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Stress: More Deadly Than Ever
Posted by JOHN DOTY on May 1, 2003 - 11:26:00 AM


"What a marvel !" I remember thinking to myself in 7th grade, as the teacher wheeled in the timesaver of the future. Yes, it was a computer. Huge, as I recall. It could actually do addition and subtraction. That was all it could do, but what else was needed? Standing almost 6 feet tall on the metal stand, "this marvel," it was explained, " will result in increased productivity and more leisure time." It truly boggled my mind.

That was in 1967. Fast forward to June 6, 1983, where the cover of Time Magazine declared, "Stress: The Epidemic of the Eighties." The1983 article revealed that 55% of people polled felt under a great deal of stress on a weekly basis. Oddly enough, in 1996 a Prevention magazine survey found that 75% feel they have "great stress" one day a week with one out of three responding they felt highly stressed more than twice a week. It seems that rather than being a boon to modern man, the computer age may bring the undoing. Rather than having more time for leisure activities, we now have more time for, you guessed it, more work. Now able to do the work in a fraction of the time, you are certainly able to do 3-4 times the amount of work.

So where does this all lead? Stress is a contributing factor to deadly maladies. This includes Cardiovascular Diseases, such as coronary heart disease, sudden death, congestive heart failure and, among others, strokes. Stress contributes to Neurologic Disorders, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, memory loss, migraine and tension headaches. Psychiatric disorders, such as depression, anxiety and panic disorders, alcoholism and drug addiction; and malignancies, including breast, prostate, and lung cancer can also result from stress. There are a host of other adverse conditions brought on by our addiction to the fast paced lifestyle the modern, computer driven business world demands.

So what is stress? The stress response of the body is somewhat like an airplane readying for take-off. Virtually all systems (e.g. the heart and blood vessels, the immune system, the lungs, the digestive system, the sensory organs, and brain) are modified to meet the perceived danger. People can experience either external or internal stressors. External stressors, for example are reactions to adverse physical conditions (such as pain or hot or cold temperatures) or stressful psychological environments (such as poor working conditions or abusive relationships). Humans, like animals, can experience external stressors. Internal stressors may also be physical or psychological. An example of a psychological stressor would be worrying about unfounded fears, more simply put: intense worry about a harmful event that may or may not occur. These types of psychological stressors are a direct result of the demands and competition which are continuously present in the work environment, not to mention the financial challenges growing out of constant fear that our jobs will be in jeopardy if we do not "go the full mile," to please the boss or supervisor, who is after all, working at the behest of, you guessed it, the computer.

In reality, isn't the computer the very mechanism which defines the "bottom line"? The computer tells you your credit score, decides how your productivity is compared to others. Imagine, the computer as the "anti-christ?" Conformity, productivity, good credit and proper business manners as the "mark of the beast?" We have all seen recently how opposition to "Gorgeous George's" latest police action brands one as a traitor. We are all trapped by the "corporate crack" better known as credit cards and commercial debt. Once it has you, it has you good. Work, mostly degrading work and work ethics, makes us fight for our very lives as if we had been thrown to the (corporate) lions.

But, before packing it all up and moving to Montana, which is a scary thought, what can we do to take charge of managing the stress in our lives? A simple and proactive approach would be to take a hard look at your diet. Do you tend to eat more fast foods than before? Are dinners pre-cooked, sodium and fat saturated manifestations of the advertisement you saw on television last night? It really doesn�t take a lot more time to eat sensibly. If you must eat fast food, take advantage of the "healthy choices," such as chicken salads or soups offered on the menu. Virtually every restaurant has meals that are healthy. If you must have a hamburger, have just the meat patty with sliced tomatoes and a side salad. Even better, since turkey burgers are now widely offered, opt for the turkey patty instead of beef. By the way, turkey is rich in the amino acid L-Tryptophan, known for its relaxing properties. If you drive in the car, buy a small, portable cooler and stock it with fruit, nuts, a yogurt and juices. That way, stops at 7-11 for the Twix bar and a Coke are avoided. Oh, and don�t forget what I said last month: drink plenty of water. Onerous measures for better eating habits? Not at all.

So what else can we do to combat stress? Instead of fantasizing on how to get even with that overbearing, anal-retentive boss or that pushy, backstabbing co-worker, go for a good workout. As I have proffered in past articles, you do not have to go to a gym to get a good workout. Most of our readers reside in the glorious canyons and mountains, which are a rich exercise environment. The point is, commit to some sort of vigorous exercise at least 5-6 times per week. Some prefer morning workouts. Some mid-day. Others, nighttime. Only you know which is best for you. Pick your best time to exercise and commit to it. Look at it as your medicine for stress. Exercise releases endorphines, your body's "feel good" natural drug. Exercise reduces stress and, more importantly, mitigates the adverse effects of stress. If you are not sure about your workout, hire a personal trainer for a session or two to show you what to do. And then engage their services once a month to check your form and "fine tune" your regime. It is not that expensive and the benefits derived far outweigh any costs. Cheap money compared to a nervous breakdown, total burnout or death.

Stress is the by-product of our modern age. Face it. The key is to develop and commit to the proper coping mechanisms: be it healthy diet, good exercise, meditation, yoga, a move to the Caribbean or any combination of the above. I, for one, truly believe that our natural state as humans is to be happy and (internally) stress free. Remember this: eat well and manage your stress by exercising and taking time to "smell the roses.

Note to readers: In last month's column I stated that I would feature indoor rock climbing in this issue. Because I believe stress to be a serious block to healthy living, I felt compelled to address ways to combat stress. Next month you can look forward to indoor rock climbing.


Cliffside Malibu




Serving Bel Air, Benedict Canyon, Beverly Hills. Brentwood, Laurel Canyon, Los Feliz, Malibu, Pacific Palisades, Melrose, Santa Monica, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Topanga, Canyon, Westwood & Hollywood Hills.