Archive for December, 2012

Stress Can Cause Poor Health

Holiday stress free

As wonderful as the holiday season can be, social events, shopping, home decorations and many other holiday activities can really stress us out.

Could this cause health issues? You bet.

Stress not only makes us feel awful emotionally, but it can actually make us ill.

When we feel stressed, our bodies respond by releasing energy-producing hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. This causes the “flight or fight” response that physically prepares us to respond to a stressful situation.

Have you ever had your heart pound quickly with rapid breathing when you’ve been suddenly startled by something or when you’ve been in a very emotional argument? These reactions are caused by the flight-or-fight response.

Usually, when the stress is over, the stress hormones revert back to normal levels, we feel better and no harm is done.

If stress persists, though, and we are constantly bombarded by the stress hormones, many of our bodily functions can be disrupted, leading to significant health problems.

Chronic stress can cause some troubling health problems:

– Heart disease, especially high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes

– Insomnia and depression

– Obesity and digestive problems

– Asthma and diabetes

– Alzheimer’s disease and accelerated aging

Although we may not be able to eliminate all of our stresses, we can change how we respond to them.

Stress management is a recognized method of dealing with stress by using these strategies while in the throes of a stressful situation:

Take some deep slow breaths and try to relax tensed-up muscles, such as those in the jaw and the shoulders.

Reframe your stressful situation by finding something positive about what is going on at the time.

Focus on the present moment, as much of our stress comes from something in the past or in the immediate future.

Keep things in perspective — does the stressful event really have any long-term consequences?

Think about all the good things in your life.

Consider more long-term techniques for dealing with life’s stresses, too, such as regular exercise (that’s one reason I ride my bicycle as often as I can).

It also helps to maintain a healthy diet, get adequate rest, foster enjoyable friendships and have a good sense of humor.

Try practicing yoga or other known relaxation techniques, or rely on your own personal religious beliefs to find peace and comfort.

Managing stress will not only improve our piece of mind but will promote a healthier and longer life.

Have a very relaxing and peaceful holiday.

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It’s getting to be the time of year when respiratory illnesses, such as colds, coughs and the flu, begin to make more of us ill.

I’m frequently asked by patients whether they can return to work or school or resume exercising when feeling sick. I’d like to offer some guidelines to help make such decisions.

I know missing work or school can mean falling behind on one’s workload, but going to work or school while ill can not only prolong an illness, but also spread it to others.

It seems employers and educators are becoming more tolerant of excused absences due to illness. They realize that not only will workers or students who are sick be less productive, but they may cause others to become ill and affect the entire office or classroom.

In fact, it has been reported that more than two-thirds of all health-related productivity losses are the result of sick employees who show up and perform poorly — not those who miss work to recover.

As a rule, stay home when ill:

– If you have a fever (100 degrees or higher).

– If you experience frequent coughing or sneezing.

– If you are taking medication that may make you dizzy, lightheaded or unable to concentrate.

– If you have vomiting or diarrhea.

Consider returning to work or school when the above symptoms have cleared up.

Meanwhile, you can take several precautions — whether at home, at work or at school — to help keep from spreading illness to others.

Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or with a hand sanitizer, and keep your hands away from your face.

Cover your face when sneezing or coughing, using tissue paper or the sleeve on your arm.

Try to stay several feet from face-to-face contact with those around you.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of keeping distance between those who are sick and others who are not. Germs are spread through respiratory droplets from our noses and mouths. In normal conversation and breathing, those droplets from the mouth may extend out one or two feet from you, but a sneeze or cough can spread them an estimated six to eight feet.

Those who are healthy need to act defensively when in the presence of someone who is showing symptoms of an illness.

Mild to moderate physical activity is usually OK if you have a common cold and no fever. Don’t exercise if you have a fever, fatigue or widespread muscle aches.

If you do choose to exercise when you’re sick, reduce the intensity and length of your workout. Exercising at your normal intensity when you have more than a simple cold puts you at risk for a more serious illness.

Let your body be your guide. If you have a cold and feel miserable, take a break. Scaling back or taking a few days off from exercise when you’re sick shouldn’t affect your performance. Resume your normal workout routine gradually as you begin to feel better.

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