IX. Stress

How to Reduce or Avoid Unnecessary Stress

How can you tell if you're under stress? You may be the last to recognize it. Your friends and family may see its effect on you long before you do. Signs are difficulty in sleeping, changes in eating habits, increased use of drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, chronic irritability, short-fused anger, increased anxiety, and frequent physical complaints.

Stress is defined as the feeling of tension or pressure that naturally accumulates in everyone's life. How you handle it determines the extent of the negative effect it can have on your health and happiness. We all fail exams at school or get negative progress reports from time to time. Look at it this way: "If you can't point to a recent failure, you're not functioning up to your full capacity!"

Now take the following short quiz (31 questions):

[Score points as follows: "Never" or "No" = 0; "Once in a while" (1-3 times a year) = 1; "A few times a week" = 3; "Always or daily" = 5; For Yes/No answers, Yes = 4.]

1. Do you eat on the run or in restaurants a lot?

2. Are you plagued by a run-down feeling or sense of illness?

3. Are you normally too tired to exercise?

4. Do you have difficulty sleeping (or staying asleep)?

5. Do you fall asleep at inappropriate times?

6. Do you have difficulty saying "No"?

7. Do you feel out of control in your life?

8. Do you eat, drink, or smoke compulsively whenever you are nervous?

9. Do you skip meals to lose weight?

10. Does your weight go up and down more than a few pounds a month?

11. Do you feel unusually anxious when driving on freeways (especially during rush hour)?

12. Have you had a divorce or custody battle recently (last five years)?

13. Have you moved to a new location recently (in the last year)?

14. Have you changed jobs recently without an increase in salary (last 6 months)?

15. Have you been involved in an automobile accident recently (last 6 months)?

16. Have you been involved in a law suit recently (in the last 6 months)?

17. Have you been hospitalized for any reason or had a diagnosis of a chronic medical condition recently (in the last year)?

18. Are you single? Or if married, not happily married?

19. Do you have any children at home less than three years old?

20. Have you worked more than 60 hours overtime recently (in last 6 months)?

21. Do you own your own business?

22. Do you watch television more than 5 hours a day, as your only form of entertainment?

23. Do you have an inadequate support network (family/friends)?

24. Have you gotten a speeding ticket in the last 3 months?

25. Have you been arrested by the police for any reason in the last year?

26. You don't belong to any church or attend only once-a-year.

27. You haven't been on a two-week vacation in five years or more?

28. Have you lost a spouse or a first-degree relative recently (last 6 months)?

29. You don't own a pet (dog, cat, etc.).

30. Do you live in a place where it snows heavily?

31. Have you been investigated by the Federal Government in the last 6 months, having hired an "illegal alien" to take care of your children?

Score Interpretation

0-15: Your life is a "bowl of cherries." You're not sufficiently challenged.

16-30: Congratulations! You're well adapted (your risk-taking is well calculated).

31-40: You have an average ability to cope with stress.

41-99: You are experiencing a high level of stress. It is important to get advice about how to change your lifestyle or daily habits in order to diminish your rate of stress-provoking events.

100-135: Your life is a "veil of tears." It's time to move on to a new rose garden.

What to do if you need help? Visit your family doctor; seek qualified professionals at your job, trusted clergy members, or health-care professionals at a mental health center. [Note: The above test was derived in part from Pharmex, a Division of ABP Co.]

Also, try to reduce pathological bursts of Adrenaline and cortisol (the natural stress hormones in the body) by avoiding routine emergency deadlines; Stress constricts blood vessels and is known to cause Variant or Prinzmetal's Angina (angina at rest with S-T elevation on EKG, as distinguished from the more typical exertional form of angina pectoris with S-T depression). Long-term high concentrations of cortisol in one’s blood are corrosive to all the tissues of the body.

We all know that being the parent of a young child brings its share of stress. Hurting your child is never a long-term solution. The next time you lose your patience, try some of these tips: Close your eyes, take a deep breath, count to ten, and give yourself a time out. Think about why you are angry... Is it your child’s fault or is your child a convenient target for your own anger? Then, if it makes sense, put your child in a time-out chair (one minute for each year of age).

A significant area of "Type-A" stress for those who live in big cities is the need for freeway driving. Go with the flow (or lack of it)... Allow extra time to get from one place to another. Whenever possible think of public transportation. It is important not to be frenetic in the car. Car phones should be saved for emergencies rather than something to do while you’re driving. Don’t tail gate. Pick one lane and stay there. Treat the gas and brake pedals as gently as you would treat a fine crystal wine glass. And this is the toughest rule of all: Ignore drivers who cut you off or are otherwise rude. Their accident rate will always be higher than yours.

Sound sleep is just as important as exercise in reducing stress levels and maintaining your diurnal rhythms. Try to avoid worry (or arguments) at the normal time of retiring. This leads to insomnia, as you endlessly rehearse your moves and countermoves, or even premature awakening, like at 5:00 AM. Time spent in REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep is much more beneficial for one’s mental health, and sleeping pills interfere with the REM ratio. Use melatonin or even alcohol (a double shot of whiskey) before using a barbiturate. Get at least seven hours (there are individual differences, of course) to avoid sleep deprivation (the Exxon Valdez effect). Try to get up and go to sleep at the same time each day, (I know this is hard) even on weekends [76]. Excessive snoring (airway obstruction leading to turbulent flow) may be a symptom of sleep apnea, which is disastrous for blood/brain oxygenation and needs the professional evaluation of a sleep research center with oximeter and EEG monitoring. Bright-light therapy before bedtime and on awakening is important for nursing home patients or anyone who shows signs of depression.

Additional Principles to help reduce stress:

1. Q: How do you eat an elephant? A: One bite at a time;

2. Worry in a straight line;

3. Tell a joke;

4. Never let your daughter marry a man who goes by the nickname "Ace".

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