This article is the first in a series about stress; what stress is, what it does to our bodies, its long-term impact on mental and physical health, where it comes from, and what we can do to manage it.
Stress is one of those tricky terms that everyone knows what it means on an intuitive level, but cannot agree on how to define it. It is something we feel, but would be very hard-pressed to explain. The American Institute of Stress gives a popular definition of “a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.” The problem is since one circumstance that seems stressful to one person may not bother another person, it is very difficult to accurately measure stress levels.
Top causes of stress in the United States include job pressure, money matters, health concerns, problems with relationships and sleep deprivation. Over 70% of people surveyed in the U.S. reported experiencing physical or psychological stress on a regular basis. It has been estimated that employers lose $300 billion a year due to stress-related illness and work loss.
Stress-related illness occurs when we remain in a stressed state for extended periods of time. Such illnesses can be psychological, biological and cognitive. For example, a study by Dr. Sheldon Cohen at Carnegia Mellon showed an increased risk of cold for people who suffered from chronic stress (stress that occurs for a month or longer) over those without stressors. Research has indicated that depression is the most common stress-related illness, with “social stressors” such as relationship issues or the loss of a loved one being the strongest. There have also been connections drawn between heart disease and prolonged stress.
Tough economic times and constant changes in our lifestyles to keep up with the times have increased stress levels all around the world. It is up to us to gauge our stress levels and determine if our state of mind is being damaged by it. The following is a list of indicators that your mental well-being is being affected by chronic stress:
• Constant feelings of irritation or anger
• Recurring sadness or crying
• Loss of interest in hobbies or activities you enjoyed prior
• Inability to sleep or a constant need to sleep
• Persistent anxiety or panic attacks
• A noticeable loss of focus or deficits in memory
• Deterioration in personal relationships or job performance
• Increased tendencies towards alcohol consumption or drug use
The Disney Family Cancer Center offers stress reduction classes for $8.00 each. Techniques for muscle relaxation and imagery are used to calm the mind. Different classes may be offered at different times of the year. For information, call (818) 748-4701.