It feels as if the level of stress that people are experiencing is on a level or scale that is and should be of concern to most of us, particularly because it is beginning to affect younger people.
In the United Kingdom, it is being reported that the issue of mental health problems among the younger generation is becoming alarming. While there might not be any statistics to quote in Nigeria as to the numbers of young people affected, word of mouth and stories reported in the press are indicators of reasons to be concerned.
Over the past few years, I have received several letters from readers describing emotional and psychological problems that have their origins from stress that was not acknowledged or managed until it developed into major health problems. What has alarmed me is the gradual increase in letters I have received over the last few months that have come from much younger readers, in their early twenties. I am also receiving more letters from young men and women writing about their inability to cope in their marriages, young mothers feeling unable to cope with work and motherhood.
When I receive the letters, my first thought is where is the family support? There appears to be a gap somewhere and young couples do not appear to be coping. Then I look at the letters I get from the older generation and they appear not to be coping with that either.
I am left with the conclusion that there is a problem across the board. Then I read of the increase in the rate of suicide, domestic violence, rape and the level of violence exhibited in the country in general, and I realise that we are not coping with our stress levels.
Stress is something that can manifest in a variety of symptoms. Sometimes it can be so innocuous as to be mistaken or misunderstood for something unimportant thereby left unattended until it actually becomes a crisis. Everybody’s stress level or breaking point is different, so it is imperative to be aware of your own. You don’t have to be a physician to know when you are feeling out of sorts or feeling like you can’t cope with life or you are feeling particularly anxious continuously.
In past articles, I have written about stress and its damaging effects. I keep returning to it for a few reasons. I see the insidious effects of it on a daily basis. Some of it is within my own life when I feel a sense of being out of control or overwhelmed. I have learnt to identify what my triggers are and what my warning signals tell me. I have learnt that I ignore them at my own peril. I have also seen the effects of stress in the lives of friends, family, colleagues and sometimes, even the ordinary man on the street. The thing about stress is that if ignored, it can lead to other more serious health problems
Sometimes, it’s the very things that give us joy and comfort that can bring us the most stress. For instance, work, family obligations and money worries can all add up and leave one feeling overwhelmed.
Of course, there is good stress and bad stress. The first one tends to have a motivating effect on us, leading us to be more productive and to take healthy risks to advance or promote career options. Then, there is the other stress (the bad one), that makes you have many sleepless nights, and impacts adversely on your mental and physical health.
According to medical diagnosis on stress, when you are in a stressful situation, your body releases hormones, adrenaline amongst other things, which go on to cause the physical symptoms of stress. Some of these include sweating, cramps, dizziness, fainting, chest pains, constipation, sexual problems, insomnia and increase in blood pressure. You may have a few or many of these symptoms; consequently your immune system may be compromised, making you more susceptible to illness. As we know, the long term effect of unmanaged high blood pressure may result in heart attacks or strokes.
The psychological effects of stress may manifest itself in displaced anger, depression, anxiety, poor eating habits, persistent or non-definable reasons for crying, trouble concentrating or sleeping.
Life today can be very stressful. The tough economic climate has hit many people quite harshly. People have to engage in things that may not necessarily be conducive for healthy living. Families are struggling to stay together and if they manage to, many are not necessarily cohesive or supportive to one another.
The ways to cope with stress include seeking out a trusted person or people to share your worries with (a problem shared is a problem halved). You can get tremendous relief from having a good talk with someone. But you need to be selective in your choice of confidants so as not to create more stress for yourself.
Taking some control of your life if you find you have not can lead to feeling strong, confident, empowered and with reduced stress; in the knowledge that you are living your best life.
Sometimes, engaging in mindless activities and chatter, rather than decrease stress, has the potential to increase it as a result of its monotony and fruitlessness, leaving one feeling empty and unfulfilled.
One has to be creative in the things one does to de-stress one’s life. In these difficult financial times, where so many people are looking for any work they can find, it may sound ludicrous to suggest reducing your work load, but it just might be helpful to remember that if you fall ill, you lose out altogether anyway, and maybe with even more disastrous consequences.
Try to bring more humour and fun into your life and remember the adage that laughter is the best medicine. A little exercise goes a long way, so try to include some in your daily life. Not only does it help to produce useful things for your body, it also has all the benefits of weight management and it reduces stress.
The contents on this page are only meant for information purposes and must not be used to diagnose or to treat any medical condition. If you feel you are affected by anything you read, please consult a health professional.
How stress can cause a heart attack
A stressful, high-octane lifestyle is probably one of the worst things you can do for your heart, and cardiologists now have a better understanding of why.
In a large-scale longitudinal study, published Wednesday in the medical journal The Lancet, a team of cardiologists at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital found that stress increases heart attack risk by way of an overactive amygdala in the brain.
The amygdala is the brain’s fear center. The small, almond-shaped region in the temporal lobe lights up in reaction to fear, anxiety, stress or anything else that signals a potential threat (real or perceived). A healthy amygdala can help to protect the brain against stress, while an amygdala that’s hyper-excitable as a result of chronic stress or other factors can amplify the stress response.
The new study shows, for the first time, how an overactive amygdala can cause heart attack and stroke. When stress triggers the amygdala, it activates bone marrow and inflammation of the arteries to create the conditions for a heart attack.
“Our results provide a unique insight into how stress may lead to cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Ahmed Tawakol, a Harvard cardiologist and the study’s lead author, said in a statement. “This raises the possibility that reducing stress could produce benefits that extend beyond an improved sense of psychological well-being.”
For the study, 293 people over age 30, all without heart problems, were measured for brain activity, bone marrow activity and inflammation of the arteries. The researchers followed the participants for four years, from 2005 to 2008, during which time 22 participants experienced serious cardiac events.
Participants with more active amygdalas (as determined by the initial brain scans) were more likely to have a cardiac event over the course of the study period, and were more likely to develop heart problems sooner than those with less active amygdalas.
Inflammation is known to create blockages in the arteries, which can cut off blood flow to the heart, while bone marrow activity has been linked to blood clots ― another known risk factor for heart attacks.
In a small sub-study, 13 patients with a history of PTSD had their stress levels assessed by psychology, and underwent brain scans and tests of inflammation levels. Those with the highest stress levels showed the greatest amygdala activity, and also showed more signs of inflammation.
“Eventually, chronic stress could be treated as an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which is routinely screened for and effectively managed like other major cardiovascular disease risk factors,” Tawakol said.