Paragon Press – April 2014

Stressed Out!

It’s all in your head…

Taxes overdue? Problems in your marriage? Not enough time in the day to get it all done? What are you doing about this stress? Some stress can be motivating, but when it becomes overwhelming, you need to take steps to lower it. Stress demonstrates its effects on our bodies in many ways: tense muscles that cause pain, heartburn, indigestion, decreased ability to fight infections and viruses, headaches, and disrupted sleep patterns, to name a few. There is a definite link between the physical and emotional states of our bodies. Studies on how stress compromises our immunity and wound healing demonstrate this. The good news is there are several things you can do to prevent or cope with stress, and stop it from getting the best of you.

Doctors in past generations used the “It’s all in your head” phrase a lot when it came to pain that was unexplained. Stress can exacerbate conditions you already have. Knowing that what happens in the brain affects the body can help us understand how we can reduce the effects of stress. When we have psychological stress, cortisol and other hormones make us ready to take action, otherwise known as the “Fight or Flight” mechanism. If the stress is from losing your job or impending surgery, the body’s reaction to “fight or flight” is not helpful. Neck muscles staying tense, the sleep disruptions, and a clenched jaw take a toll. This state of alarm can have a very negative effect on the body.

Being a patient is stressful!

Both before and after surgery, patients sometimes find themselves overwhelmed with stress.

How will I get around after surgery? I can’t afford the time off from work. What if the surgery doesn’t work?

Here are some things you can do to reduce the stress:

  • Get some exercise. You release endorphins when you exercise, which make you feel good. You also will use up the stress hormones your body has released when its under stress. Eliminate the negative emotional energy.
  • Go to bed at a decent hour and try not to take a nap longer than 30 minutes. You want to stay on a schedule of sleep, so your body has enough time to completely rest and recover.
  • Eat a balanced diet, including plenty of rehydrating fluids, fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Do something with a friend. Social interaction and talking about what stresses you has been proven to relieve stress.

Other ideas

Some patients find that keeping a diary of how they are feeling helps them recognize patterns, such as headaches, or triggers. Try rating your pain level on a 1 to 10 scale several times a day. Progressive muscle relaxation, developed by physician Edmund Jacobsen in the 1920’s, is a technique where you consciously tense and relax groups of muscles. A link at the end of this newsletter explains this technique in further detail. You might find that putting your stress into words is helpful by itself. Keeping a journal of what stresses you helps you organize your thoughts and can put the stressors into focus, triggering a sense of control.

What about Marijuana?

While some advocate for its use to relieve stress, a recent study at Northwestern University has found that even a little recreational use causes changes in the brain. These researchers discovered abnormalities in two vital brain regions responsible for motivation and emotions. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that smoking pot will not have harmful consequences. The data from this research directly contradicts the common notion that a little bit of pot is harmless.

“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” – Leo Buscaglia

The following articles were referenced for this newsletter: