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Fixin' Healthcare

Monday, November 14, 2005

Lives of Quiet Desperation

Eureka! Stress is on everyones's mind as if suddenly it has been discovered. Could this be the reason that so many people are overweight? And, of course, there follows the marketing of miracle products that claim to transform all who are stressed and overweight into slim, athletic and vivacious beings.

How important is stress? Stress causes increased appetite with sugar craving and increased body fat mostly deposited in the abdomen. Stress interferes with sleep. Stress alters normal immune response. Stress can be a basis for allergies, asthma, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel, cardiovascular disease and increased risk for cancer. Stress is a dangerous aspect of unhealthy lifestyle and a common cause of accelerated aging and chronic disease. Stress makes people sick and stress kills.

Acute stress is the metabolic response to danger and surprise. Adrenalin, cortisol and insulin act in a related fashion to prepare and support the body for "fight or flight". Usually, the metabolic response resolves when the danger or surprise is past. Repeated acute stress and chronic stress alter metabolism on a prolonged basis and cause accelerated aging and chronic disease. The mind-body link is expressed through metabolism. The central nervous system controls the hormones that manage metabolism.

It is a serious and even fatal mistake to think that stress cannot be controlled or that medications will resolve stress. Those conclusions lead to suffering from the metabolic consequences of repeated acute stress and chronic stress. Managing stress requires a direct response and the pathway is identified by old fashioned values. A sense of accomplishment, service and control are important. An organized mind, focus and commitment are required. Remove some of the clutter from life.

Identify those things that bring happiness or satisfaction and those things that do not. Where possible pursue and avoid situations as they are appropriate to well-being. Engage in physical activity (walking and moving around) throughout the day and slowly increase exercise (dedicated walking or running, stretching and resistance training). Avoid fatigue from a lack of sleep. Get to bed at the same time every night and sleep seven to eight hours. Get some down time to engage in activities that are fun and/or stimulating. Spend time with family and cultivate a circle of friends. Share experiences. Participate in church. Consider public service activity that helps others. Praise others without expecting praise in return. Learn relaxation, breathing and meditation techniques to determine if they are helpful.

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." Those words by Henry David Thoreau appeared in Walden in 1854. Do you suppose people crossing the country in wagon trains did not have stress? Was the Great Depression stressful? How about World War I and II? Has no one before had a close relative or fiend become sick, disabled or die? Yet, the current magnitude of the national problem with overweight and obesiy did not appear until the 1970's.

Stress has always been there and always will be. It is not new. Eating highly processed food, inactivity, lack of sleep, ingesting large quantities of chemicals such as artifical sweetnerers and taking multiple drugs are new. You and no one else are in control of the basic and important aspects of lifestyle. Your motivation, focus, planning and daily commitment to a healthy lifestyle will lead to weight reduction, improved performance and feeling better with more energy and less fatigue. Stress management starts there.

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