How Does Stress Affect Health?

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How does stress affect health?

A friend of mine started teacher training full of enthusiasm and ambition. She told me that she wanted to be a school head teacher within 10 years of leaving teacher training college.

A caught up with her two years into her teaching career.

“So are you on track to be a head teacher in eight years time?” I asked.

“You must be joking. I never want to be a head teacher,” she replied.

Two years later she retired from teaching. She had carefully observed a few head teachers and came to the conclusion that their job entailed lots of stress caused by:

  • Disruptive pupils
  • Angry parents
  • Local authority education bosses
  • Government policies that kept changing the rules
  • Long hours catching up with the bureaucratic burden of reports and forms that had to be filled in

My friend left teaching to save her health before she too suffered from stress.

So, how does stress affect health?

Here are some of the health problems which can be caused by stress:

  • depression
  • diabetes
  • hair loss
  • heart disease
  • hyperthyroidism
  • obesity
  • obsessive-compulsive or anxiety disorder
  • sexual dysfunction
  • tooth and gum disease
  • ulcers
  • cancer (though this has not been proven conclusively)

How to manage stress

Fortunately there are several ways to manage stress.

One of the best ways to deal with stress is through mindfulness. Here is an extract from the book:

“Mindfulness is a process of paying attention to the ‘now’. So much time is spent remembering the past or looking forward to some future event.

One of the easiest ways of practising mindfulness is through walking. If possible do this in the countryside or in a park if you live in the city. As you walk pay attention to your breathing. Then look at the sky or the trees that you pass. Notice any physical sensations – the wind on your face, the temperature, the intensity of the colours that you see.

The idea of this is to pull yourself away from the internal dialogue – the constant chatter of the mind that mulls over events in your life, passes judgements on those around you, creates expectations of future events. The internal dialogue stops you noticing what is going on around you. You are not trying to stop the dialogue by force of will but by simply and gently taking your attention away from it.

The benefits of Mindfulness are explained by Andrew Weiss in his book Beginning Mindfulness are:

‘Mindfulness allows us to experience the delight of touching life deeply and authentically. It gives us a way through suffering to joy. It encourages us to do all of this at every moment in our daily lives.’

Mindfulness also means becoming a witness of our own lives. If you are feeling stressful or anxious, step back and observe the stress or anxiety as if it was a program that you are watching on television. By becoming the observer or the witness, you will find that the stress and anxiety will start to diminish. It may also help to then place your attention on your breathing to make sure that your are breathing deeply and at a slow place.

Now is the only time that is important. How often do we find ourselves worrying about the future? Anxiety about the future takes up a significant portion of our thoughts. Worrying about the future doesn’t help in any way. If you always live in the past or future you will never be able to relax. To be in a state of relaxation means living in the present moment.

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  2. Thanks for this very nice share, I did learn something new that I can apply on my daily living to make my life much less of stress. About paying attention to the “now”, I know that “now” or today is a gift, that why they call it “present”.

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