Recurrent Breast Cancer

Saturday, October 6, 2012

 Stress Making You Sick?
Pounding headache, tight chest, queasy stomach, or poor sleep? Beware. These are warning signs of stress. It will affect your health.  Over a ten-year study period, twenty two thousand women in health care professions reported these symptoms. They worked in high stress jobs with multiple demands and had little to no control of their work. The study, published in the July 2012 of PLos One (, concluded that they were sixty seven percent more likely to have a heart attack than women in less intense jobs. 

Too much stress can overpower the body’s “fight or flight” mode. Stress depresses the immune system, impairs alertness, and interrupts sleep. This leads to negative effects in multiple body systems, including the brain and heart. It increases risk for type two diabetes, insomnia, and switching healthy meals for”junk food.” 

How does this affect your health? Stress triggers release of adrenaline, cortisol, and cytokines. Over the long term, this contributes to fatigue, poor sleep, lack of energy, muscle tightness, headache, heart palpitations, impaired memory, and upset stomach. Chronic stress weakens the immune system and increases risk for colds. The result is increased tobacco use, less exercise, and consumption of junk food. Stress may be linked to Alzheimer’s disease when there is loss of a spouse. 

How to deal with stress: A May 2012 study of sixty five African Americans, published in The Gerontologist, demonstrated that hymn singing, such as “Amazing Grace,” helped them through difficult times, including serious illness and death of a family member. Women are more likely than men to use stress management techniques. Praying, reading, spending time with family and friends, shopping, massage, and consulting a mental health professional were beneficial.
 Stress busting techniques: “Mindful mediation” includes focused breathing, and online stress reduction courses. Biofeedback incorporates reduction of heart rate and muscle tightness using guided imagery with controlled breathing. Exercise with deep breathing releases endorphins. These neurotransmitters enhance brain function by stimulating neuron function. Self-massage of the temples and forehead, rolling tennis ball on the forearm and massage therapy help manage and relieve stress.

Email woes: A May 2012 study at the University of California at Irvine and the U.S. Army found that people who avoided email access for five days had less stress than those who did not. Workers who checked email daily had higher heart rate. How about going “cold turkey” from your computer for a few days?

 Tools and information sources: 

Massage therapy:
Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies:

Six Myths About Stress:   

American Psychological Association:

Source: Consumer Health Reports on Health, vol. 24, number 10, October 2012.

For comments and questions, contact Dr. Clem at