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Stressed Out

Life's mental grind could have serious side effects

by Mary Jo Ruggieri, PhD, RPP

One of the foundations for holistic health care is in truly understanding the effects of stress in our lives no matter how many vitamins and herbal remedies we take, no matter how many miles we jog, and no matter how many fruits and vegetables we eat, stress is the first and foremost detriment to our health, a silent threat to us all.

Stress-related diseases have reached epidemic proportions in our culture. According to he American Psychological Association, stress alone causes each American worker to miss an average of 16 days on the job every year. Ken Pelletier, in his research on stress as a serious health hazard, feels that the leading cause of mortality has shifted from the infectious illnesses that were prevalent at the beginning of the 20th century to the stress-induced illnesses of the 21st century. These chronic and lifestyle-related illnesses now account for the majority of recorded deaths.

Stress disorders are based upon a slow accumulation of psychological and physical intensity throughout one's entire life. Nobody can claim immunity.

The most negative result of excessive stress is the effect it has on a person's immune system. Stress is now being implicated in the pathogenesis of cancer and other dysfunctions related to auto-immune diseases, such as chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and asthma. The primary reason for the high correlation between many diseases and stress is simple: our bodies' protective systems-which can fight off invasion from irregular and abnormal cancer cells, simple bacterias and many viruses-are so compromised, they simply fail to do the job.

Take, for example, your automobile. Every 3,000 miles you change the oil and oil filters, every 15,000 miles you put in new points and plugs. If you don't, the systems start to fail, dirty oil stresses the mechanical operations, sluggish points cause the fuel not to burn adequately and will stress the engine. You compromise the efficiency of your car by not keeping all the systems stress-free.

Unfortunately, we relate to our cars better then we relate to our bodies! Is there a message here?

The effects of stress are physical. The voluntary nervous system sends messages to your muscles to get ready for a fight. In response to this immediate tension, the autonomic nervous system, which maintains involuntary body function, will prepare you for this fight by sending extra blood to your muscles. Your digestion will immediately slow down along with your mental sharpness and may organ functions. There are also hormonal changes that occur under stress and will produce hypersensitive effects on the body. In essence, your body becomes a walking war machine preparing for attack while shutting down many other vital organ functions. How much stress each person can handle depends upon her ability to cope with the physical, mental and emotional changes that occur with stressful situations. Stress is seriously linked to specific illnesses, as research now demonstrates. The truth of the matter is simply that nobody really functions well for long in overload mode. The body becomes insensitive to the effects of overloading and cannot handle it without some serious side effects.

I believe that, even with all of our medical advances and technological superiority, we have not realistically dealt with the serious effects of stress. We have identified stress as a very important component in many illnesses and diseases but we have yet to call it what it truly represents-a disease itself.

If we were addressing the problem, things would look different. First, money for research would be appropriated for prevention, for mind/body and holistic research, and for identifying the specific stresses related to each disease, prior to it manifesting on a physical level. By the time it can be seen on a mammogram, a bone scan, or chest x-ray, it has already become dangerous. Medicine in the future will have to move towards identifying problems much earlier.

Second, our educational institutions would look different. We would be working daily to teach our children to meditate, to integrate stress reduction activities into their lives such as tai chi, yoga, chi qigong, and relaxation exercises. There is a conscious thought in holistic healthcare that we are ill because we are never still. To teach our children early in life to recognize and deal with all levels of stress would be true gift.

Third, our workplace environments would look different. Short lunches, intense schedules, addictions to the 60-hour work week, and little if any down time within our actual work day are now normal. A powerful tool for any work center would be to include specific stress controls within the actual work day. Twice a month offer a 15 minute on-site chair bodywork sessions. Include a relaxation room with music for breaks or at 3 p.m. daily, everyone should stop and do 10 minutes of deep conscious breathing. Have vitamin C, ginger root, or Echinacea drinks instead of soft drinks in the vending machines.

Let's start looking into the many alternative healthcare choices and steps to take that will be effective in recognizing and reducing the stress in your life. The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Every step counts and awareness is a giant leap to understanding how we can heal ourselves

May the longtime sun shine upon you.

Mary Jo Ruggieri, PhD, RPP, is the Director of the Ohio Institute of Energetic Studies (Cleveland and Columbus Polarity Schools), which is a state registered school for Polarity Therapy training and Energy Science studies. satnam170@aol.com or (614) 299-9438

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