Dear Dr. Garner,
I am constantly under stress. I never feel relaxed. I feel this at work and at home. My eating habits have become crazy, and I know I must be hurting myself. I am 49 years old and an otherwise healthy person, but I don’t know for how long.
Please give me your ideas on what is going on.
Anxious in Astoria
Before I address your issue, I would like to wish all our readers a happy and healthful summer.
With the summer and vacation time here, it is a good time to relax and take stock of the year ahead. My wife and I will be traveling to Manchester, Vt., as we do every summer, with the Grisafis and the Carneseccas.
We also look forward to enjoying our “empty city” in the summer and meeting old friends such as the Paluszeks for dinner.
I hope all of our readers can take advantage of the longer daylight hours to walk, exercise and “smell the roses.”
Getting back to your question, stress can be as severe a risk factor for heart attacks as smoking.
The way people react to stress may be determined by genetics. The genes that control stress usually keep people functional and keep the stress in check. If these genes fail or mutate, a person may experience either too much or too little stress. Some stress is good, as it can keep us alert and safe, but when it controls your life, or becomes overbearing, it can be a major problem.
I would like to review, how to recognize the signs of stress and then how you can develop methods to lessen the stress that you experience.
The following are symptoms of overwhelming stress:
• Impatience or edginess
• Poor concentration
• Headaches and heart palpitations
• Chest pains
• Excessive intake of caffeine, cigarettes or alcohol
• Frequent colds – (immune system is actually impaired)
• Generalized feeling of anxiety
• Feeling exhausted
• Sleep problems – (A new study out last week shows that people who are prone to anxiety often have dramatic worsening of their stress with sleep deprivation. They anticipate problems at an increased rate, contributing to their anxiety).
If you have more than four of the above 10 symptoms, there is a good chance you are suffering from excessive stress and need to address the issue.
There are several home remedies for stress. When it interferes with everyday functioning, professional help should be sought. There are many psychiatrists and analysts who specialize in this, and I would be happy to give you a referral.
What can be done about stress?
• Aerobic exercise is one of the most important things you can do – walking is a great way to perform this task.
• Get outside when possible – a little sunshine can go a long way.
• Aroma therapy is something to try. Sit in a warm bath with some drops of lavender oil.
• Deep breathing exercises can really work to drain the stress away.
• Try some of the herbal teas, such as chamomile, valerian root or ginseng.
• Massage is a great relaxer.
• Learn to say no – stress is often caused by over commitments – you can only do so much, and trying to say yes all the time can be a big negative for you at work.
• Psychoanalysis and psychiatry may be necessary for resistant cases.
• Keep a stress diary – write down all the times you feel the most stress and why. Sometimes just writing it down can help you deal with the stress. Also, at night, if something is bothering you and preventing your sleep, write the problem down and agree not to think about it until morning.
• Sometimes pills are necessary, both to help with sleep as well as stress. It is very important to be closely monitored as these can become habit forming.
Stress can be harmful to your health and also prevent you from enjoying the good things in life. I urge you to discuss the situation with your doctor.
Once again, a great summer to all, and I’ll be back with new columns in a little while.[hr] Dr. Steven Garner is a Fidelis Care provider who is affiliated with New York Methodist Hospital, Park Slope. He also hosts “Ask the Doctor” on The NET, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Channel 97 Time Warner and Channel 30 Cablevision.