIST if all of these steps don’t seem to help enough, or even just because you want to.
Often it’s hard to tell what came first, our head pressure, the tightness in our shoulders, the “stabbing” in our lower back, or the stress. One definitely feeds the other and it becomes a vicious cycle.
Removing the chronic pain and irritation go a long way towards returning our sense of peace and well-being. Remember, we’re all in this together. Try the steps and share this message with those you love.