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David Burton
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December 15, 2017

Manage Stress so it Does Not Manage You;
Experts Say Stress is a National "Epidemic" in America

Manage Stress so it Does Not Manage You; Experts Say Stress is a National "Epidemic" in America

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - Everyone experiences daily, unavoidable stressors that test our human limits psychologically, emotionally, and physically.

Science has linked chronic stress to all sorts of health issues, including all of the leading causes of death - cardiovascular disease, cancer, accidents, and suicide according to Dr. Pam Duitsman, nutrition and health specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

"More subtle, but impactful, is the effect stress has to decrease our immune system, cause weight and body-fat changes, prevent us from sleeping, trigger migraines, and cause fatigue," said Duitsman.

Stress is also linked to negative quality of life measures - stealing our joy, peace, and sense of well-being; causing fear, mood swings, and at times intense and overwhelming emotions.

"Research shows stress can profoundly affect our brain, even decreasing our ability to remember and learn. Almost 90 percent of all visits to primary care providers are due to stress-related problems," said Duitsman.


Chronic stress is defined as a daily over-stimulation of our sympathetic nervous system. Stress is often a simple and natural reaction to our daily challenges.

"This sort of low-level, constant stress can overload our brain with hormones meant for fight or flight. Instead of helping to keep us safe, this automatic response can become a very damaging situation that begins to alter our physiology and health," said Duitsman.

According to Duitsman, repeated and chronic stress contributes to the development of diabetes, hypertension, fatigue, migraines, upset stomach, chest pain, poor sleep, irritability, skin conditions, breathing problems, depression, poor decision making, eating disorders, and other health concerns.

Spikes in stress can be triggers for heart attacks, arrhythmias, and strokes. Long term, the effect is diminished brain capacity and susceptibility to mental illness.

Medical experts and researchers have called stress a national "epidemic" in America, and a strong contributor to both high medical costs and poor medical outcomes. Violent crimes, including workplace and roadway violence, are linked to increased stress.

Significant events such as the death of a loved one, loss of job, or a bad diagnosis rate high on the stress scale.

"These situations are overwhelming, and may demand that we seek the advice and counsel of a trained professional to help us cope," said Duitsman. "However, it may be the day-to-day situations that are causing most of our chronic stress. Though not as severe, they seem to be everywhere, often unrelenting, and difficult to avoid."

The research on chronic stress and negative health impacts is clear and alarming.

However, reports also indicate that what causes stress for one person may be very different from what causes stress for another. How much of a load is too much for each person may be different.

"Researchers point out that the most important thing is that everyone should learn to minimize the stress in their lives," said Duitsman.


Healthy responses to stress can be learned according to Duitsman, and can help protect us from the most damaging impacts of stress.

Here are a few techniques that Duitsman recommends.

  • Determine the cause of your stress or keep a journal to record your physical symptoms or emotions, and the events, situations or people that trigger them. If possible, distance yourself from the identified stressor.

  • Develop a support system that includes people you trust. Studies show that those who manage stress well have strong support networks. Cultivate friendships with those who have similar values and goals.

  • Check your medications. A side effect may be anxiety.

  • Learn what your limits are, and set boundaries. When overwhelmed, learn to say no. Restructuring your priorities can simplify your life. Evaluate what is most important, and focus on those things. As you are able, you can add things back into your schedule.

  • Get some physical activity every day. Make it something you love to do. Exercise can mean walking the dogs, gardening, a brisk walk, golfing, shopping with a friend, yoga, or a host of more structured activities.

  • Eat a healthy diet and get adequate sleep.

  • Breathing exercises, prayer and meditation, gratitude journals, and volunteering are all beneficial in reducing stress.

Realize that quick fixes, such as eating, drug use or alcohol may make us feel better for a time, but rarely reduce any stress long term.

Everyone responds to stress differently. Duitsman says that one key is to listen to your body and develop healthy habits by starting small and taking a week to try something new.

"Stress touches everyone. Be alert to those around you, who are also likely experiencing a cycle of chronic stress. Acknowledgement, appreciation, and kindness can go a long way to help to create healthier environments in our workplaces, homes and communities," said Duitsman.


For more information on nutrition contact any of these nutrition specialists in southwest Missouri: Dr. Pam Duitsman in Greene County at (417) 881-8909; Lindsey Gordon Stevenson in Barton County at (417) 682-3579; Stephanie Johnson in Howell County at (417) 256-2391 or Mary Sebade in Dallas County at (417) 345-7551. The regional office of the Family Nutrition Education Program is located in Springfield and can be reached at (417) 886-2059. Nutrition information is also available online

Source: Dr. Pam Duitsman, (417) 881-8909, (417) 874-2957

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