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Stress 101

Although the first dictionary entry for the word stress is not for the emotional use of the word, it is, perhaps inadvertently, the perfect word picture—“force exerted upon a body, that tends to strain or deform its shape.” With the current economic realities, many are feeling strained or deformed under the stress on their lives today.

The ‘stress response’ was first discovered in the mid 1930’s by Dr. Hans Selye, a Canadian endocrinologist. Today stress is described as two different types--acute and chronic. Acute stress is short-lived but may be experienced with greater severity. Chronic stress is prolonged and excessive. “When we aren’t able to recover, or remove ourselves from it, there is a transition into distress (stress disease). This causes adrenaline exhaustion and begins to erode the foundations of mental and physical health. The mind and body are not equipped to handle the process of ongoing chronic stress”(1).

“According to the American Institute on Stress, 80-90% of all doctors’ visits are stress-related. … Last year, the American Heart Association reported that more than 50 million Americans suffer from high blood pressure and nearly 60 million suffer from some form of cardiovascular disease. This results in more than a million deaths every year—or one every 32 seconds. As a matter of fact, heart disease has been the leading cause of death in the United States every year since 1900 (except 1918—the great flu pandemic) and crosses all racial, gender, socioeconomic, and age barriers”(2). Heart disease, however, is only one of the many physical ailments which is linked to stress. Chronic stress can also cause headaches, digestive problems, back pain, sleep difficulties, as well as weaken your immune system leaving you vulnerable to a whole range of other illnesses and conditions.

In addition to the physical toll that chronic stress takes on the body, there is also an emotional toll. Just last week the Winston-Salem Journal carried an article written by Abigail Tratford of The Washington Post entitled “A feeling of gloom descends on boomers.” It describes the “dark angst” spread among 60-somethings not just because they are getting older but because the “toxic economy” has them living in fear of outliving their money.

God created us in His image. The Gospels tell us that even Jesus withdrew from time to time to spend time with His Father. But He also had a human body which felt fatigue and exhaustion and needed time to rest and recover. We were not designed to live under endless chronic stress, either physically or emotionally. Self-care, even in the most difficult of times, is essential. Our lives may depend on it!

(1) Archibald Hart & Catherine Hart Weber, “Stress & Anxiety,” in Caring for People God’s Way, ed. Clinton, Hart & Ohlschlager (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 163.
(2)George Ohlschlager & Eric Scalise, “Your Heart, Stress and Everyday Life: Learning How to Slow Down and Live,” Christian Counseling Today, Vol. 16 No. 2, 24.

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