Stress Comes of Age

by Susan Andrews, PhD

For generations traditional medicine has refused to consider “stress” and
other emotional problems as having a direct effect on our body and health.
The doctor might nod sagely and say things like, “it’s all in your head or that
is just your imagination.” Slowly, persistently, the evidence built up showing
many direct effects of stress on the body. Then, the stress was shown to be
transmitted across generations – from a parent to the child, not just
environmentally, but also physically – in the developing brain of the neonate.

But, today, it appears as if stress as a topic of real consideration has come
of age. Cardiologists and internists are now overheard as saying, “next visit
we will talk about stress.” It is like the physicians have decided that stress
and its many “physical friends and relations” really should belong to
medicine, as much as if not more than it does to psychologists. This may
afford psychologists an opportunity to build working relationships with
medical practices. Medical professionals may be able to talk about stress in
physical and medical terms but stress is still best treated without medication
and before it causes illness.

Not only can physicians now be heard talking about stress to their patients,
but also more and more continuing education programs are focusing on the
topic. Most recently, the serious connection between stress and
inflammation is being taught around the world. This is hugely important as
unresolved inflammatory responses are fingered as the root cause of many
chronic illnesses and dis-eases, such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome,
age-related changes and neurodegeneration, heart disease, cancer, MS,
ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s Disease, and Rheumatoid arthritis.

You can appreciate how close the relationship between chronic stress and
chronic inflammation is when you look at the potential causes of just one
chronic inflammatory illness, such as chronic inflammation in the digestive
tract. The #1 cause is often listed as Emotional Stress in the form of panic
attacks, rapid pulse, with night sweats. This constellation of symptoms is a
sign of a cortisol-prompted inflammation. When cortisol remains high in the
blood (immune system and adrenals on overdrive), it results in dilated blood
vessels that force blood to your organs in preparation of an attack. The #2
cause is Physical Stress.

Another indicator that Stress has come of age is the number of related hits
Google gives you for a search on “stress.” Any guess between 115,000,000
and 150,000,000 is acceptable. Actually, today the result was 131,000,000.
The results range from causes and triggers of stress to Symptoms of
Anxiety and Stress to things stress is associated with to ways to manage
stress.

It is the ways to manage stress that we do best as psychologists. The bulk
of the 131 million websites that came up are focused on ways to reduce,
manage, get rid of, or lower stress. Many of these websites are very
superficial and even misleading. Or, they are aimed at selling their product.
Stress can almost never be properly managed by simply reading an article
or book or looking at a website. It takes time, determination and good
coaching or therapy for a person to begin to drop bad habits, learn how to
live a more healthy life, and then finally put what they learned into real
action. The techniques to reduce stress only work if you use them.

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