In Part 1 of this article on stress management, Eric Bakker outlines how low-grade stress can produce negative health effects, and the harm of seeing excessive stress as a normal way of life.
Did you know that chronic low-grade stress is far worse for your health than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day or drinking excessive alcohol? It is amazing how many patients I have seen in my naturopathic practice who just don’t recognize that they actually are stressed or develop the signs and symptoms of an anxiety or panic attack, and tend to brush it off as something else. We are all human beings who are built the same inside and are all subject to various and multiple stress patterns in our lives. It is possible to recognize these patterns and to take action before we succumb to the more insidious pattern of adrenal fatigue, the 21st century stress syndrome.
The following is a real example of the effects of extended low-grade stress. The name has been changed.
The captain of a large jet airliner had just switched off the seat belt sign when Susan’s heart started to race, she was getting palpitations and sweaty palms and even feeling a tiny bit of sickness in her tummy. Susan felt awful that day and just couldn’t understand why. After all, her doctor did a thorough medical and all the tests only weeks ago for insurance purposes and gave her the “all clear.”
But that morning in the plane, her skin felt prickly and she became aware that something just wasn’t right. Taking a deep breath didn’t help and her chest simply wouldn’t expand and felt tight as a drum. What Susan didn’t know is that she was experiencing her first anxiety attack.
Was Susan scared of flying? Not at all: it was because of the chronic low-grade stress Susan had been living under for many years, and the panic attack was induced now by an extra shot of adrenalin (epinephrine) and cortisol, the two main stress hormones.
Susan had been working very hard for over ten years in the banking and finance sector, and had climbed far up the corporate ladder. Being a very successful career woman, Susan spent more than 100 hours a week telling powerful and wealthy clients how to improve their bottom line. “Now that I think back, I was setting totally unrealistic expectations in my work, but I thrived on the challenge of meeting them,” she revealed. “The stress of the job was thrilling. I loved it. But all this success came at a cost: a divorce last year, a major promotion at work and the death of her mother about 6 months ago.
As Susan made her way from Auckland to Los Angeles that day — to inform employees they were being made redundant - her body finally caught the attention of her mind. “It was really silly because I didn’t even think I was stressed,” she said. Telling herself she was fine, Susan recovered from her airborne panic attack. But the episodes that followed made it harder to ignore, and she had noticed that coffee would often help to induce these episodes. Years later, believing she may be having a heart attack, Susan finally went back to her doctor. After performing an ECG and doing all the necessary heart checks, her doctor told her she was suffering from stress-induced breathing problems.
Susan is one of those patients who actually has an addiction to stress. Like anger, fear, anxiety, love, and other emotional states, stress can mean different things to different people. But the single constant in today’s fast-paced world is the status that stress endows on its owner. We live in a society today that encourages multi-tasking and working around the clock, computers, electronic devices such as mobile telephone technology are making people too accessible at times. Those in particular who wear pressure and strain as badges of honor are driven, whether consciously or subconsciously, to actually seek out stressful situations.
“People addicted to stress pursue it because they believe it to be good for them, but they ignore the increasing cost,” pointed out psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Streimer.
Like many bad habits, initially stress feels good. “There is no doubt that some people do enjoy the adrenaline rush that is associated with stressful situations,” said Dr. Sarah Edelman, Australian Psychological Society spokesperson and author of Change Your Thinking. “And stress can be good for us.” The healthy type of tension called “eustress,” otherwise known as good stress, can be a real motivator. It makes us more alert and pushes us to achieve. People who have too little of it in their lives can become bored and unproductive. It is when we experience constant “distress” that our bodies come under fire, particularly the adrenal glands, the glands which help us to recover from stressful events.
I have found that the main problem occurs when people, like Susan, come to see stress as a “normal way of life.” Things don’t really become obvious to a stress junkie until the stress gets out of control, and then it can become harmful — like in the form of a panic attack. “Sooner or later, people reach a tipping point and instead of becoming stretched in their lives, they become more strained. Instead of being a motivator, stress does the opposite and a person can become unproductive,” said Meiron Lees, author of D-Stress: Building Resilience In Challenging Times.
In short, chronic stress is not only damaging to our minds, it also becomes very detrimental to our health. In the old days, they used to talk of a nervous breakdown; today, we tend to use the term burnout.
About the Author
Eric Bakker B.H.Sc. (Comp.Med), N.D, R.Hom. is a highly experienced naturopathic physician who has been in clinical practice for 25 years. Eric is passionate about improving people’s lives through proven wellness and lifestyle principles, natural medicine practice as well as public and professional practitioner education. Eric specialises in candida yeast infections, as well as adrenal fatigue, and thyroid disorders. Dr. Bakker has written one of the most comprehensive books on yeast infections called Candida Crusher. Website: candidacrusher.com You can complete his online survey to determine if you have a yeast infection here, or link through to his many You Tube videos: www.yeastinfection.org Dr. Bakker’s Blog: www.ericbakker.com