"For Health's Sake Avoid Stress"

Doctors often tell their patients to avoid stress in order to improve their health.  This is usually excellent advice.  But how do you avoid stress?  And is all stress bad?  Not only are most people unfamiliar with controlling stress, they don’t know what it is in the first place. 

There are two types of stress: distress and eustress.  “Distress” is harmful to the body; it cannot be totally avoided, but it can controlled. “Eustress” is a pleasant, beneficial stress that helps the body.

The direct effect of stress occurs through the “fight or flight” mechanism within the body.  This mechanism is a natural body activity that enables you to handle problem situations.  It does just exactly what its name implies it enables you to fight a situation, or to run from it.

A classic example of “fight or flight” is the early man walking through the jungle who sees a saber-toothed tiger.  He either has to fight that tiger or run from it.  Under normal circumstances the man would run from the tiger and, hopefully, escape.  He would hide somewhere, and high levels of blood would be pumped through his adrenal glands, replenishing them. 

The adrenal glands are important in the “fight or flight” mechanism.  They are responsible for increased blood sugar that provides muscle energy and thinking power, an increased heart rate and higher blood pressure to circulate energy-giving sugar and oxygen through the body, increased respiration and other factors that provide more power and thinking ability.  Thus the story of early man and the tiger provides a classic example of stress (eustress) and how the body should react to it, meeting the demand.  Eustress gives the man additional power to escape from the tiger. 

Distress is that which is prolonged, ultimately causing harm to the body.  The major detrimental effect of distress is that it causes a glandular imbalance, in turn causing an imbalance of the autonomic nervous system, which is the system that primarily controls the organs and glands.  There are four basic groups that include most types of distress.

  1. Mental - When the term “stress” is mentioned, most people think of mental distress.  This is one of the primary types; however, it isn’t the only one.  Mental distress can have a very wide scope, from the death of a loved one, to a teenager being teased about a pimply face.   Emotional stress that is met properly, as in the example of the fight or flight mechanism, is usually overcome rapidly by the body.   In modern society we have many types of emotional distress that are not shot-term in nature, and they take their toll on our health.  Perhaps the stress is financial, being unable to pay all the bills at the end of the month and having bill collector’s call until we’re afraid to answer the telephone.  It may be employment that is distasteful, with no advancement or improvement in sight.  The type of emotional distress that is most problematic is that which is unrelenting, with few prospects for change.
  2. Physical – Physical distress can be as simple as not getting adequate sleep or working too many hours in other words, driving oneself past the body’s endurance. Physical distress also includes structural problems in the body, such as a spinal imbalance or other distortion.  These are especially significant if there is constant pain, because pain itself is a distress to the body.  A classic physical distress is an injury such as a twisted ankle, broken bone or laceration.
  3. Chemical – This form of distress is increasing in our modern environment.  There are three major categories in the chemical phase of distress. (a) Environmental pollution includes such things as emissions from automobiles and factories, pesticides, or a furnace leaking gas.  (b) Next is the contamination and refinement of the food supply.  Many of the preservatives, food colorings, and artificial flavorings in modern foods are stressful to the body, and they take their toll.   Also eating refined white flour and sugar products places a heavy burden on the adrenal glands and pancreas.  (c) Medications, both prescription and over the counter, may be stressful to the body and impose significant demands upon the stress mechanism.
  4. Thermal – When the body becomes overheated or chilled, a stress reaction is set up to meet the demand.  An example getting into an automobile with the windows rolled up on a hot sunny day.  The body immediately becomes too warm; then air conditioning is blown directly on the individual as soon as the car is in motion.  Another example is sitting in a draft, or stepping outside in the cold to pick up the newspaper or mail.

Prolonged stress always affects the adrenal glands, and because the adrenal glands are responsible for many body functions, these problems may be seen as ulcers of the digestive system, severe fatigue, nervousness, moodiness, or an inability to think clearly.  The autonomic nervous system controls the organs and glands of your body.  Prolonged distress can develop symptomatic problems eventually resulting in disease. 

Distress is common and causes a lot of health problems.  So what do we so about it?  Unfortunately, there is no way that all distress can be eliminated from the body.  Because distress is cumulative, we must control it by changing the factors that we can control.  You may have an emotional problem at your place of employment, but that does not mean you have to run outside without a coat in 30 degree weather, miss an hour and a half of sleep each night, or indulge in ice cream with its large amounts of preservatives, emulsifiers and artificial flavorings and coloring not to mention refined sugar!

The following situation often occurs.  A patient tells a doctor knowledgeable about stress that there has been no stress change in his life; yet the doctor can see that the health problem is the result of distress.  Upon questioning, the doctor finds that there is disagreement between the patient and his spouse over financial problems.  To alleviate this problem the patient has taken an extra job at a service station at night, adding four hours to his working day.  Of course he doesn’t wear a coat because the job entails going in and out of the building all the time, and the building is too warm for a coat.  In order to have the stamina for the extra job, the patient drinks more coffee and takes tablets to keep him awake.  When the doctor points out these stress factors, he is told, “But I’ve always gone in and out without a coat” or “I used to drink coffee all the time,” and “While I was a student I used stay-awake tablets,” and so on.  The point is, all these things may not have been done at the same time, and the patient was never in precisely this state of health before.

To prevent as much distress as possible in your life, evaluate the four factors emotional, physical, chemical and thermal to find distress that can be eliminated.  Immediately remove the easy factors, then work on the more difficult ones in order to develop a life as free of distress as possible.  Your health, emotions and happiness will benefit greatly.