As we continue our Men's Health Week series, we turn our attention to stress. Stress is something we've all experienced at some point in our lifetime, but if we allow stress levels to escalate in our daily lives it could start to have a genuine effect on our physical health. Our health contributor, Dr. Bernadine Healy, explains.
What is the medical definition for stress?
In the olden days, when we talked about stress, we usually meant physical or environmental stressors: such as wars, famine, and natural disasters. The body when faced with those perils went into a fight of flight mode--muscles tense, heart racing, blood pressure up, mind alert, in the short term it protects you, but in the long term, it takes a wear and tear on the body.
Today, we are dealing mostly with psychological and social stress. In both of these real cases, stress can be defined as being in a situation where you have a lack of control and the feeling that situations are worsening.
If situations get bad enough, can this affect our physical health?
Any stress can cause physical changes in our bodies. Blood pressure, heart rate, energy and immune systems can be affected. People who are at risk for heart disease really need to think about stress in their lives. Emotional stress and anxiety actually do cause the heart to work harder. When we're anxious or angry, our hearts beat faster and we breathe more heavily.
In a June journal report from the American Heart Association, an 11-year study of middle aged white men, found that a reaction to stress is linked to the development of two known risk factors for heart disease and stroke: high blood pressure and atherosclerosis--the narrowing and hardening of the arteries--due to a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances.
The study says, and as a cardiologist I agree that it's important for people to recognize that physical changes occur when they are under stress that can have adverse cardiovascular effects.
Other signs of stress could be anger or hostility, sudden weight gain, headache and, the most obvious, anxiety. Every individual's reaction to stress is different. Some people handle it well, others get sick over it.
Doesn't stress affect men and women in the same way?
Not really. Men and women react differently to stress. Women tend to bend and men tend to break. Women are more inclined to think through ways to solve problems. Men always want to confront problems and just charge ahead. One study has shown that men react to work stress, whereas women react to marital stress on a greater level.
Here are some stress reduction tips
- Be reasonable about control: Control what you can but try not to control what you cannot. It will only make you frustrated and hostile.
- Stay predictable: Plan ahead as much as possible, prevent better than treat!
- Find outlets for frustration: Do things that make ou happy.
- Exercise if it is okay with your doctor. Spend time on hobbies such as gardening, music, religious activities, and fishing.
- Maintain social contact: Studies have shown that people with more social contacts had fewer colds.
- Be an optimist, not a pessimist: It can be hard, but give it a try. Optimists live longer and are far less stressed.
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