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Stress Guide

The Silent Killer

    The death of a partner, divorce, personal illness or injury are among life’s most stressful events. But it doesn’t take just one or some of these pressure cookers to induce stress in your life. A combination of these experiences, or even just the grind of work, family and day-to-day living in today’s hectic and demanding environment can take a toll, creating chronic stress.
    Chronic stress is stress that extends over long periods of time or recurs on a regular basis. While it differs from person to person, it’s a safe bet that if you feel stressed every day for months at a time—not just a few days here or there when a specific event arises—you suffer from chronic stress. Even if those specific events come up regularly over the course of months, you might be suffering from this silent killer.
    That’s the trouble with diagnosing stress. Often, the signs are not easy to pin down. Common symptoms resulting from stress include disrupted eating habits, restless sleeping patterns, upset stomach, headaches, back pain and anxiety attacks, but the physical ramifications of long-term and chronic stress can be life threatening, and they can cause or contribute to such illnesses as high blood pressure, heart disease and a compromised immune system, which can lead to additional serious ailments.
    There are many actions you can take to relieve both short-term and chronic stress in your life, including exercising and eating a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep, acquiring time-management skills and engaging in relaxing hobbies.
    Talking to a licensed counselor or therapist can help you manage stress, too. Psychiatric medications used to treat stress include antidepressants, with such brand names as Prozac, Zoloft and Wellbutrin, and anti-anxiety medications such as Valium and Xanax. These require a prescription from a licensed doctor or psychiatrist.
    Many people may react well to drug therapy and counseling for managing stressful events and situations. Other stress sufferers report successful stress management with another technique, medical hypnotherapy.
    Medical hypnotherapy, using hypnosis to treat medical conditions, is gaining respect in the traditional medical community, especially since a recent study conducted at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center revealed that women may feel less pain and have an easier recovery from breast cancer surgery if they undergo a series of hypnotherapy sessions first. Hypnosis has been approved for use in medicine by the American Medical Association since 1958, but it is not meant to replace psychological or medical treatment; it is regarded as a supplement and a possible alternative treatment, serving as another avenue toward healing that attempts to get at the root of a problem. Patients should consult with a physician or therapist about medical or psychological conditions before seeking treatment.
Seth-Deborah Roth, an Oakland-based certified clinical hypnotherapist and a certified nurse anesthetist, says hypnosis allows a patient to access his or her subconscious mind, revealing the origins of anxiety and stress, which helps to address the emotions that create stress in the first place.
    “There is a direct connection between the subconscious and the physical being,” explains Roth. She notes that thoughts have a direct influence on the functioning body, including the hypothalamus, which is part of the limbic system and regulates such things as blood pressure, heart rate, hunger, thirst, sexual arousal and the sleep cycle. When the body exists in a constant state of overstimulation due to chronic stress, the lack of balance can cause significant problems.
    “Your thoughts create a physical response in your body,” says Roth. “Hypnosis works to alter your thoughts by delving into the origin of your thoughts, the memories and things from your past that might be holding you back and helping to create stress in your life.”
    Medical hypnotherapy does not end with the discovery of deep-rooted memories, but continues with methods of dealing with them as they occur and creating techniques and tools to rely on during stressful times.
    “It’s learning different ways of behaving and taking advantage of new and more positive ways to handle the events in our lives that help relieve stress,” says Roth, because stress happens in life, and it’s how you manage it that makes the difference.

General Resources

The Stress Management Handbook: Strategies for Health and Inner Peace by Lori A. Leyden-Rubenstein, Ph.D.

Managing Stress:  Principles and Strategies for Health and Well-Being, Fifth Edition by Brian Luke Seaward, Ph.D.

Health Agencies and Web Sites
The American Institute of Stress, www.stress.org, (914) 963-1200

The Stress Free Network, www.stressfree.com, www.stressfocus.com
American Psychotherapy and Medical Hypnosis Association, www.apmha.com, (509) 662-5131

Stress Management Resources from Mind Tools, www.mindtools.com/smpage.html

The Holmes-Rahe Scale, www.geocities.com/beyond_stretched/holmes.htm

The Family Stress Center, www.familystresscenter.org, (925) 827-0212

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