Dr. Thomas Leytham, a primary care physician who recently joined the University of South Alabama Knollwood Physicians Group, said stress is one of the most important factors to address in order to maintain a healthy balance in life.
He said people placed in stressful situations can have a measurable decrease in their immune function, which can make them more susceptible to acute infections such as the common cold.
“Prolonged stress also tends to affect hormone and nervous system function and can cause elevations in blood pressure and heart rate,” Dr. Leytham said. “After a time, these problems can significantly contribute to heart disease, diabetes and other medical complications.”
Dr. Leytham said stress also affects our quality of life and our behavior. The good news, he said, is that there are some simple methods to decrease the effects of excess stress without having to go to a physician.
“Most of these are common sense things like staying away from toxic situations that you can avoid and having some quiet time set aside each day,” he said. “However, some people – especially working parents – may find it difficult to do either of these things.”
Other healthy measures to take are to exercise frequently, get a good night's sleep, and keep a handwritten journal whenever your emotions are being heavily influenced by the stress you are under.
“I often try to encourage people to build some structure in their life in order to better accommodate for the constant pressure they are under,” Dr. Leytham said.
Examples of structure include going to bed at the same time each night, exercising at the same time each day, journaling nightly, having a date night with your spouse each week, or going to church at the same time each week. “These things not only bring structure to your weekly schedule, but they also allow you a chance to catch your breath – to sing/pray/meditate or otherwise enjoy spending time with others who care about you.”
Dr. Leytham said that if it is unlikely that your stressors will be going away any time soon and you are under enough stress that you are beginning to experience physical symptoms, then it is probably time to talk to your physician.
Physical symptoms related to stress include the following:
• Trouble falling asleep
• Trouble staying asleep
• Appetite problems
• Not feeling enjoyment – especially when doing things that used to bring you joy
Dr. Leytham said many of the people who appear to you to have everything under control in their lives are often going through some of the same struggles that you are, and it is affecting their health and happiness as well.
“Sometimes the easiest way to decide what you should do about your stress is to ask yourself the following - what would you advise a friend to do if they came to you with the problems you are facing?”
To learn more about the effects stress can have on your health, visit http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/stress.html.
Dr. Leytham is now accepting new patients. To make an appointment, call (251) 660-5787.
To read Part Two of this article, click here.