Stop Stress - Dr Marcel Verheyen - ebook

Stop Stress ebook

Dr Marcel Verheyen

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Stress, strain, insomnia, tensions of all kinds? Do these sound familiar? If so, you are one among millions of people who struggle with them No wonder stress and the likes are seen as the most significant threats to health and life. To ease the burden, many sufferers turn to sedatives or antidepressants… only to become addicted to them. It is like adding fuel to the flames.But what else can you do? A few things which may seem too simple to be true. And yet they work. Did you know that your nervous system can only function correctly if you drink enough water? Do you know the simple positions which can always make you feel relaxed? Do you know how to adjust your eating habits slightly, which will work wonders? And do you know how to help your hyperactive child with virtually no medicine?But where can you start? Well, you’ve just made a good start by reading these lines. Stop Stress is the first step leading to relief and yes, recovery. Doctor Marcel Verheyen starts by simply explaining the harm stress does to your body in order to get a better understanding of the numerous resources and hundreds of clear and convenient tips to improve your health and life.This unique and practical book proves true to its title: Stopping Stress for Good!EXCERPTEverybody knows more or less what stress is. After all, stress is something we all have to deal with. For most of us, the word ‘stress’ brings to mind your typical workaholic executive. Yet everyone is prone to stress, including housewives, manual workers, pensioners, children and even babies. The word stress is mostly used in a negative sense. It evokes disagreeable sensations and suggests an unpleasant state of mind and feelings of nervousness and anxiety. However, this is of course an incomplete picture of what stress actually is.ABOUT THE AUTHORA Graduate from the University of Leuven, Belgium, Doctor Marcel Verheyen has acquired a 40-year expertise in medecine and naturopathy. For decades, he has devoted himself to the study of stress and anxiety, and has sought to relieve victims of physical, psychological and social consequences of these modern ailments.Although he has written articles and textbooks on the topic for the medical field, he has also published several books on stress for the general public. The first edition of 'Stop Stress', released in 1995, turned out to be an instant bestseller. Since then, the book has been regularly updated with the latest findings and has thus been reissued.

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Foreword - First edition

It was the beginning of spring. I was sitting in my favourite place on the patio. Louis Armstrong was singing “And I think to myself, what a wonderful world…” A lot of people were passing by. Nobody was laughing. Not even a smile. All I could see were tense, sad faces. Stress seemed to be controlling people’s lives.

At that moment I felt very acutely that there are very few people who are relaxed and really happy. And that was what prompted me to write this book…

Of course, happiness depends on many factors, such as what form of belief system, philosophy or religion you adhere to. But that’s a subject that’s beyond the scope of this book.

At different times in our life we’re bombarded with problems and difficulties.

Sometimes it’s like being on a ship on a stormy sea that’s constantly buffeted by wave after wave.

Stress and tension can at times control our lives. To avoid shipwreck, we have to weather the storm and avoid going under, as so many have done.

In my practice, I see all the time the effect that stress can have in everyday life, especially on people’s health. What amazes me is that many people are unable to manage stress properly. And they don’t seem to understand what’s happening to them when they’re under stress.

On the other hand, I’ve learned a lot from patients who seem to have mastered the art of living a happy life and manage to keep their spirits up even in times of particularly stressful events in their lives.

Another reason for writing a book about stress was that not only have I seen the different facets of stress and nervousness in many patients, but I have experienced stress in my own life. And it’s always good to write from your own experience because you can express your thoughts more spontaneously and what you have to say is more meaningful.

I wanted to emphasise the practical side of things in this book. You, the reader, will find a lot of useful tips and handy hints.

In any discussion of health matters, I think it’s really important to take account of human nature and the physiology and normal functioning of our bodies. To help the body restore its natural balance and to protect it in times of stress and nervousness, natural remedies are ideal. I have therefore included several chapters on herbal treatments, diet and homeopathy. We can see every day the powerful effect that natural remedies have on people’s health. Dealing with stress and nervousness in a logical and natural manner is the best way to get through periods of stress.

This book is designed to help you stay positive and cheerful as you try to steer a steady course through life’s storms…

Foreword

I have spent more than 10 years revising and rewriting ‘Stop Stress’. During that time, the world has changed, but I’m more than ever convinced of the tremendous impact of anxiety and stress on every aspect of our life.

We live in a crazy, fast-moving world, and many people just can’t keep up. Stress impairs the quality of life and makes people ill. It’s an invisible killer.

As a medical practitioner, people come to me looking for help, practical help. A long time after the book was sold out, there was still a demand for ‘Stop Stress’, and that’s what prompted me to get back to my desk and write this new, revised version.

Nature is always right. That’s the basic message of the well-known Swiss nutritionist and writer Alfred Vogel. If you constantly violate nature’s laws, you eventually have to face the consequences. But the reverse is also true. You reap what you sow, good or bad. The good news is that taking a few preventive measures can often make a big difference. Many practical pieces of advice about stress and anxiety are easy to put into practice. I have spent many years collecting practical tips about combating stress, sometimes from the patients themselves, so without knowing it you may in fact have contributed towards this book. Thank you.

To a great extent, a doctor’s knowledge is the fruit of many years of experience dealing with patients on a daily basis. But medicine is not just about science; it’s more than that. A physician must of course use his scientific training, but he must also use his experience and the results of successful treatments achieved in the course of his medical practice together with a whole plethora of ideas that he draws on to find a solution to help patients cope with health problems.

I’m still amazed every day at the effect of natural products and the gentle but awesome power of nature when it’s properly used to enhance wellness.

We all want to live a balanced and healthy life, in spite of the unavoidable stresses about which we can do nothing.

Even if you get just one useful idea from this book that helps you cope with stress, my work will have been well worth it.

On a personal note, my family has grown since I released the first edition. I’m proud to say that I now have five very special grandchildren: Rik, Jules, Arthur, Hendrik and Louise. I would like to dedicate this book to all of them to make up for the many hours I spent, as it were, chained to my desk.

Chapter 1

TENSION AND RELAXATION

A. What is stress?

Many patients go to their doctor complaining of excessive stress. I remember one particular patient’s complaint: “I feel so terribly restless inside. My work is suffering. I can feel my stomach churning. It gets so bad. I feel really awful.” Another patient told me: “I just can’t take it any more. The slightest thing gets me angry. Then afterwards I feel bad and wish I hadn’t lost control. It’s like I’ve lost my balance.” And another patient said: “I always feel tired, but it takes me hours to get to sleep. My thoughts just keep going round and round in my head”.

Everybody knows more or less what stress is. After all, stress is something we all have to deal with. For most of us, the word ‘stress’ brings to mind your typical workaholic executive. Yet everyone is prone to stress, including housewives, manual workers, pensioners, children and even babies. The word stress is mostly used in a negative sense. It evokes disagreeable sensations and suggests an unpleasant state of mind and feelings of nervousness and anxiety. However, this is of course an incomplete picture of what stress actually is.

Stress is a form of tension or pressure

Stress is not the same for everyone. Something that one person experiences as rather unpleasant might be quite agreeable to someone else.

— What is stressful to one person might be fun for someone else —

— The sails on a yacht only serve any purpose when a strong wind puts the sails under pressure —

To some, mountain climbing is a great form of recreation, while people who are afraid of heights might feel sick just thinking about it. The amount of pressure one can cope with also varies from one person to another.

While one person might go to pieces if, for example, his summer-house burns down, another person might just react calmly when faced with the same situation.

What, then, is stress? Stress is a form of tension or pressure, and it can be internal or external.

There’s a close correlation between stress and action. Thus, stress is basically part and parcel of life.

To illustrate this point, here are a few examples. When a plane is taking off, its wings are under enormous pressure. This pressure enables a weight of over 200,000 kilograms to be lifted off the ground. The same goes for a parachute, which only works when it’s under pressure. To take another example, the sails on a yacht only serve any purpose when a strong wind hits the sails.

Similarly, we all need a certain amount of stress to live and function at our best. Under normal circumstances, this kind of stress can be rather pleasant. Some people, however, need a higher level of stress to achieve their goals, at work or elsewhere. Of course, this can be risky as people tend to go beyond safe limits. We will discuss this kind of behaviour in more depth in a later chapter.

Stress is essential for life

Stress is of vital importance: without stress, life would be impossible.Some forms of stress can be harmful, causing disease or even death.

That stress is essential for life can be easily demonstrated. For example, when you want to get up, your muscles and joints need to be under pressure. Blood pressure (or ‘blood stress’) ensures that your blood reaches the most peripheral organs, such as the skin, even if this involves overcoming some resistance.

Thus, your blood pressure has to increase to overcome the force of gravity and flow to your head. So stress is absolutely vital for life.

It can also be a protection in some situations. For example, if a fire breaks out, you will automatically feel the urge to escape. This is a form of stress.

Similarly, you will feel under pressure if you have to finish an important job with a tight deadline. So we can be thankful that stress exists! Otherwise we could never accomplish anything.

However, stress is not always beneficial - in fact, it can be quite the opposite. We might experience what is called ‘bad stress’, for example if we have to work with an annoying colleague or over-demanding boss.

Similarly, we might experience excessive stress when there’s an argument in the family, especially if there seems to be no solution.

So while stress is of vital importance, some forms of stress can be harmful, pathogenic or even deadly…

Characteristics of healthy stress

it’s part and parcel of lifeit’s functional and physiologicalit can be pleasantit helps you maintain your balanceit enhances your performance

Characteristics of dangerous stress

it obstructs and impairs bodily functionsit has negative effects on the bodyit creates unpleasant sensationsit causes you to lose your balanceit diminishes your performance

— In the long term, a high-pressure lifestyle can be harmful and even life-threatening —

1. No effort without relaxation

There can be no healthy stress without relaxation. An intense effort is beneficial only if you can unwind afterwards. A muscle must first relax before it can be flexed again. This alternation of tension and relaxation is what enables a muscle to function properly so we can move around, walk or run.

The same rule applies to the nervous system and the brain. In order to function properly, the brain needs tension to be alternated with relaxation. For this reason, the nervous system and the brain need a rest from time to time. Relaxation is needed to recover from an exertion and to prepare for the next one. The practical side of this will be discussed in detail in the following chapters.

Your thoughts are your strongest defence against excessive or unhealthy stress

— You need extra energy when you have to run to catch the last train home. Stress is what gives you that extra boost —

2. You are protected by automatic systems

When you’re under stress or nervous, there are a few very important regulatory systems that help you keep your balance:

The brain and the central nervous system, that guide your thoughts and influence your behaviour.The entire hormonal system, producing hormones in the hypothalamus, the hypophysis, the thyroid gland, the pancreas, the adrenal gland, the ovaries, the testes, etc.The autonomous nervous system, i.e. the part of the nervous system that autonomously controls and regulates our organs.

It’s an interesting fact that our organism possesses these different regulatory systems. These protection mechanisms and safety systems can be compared to those used on a modern aeroplane. The body is able to cope with all kinds of stress or pressure because it’s protected by:

When faced with excessive stress, a healthy organism automatically restores the balance

a. The central nervous system

Our mental faculties play a very important role as far as the effects of stress are concerned. Simply stated, your thoughts can either protect you or destroy you.

I found a quite striking example of this phenomenon in a newspaper. A small child had fallen into a well through a small opening. When he saw what had happened, the father found the strength to remove the cover, which weighed a couple of hundred kilograms, and rescue his child. Thus, he was able to save his child thanks to stress.

Your frame of mind and the power of thought itself can spur you on to tremendous effort. We might take the example of a special performance in the world of sport, like a world record.

Under normal circumstances, this kind of performance just would not be possible.

By positive attitude and thinking, people have been able to heal themselves, even from fatal diseases such as cancer. You might know of similar cases yourself. Your feelings and thoughts, however, can equally have the opposite effect, in which case the influence they have on you can be very detrimental. A negative attitude will eventually be destructive. Jealousy, for example, can have a souring or even corrosive effect on your life. In this way, negative patterns of thinking have a destructive influence on the person as a whole.

b. The hormonal system. This is another mechanism your body uses to protect you against stress and to help you keep your balance

You have to run fast if you need to catch a train. You hurry to be on time for an important appointment. Now, how do we, or rather, how does our hormonal system react in this kind of situation?

— Just like a plane or a helicopter, the body has various safety systems —

The adrenal glands, for example, stimulate the liver to produce glycogen to pump extra sugar into the bloodstream for a special effort. Another very important organ is the pancreas, which provides balance. The pancreas makes sure there’s enough insulin which - after the effort - helps convert the excess glucose back into glycogen in the liver. Thus your balance is restored. Your body actually has several safety systems of this kind at its disposal. When you’re under excessive stress or pressure, these systems help you stay within safe limits. Of course, these safety mechanisms and the organs involved in them must be in good shape because otherwise stress can actually be harmful or lead to illness.

c. The autonomous nervous system

This part of your nervous system operates on its own, which means it’s almost completely automatic and beyond your control. It helps you adapt to cold, heat, pain and other stimuli such as changes in weather conditions or the environment, things that affect our emotions such as bad news or other people’s reactions, fatigue or simply inner tension and nervousness.

When you get nervous, alarm signals are transmitted to the orthosympathetic part of your autonomous nervous system. Then things start to happen. For example, your eyes start to see better, your heart starts to pump more blood, and energy is transmitted to your muscles rather than to your digestive system. So the autonomous nervous system also protects you, provided, once again, that it’s functioning properly and is balanced.

B. What is nervousness?

Nervousness is associated with stress and is in fact one of its most important symptoms. In fact, nervousness is a collective term that encompasses a whole complex of symptoms. As such, it can include many different reactions: irritability, fearful insecurity, hypersensitivity, concentration difficulties, abnormal fatigue, sleeplessness, tendency to depression, headaches, dizziness, etc.

Nervousness is a primary symptom of stress

Nervousness is a complex of symptoms such as:

irritabilityfearful insecurityhypersensitivityconcentration difficultiesabnormal fatiguesleeplessnesstendency to depressionheadachesdizzinessdigestive disorderspalpitations

— Nervousness is one of the main symptoms of stress —

Chapter 2

STRESS - A SILENT KILLER

A killer waits in ambush then suddenly strikes without warning. In a very similar way, stress unexpectedly strikes and attacks when you’re at your weakest. It’s therefore very important to acknowledge the fact that stress can be dangerous and to recognise the signs and symptoms of unhealthy stress. Prevention can save your life.

— Even strong personalities can crack under excessive strain… —

Life-threatening stress:

inhibits and disrupts normal functioningcauses unpleasant bodily symptomsmakes you feel distressedcauses illnessimpairs performance

A. A sad case

In my practice I dealt with a very unfortunate case that perfectly illustrates the damage that can be caused by stress. One day a self-employed accountant came to my surgery after he had been treated unsuccessfully in the hospital for bone necrosis affecting one of the vertebrae in his neck. Accompanying him were his wife together with his daughter and son-in-law who had travelled all the way from Africa to be with him. His 65-year-old wife was extremely worried about him. As the daughter pointed out to me, her mother was completely neglecting herself for him and in fact ignoring the alarm signals of her own body. The mother insisted that she was coping and that she wouldn’t have any treatment until her husband got better. The man did in fact get better quite quickly thanks to a very good reaction to naturopathic medicine. For his wife, however, help came too late. A few weeks after her husband was cured, she suffered a fatal heart attack and died a few hours later.

— When you’re under pressure, it’s sometimes the seemingly insignificant things that really stress you out —

It was strange how she, the strong one who was always caring for others, was first to go… It was of course stress that killed her. Sad proof that stress can be fatal.

Stress isn’t always identified as a killer and the cause of premature death. Often there’s no direct link between stress and death. In many cases, the negative influence of stress on health is chronic and it’s just one of a whole cascade of causes leading to a fatal illness. People tend to get used to a certain lifestyle that they don’t want to change. We also tend to forget that there’s actually a connection between our way of life, eating habits and ways of thinking and a serious illness that strikes ‘suddenly’. Of course, no one gets a heart attack ‘just like that’, and deadly tumours don’t appear ‘out of the blue’…

B. When stress is dangerous

Stress becomes dangerous:

when there’s just too much pressure for one person to handlewhen the body is unable to adapt to or cope with a stressful situation or excessive tensionwhen the tension persists or when you’re under pressure too often

If your job is overly demanding, for example, this may eventually result in a negative stress situation. Negative stress attacks you by taking advantage of your weaknesses. And of course, like everybody else, as far as your health is concerned you do have weak spots that might be hereditary or can develop over the years. You may, for example, have a weak liver. Your husband may have inherited a tendency to suffer from arteriosclerosis or heart disease. In a stressful situation, inherent weaknesses like these are under real pressure. So it’s in your interest to know your body’s weaknesses. Prevention is possible. You can protect yourself from the negative effects of stress. But remember that you can’t avoid all forms of stress.

Stress is a cumulative process. This means that stressors tend to grow and accumulate. Let’s take an example. Suppose you take out a loan. This puts you under some pressure, of course, but it’s not the kind of pressure you can’t cope with. Then there’s your job with all its responsibilities, which means extra pressure. You can still cope, though. Later on, you quarrel with the neighbours; they really annoy you! Now, with all this on your mind, imagine your son spills coffee all over the table. That’s it! You crack! You lose control and fly into a rage… but not about the coffee or because of your son’s carelessness or for that matter because of your stomach ache or the hot, humid weather…

It’s a combination of all these factors that gets you wound up. Stress is therefore a cumulative process. In this particular case, your financial worries may account for, say, 40% of the total load you can cope with, pressure at work may add another 40%, and your quarrel with the neighbour 15%. This makes a total of 95%. Needless to say, in that situation it doesn’t take much extra stress to push you beyond your limits. Of course, if you’re having any marital or family problems when you’re stressed, you can say goodbye to your peace of mind.

There are in fact times in your life when the stress can add up to more than 100%. At that point, you’re just unable to cope and, more than likely, you’ll lose your temper. And if the ‘overload’ situation persists, the end result is illness.

— Factors that cause stress keep on accumulating… until it just gets too much to cope with —

C. What makes stress dangerous?

Stress accelerates the ageing process.Stress is surreptitious. It sneaks into your life without warning and often without any specific symptoms.Stress puts extra load on your heart and arteries.Stress wears down your immune system.

1. Stress accelerates the process of ageing. In cases of stress, the adrenal glands are stimulated and produce a large amount of stress hormones: cortisol, adrenalin and noradrenalin. These hormones in turn inhibit the thymus, which is located behind the breast bone. In stressful situations, the thymus will shrink faster than normal. It reaches its maximum size before puberty. Then, as you get older, it starts to shrink. So premature shrinking of the thymus is a sign of premature ageing.

Dehydration can also affect the cells of the body. It also leads to accelerated ageing.

2. Do you know what Karoshi is? It’s a Japanese word meaning “death from overwork”. In Japan this is a generally accepted cause of death. This phenomenon, however, is not limited to Far Eastern countries, since it exists in Western society as well. The only difference is that Westerners have a problem acknowledging the fact that stress causes cardiac arrest, cancer and arteriosclerosis. The trouble is that in most cases there are no recognisable symptoms. For example, the coronary arteries, which supply the heart with blood, can become clogged (50% or even more) without any advance symptoms. I knew a patient who had an ECG. The cardiologist assured him that everything was fine. He said goodbye then dropped dead right outside the hospital. Cause of death: cardiac arrest… This shows that stress can play tricks with our internal ‘computer’, disabling its alarm signals.

3. Stress puts pressure on the heart and arteries. It’s a well-known fact that stress increases muscle tone. The muscles then become hard. You can feel it especially in the neck muscles. The increased muscle tonicity means there’s more resistance to the flow of blood. It also means that the heart has to pump harder and faster.

— Stress increases the risk of a heart attackt —

When you’re under pressure, it’s the small, petty things that seem to irritate us most. This is because they come on top of more important stress factors.

Stressful situations have a cumulative effect. The pressure builds up until your resistance level is exceeded.

At this point, all it takes is a little stain on your brand new tie and you crack! Yes, it’s the little things in life that can be very trying and even harmful to your health.

And with the increase in tonicity around the muscles, your blood pressure rises. The heart pumps even faster and has more resistance to overcome. Intracellular dehydration also increases the risk of high blood pressure. If there’s too little fluid in the cells, your body automatically increases your blood pressure to force more water into the cells. If this situation goes on for a long time, the result can be chronic high blood pressure, leading to degeneration of the vascular tissue. The result? A higher risk of heart attack, stroke or arteriosclerosis. It has been proved that increased blood pressure can shorten your life by several years.

4. Stress weakens the immune system. Increased operation of the adrenal glands - the result of excessive stress - causes shrinkage of the thymus. This gland plays a pivotal role in our immune system. It’s like a central computer that controls our defence mechanism. As the thymus gets smaller with age, our immunity is impaired.

— Stress is very insidious, so it’s not always easy to recognise that it may be the cause or catalyst of cardiac arrest, cancer or arteriosclerosis —

This is what happens not only when people age naturally, but also in the case of diseases such as AIDS. The thymus appears to malfunction. It then produces T-lymphocytes, which are of crucial importance in the fight against infections and for immunity in general.

In AIDS patients, these lymphocytes are significantly reduced in number.

Researchers agree that stress also impairs our ability to fight infections, either in the short term or in the long term. It’s also agreed that stress plays a vital role in the development of cancer.

The fatal consequences of stress are:

accelerated ageingcardiac arrestarteriosclerosiscancerdisruption of the immune system

Chapter 3

STRESS CAN SAVE YOUR LIFE…

It’s a bleak, chilly autumn day. You’re standing on the sidewalk at the traffic lights, waiting to cross the street. As the light turns green, you start to walk. Then, all of a sudden, a car runs through the red light, straight at you! In a split second, you jump back on the sidewalk. You can feel your heart thumping. You’re not cold any more. You’re sweating and feeling a little dizzy. That quick reaction just saved your life. Stress saved your life…

Stress is not a disease. Stress is essential for life. It can even save your life.

In some situations stress can save your life, so stress can be a defence mechanism

So stress is also a defence mechanism, a natural system that involves various adaptation processes. These processes allow you, on the one hand, to counter the attack (meaning every possible cause of stress, be it psychological or physical), while on the other hand they help you maintain your balance.

Have you ever seen a fire break out in the middle of the night? It’s a very dramatic event you’re not likely to forget in a hurry, especially if lives are at stake. I still remember a fire I witnessed. I can still see the face of one of the firemen. He had just managed to save a child from a deadly inferno. Of course, it was very difficult as well as dangerous. I’m absolutely convinced that stress helped him through this ordeal. Stress enhanced his senses and perceptions and enabled him to make very quick decisions. In purely physical terms, it made his heart pump supplying his muscles with extra energy. This made it possible for him to make that tremendous selfless effort needed to save the child’s life and escape the blaze. Yes, stress not only saved the child’s life; it also helped his rescuer to get away safe too. The changes that take place in your body when you’re stressed fulfil two purposes:

They deal with the problem or the attack.They help you maintain your balance.

— Stress is an amazing natural defence system that can save lives… —

A. How stress can save your life

When you become stressed, your body reacts by making certain changes. These changes have a twofold purpose:

1. They help you counter a problem or attack, wherever it may come from. In the particular case of the fire, the fireman had to remain as calm as possible as he entered the house. He had to use his common sense and take as few unnecessary risks as possible. To do this, his ‘computer’ (i.e. his central nervous system) had to be running at full speed. Now, for the central nervous system to operate at its full potential, it needs an extra supply of oxygen. Therefore, the fireman’s breathing and blood circulation had to accelerate, so his heart started pumping faster. While his blood circulation to the digestive system was reduced to a minimum, there was an increase in the supply of blood to his brain and to his arm and leg muscles. His liver released its store of energy-rich sugars. The fireman’s pupils then dilated to gather as much information as possible. It’s the combination of all these adaptation mechanisms (the body’s vital re-serves) that makes possible extraordinary achievements such as rescuing a child from a house on fire.

2. All your bodily mechanisms are geared towards preserving life and maintaining your balance, the purpose being to restore the body and to get it back to its default status, that is, a certain basic level of well-being.

We can see exactly how this works in the example of the fireman. More than likely, the fireman was perspiring profusely during the entire operation (to keep his body temperature stable). Also, his urine contained a certain amount of sugar. This was due to a reaction of the kidneys, which excrete superfluous glucose that the pancreas cannot secrete into the urine. Because the minute vessels were squeezed, the blood circulation had to adapt to increased resistance. Of course, his heart was pumping harder to develop enough pressure for the blood to reach even the highest point in his head. When you’re stressed, your body orders a full mobilisation of all your biological re-sources to make sure your internal balance is maintained by deploying a cascade of amazing adaptation mechanisms and regulatory systems controlled by the brain, the hormonal system and the autonomous nervous system.

— Infection puts the body in a state of alarm. This form of stress raises the body temperature. Fever is part of the body’s natural defence system —

Stress comes from within. This will be demonstrated by the following example. You come home from work. It’s been a very taxing day. You’re worn out. Stressed out of your mind. You’ve been drawing on your reserves. You’re listening to the six o’clock news on the car radio. Suddenly you notice you’re having trouble swallowing. After a while, it turns into a sore throat. You feel very tired, especially when you remember you have an appointment with the insurance agent later that evening. At home, you collapse on the couch. After an hour you feel ill and you’re running a fever. You have a very serious throat inflammation. Quite an assault on your system, isn’t it? Actually, this kind of attack is like a stress situation for your whole body. This can be seen particularly clearly from the body’s reaction: it uses exactly the same mechanisms as it would with other kinds of stressors. This form of stress brings on fever. A higher temperature makes it harder for bacteria and viruses to multiply. Digestion shifts to a lower gear. You have no appetite for food, only thirst at most - all this to regulate body temperature. Your heart beats faster and harder. Your body is in a state of alarm and is trying to eliminate the assailant.

It’s obvious that, in such cases, suppressing the fever would also mean suppressing the body’s resistance, making the body unable to defend itself properly.

How can you strengthen your resistance to stress?

Never suppress the alarm symptoms.Take care of your nervous system.Take special care of your hormonal system.

B. Can you strengthen, train or take care of your defence system?

You can, but only in a natural, body-friendly way.

1. You can do it by never suppressing natural defence mechanisms such as fever. This also means that if possible you must avoid pep pills. When you stimulate your body, even though it’s sending out signals that its limit has been reached, you’re putting your organism under pressure. This is in fact the same process as doping. Every form of doping entails forcing the body’s built-in safety systems. When you’re on edge, drinking a lot of coffee may be enough to boost your nervous system. The same goes for tranquillisers. These methods can be useful only in cases of emergency and for a very short time.

2. You can ‘take care’ of your nervous system. There are four important ways to do this:

Make sure you get enough oxygen. When your nervous system is under pressure, you need oxygen - and lots of it. Especially if your nervous system is chronically under pressure. More than any other part of your body, the human nervous system is very sensitive to the oxygen level and constantly needs a sufficient supply. That’s why physical exercise is so important.

Get a good night’s sleep. Healthy sleep is the secret of a strong nervous system. While you’re asleep, your nervous system regains strength and reorganises and restores itself. So it’s only logical that you should make sure that you sleep well.

Eat good, healthy food. Personally speaking, when I’m stressed, I tend to drink more coffee, I consume more sugary (junk) food and I eat as fast as possible so I can get back to work double-quick. I’m sure you’re familiar with this. After all, the work has to get done. This behaviour pattern, however, impairs our abilities instead of increasing them. So you should cut down on coffee. Smoking, of course, should be avoided altogether, as it robs you of both oxygen and energy. In fact, oxygen is energy. Your nervous system needs food that’s rich in energy, food that contains lots of vitamins and ballast substances. This helps eliminate the increased amount of toxins - caused by stress of course - in your stools. A good diet includes plenty of fruit, vegetables and high-quality mineral water.

Drink more mineral water. More than 80% of your brain is water. Increasing your water intake can create a better environment for your brain cells.

— Good food is important if you want to boost your defense system —

3. Take special care of your hormonal system.

You can do this perhaps not directly, but indirectly. The secretion of hormones and the ultimate effect of hormonal release at cellular level both depend to a great extent on adequate hydration. A healthy body has a very high percentage of water, and the concentration of acids changes even if the percentage of water is only slightly reduced. If the body’s intracellular acidity increases (i.e. the pH decreases), the enzymes in your body will work less efficiently, so your body’s fluid content is obviously very important for the proper functioning of your hormonal system.

C. To what extent can you allow stress into your life?

When should you slow down and avoid running the risk of damaging or disrupting your nervous system? This depends on a number of factors:

Your stress level. As I mentioned earlier, stress has a cumulative effect. There are signs that help you recognise potentially life-threatening negative stress, that is, if you pay heed to your alarm systems instead of suppressing them. This will be discussed in more detail in

Chapter 6

.

The kind of stress. Not all forms of stress have the same effect on our body.

Compare, for example, dealing with bereavement of a loved one, a quarrel with a neighbour and stress at the office. These situations involve three totally different patterns of stressors. The form of stress is what determines the kind and the amount of help that’s needed.

Circumstances are a very important factor in this regard, especially considering the cumulative nature of stress. For example, now that you’re 60 years old, screaming children drive you round the bend, whereas before, when you were a kindergarten teacher and had three small children of your own, you had no trouble with children. Why is that? Because of changing circumstances: a) you’ve got older, b) you’re not used to it any more, c) you’re not feeling too well at the moment, and so on. All of these factors each have their own importance.

The ability to put up with whatever loads life thrusts upon us. This differs from person to person. There are people who, besides running a large company, also own two or three subsidiaries, chair a couple of companies, have a healthy family life and yet manage to survive. Hereditary capacity plays an important role in this regard. Still, some capacities - or skills, if you prefer - can in fact be acquired. Hence this book. It was written to encourage you to develop some extra skills and strategies that will help you cope better with stress and live a happier life.

— Many people don’t drink enough water —

Chapter 4

THE KEY CAUSES OF UNHEALTHY STRESS

There are various key factors that cause excessive or unhealthy stress. The effect of each of these factors may differ from one person to another, depending on their personality, attitude and circumstances.

Two researchers, Dr T. Holmes and Dr R. Rahe, have come up with a list of the most common radical stress situations. These causes are listed below in order of importance:

Death of a spouseDivorceMarital separationImprisonmentDeath of a close family memberPersonal injury or illnessMarriageDismissal from workMarital reconciliationRetirementChange in health of family memberPregnancySexual difficultiesGain a new family memberBusiness readjustment

From ‘Modern Maturity’, a survey by T. Holmes and R. Rahe.

As you will have noticed, even certain positive experiences can generate stress. We will now discuss in more detail some of the main causes of stress.

A. Seventeen enemies to watch out for…

1. Relationship problems

Problems in a relationship are among the most important causes of stress.

The demise of the institution of marriage as the basic cornerstone of society coupled with changing moral values with regard to relations between men and women have led to a drastic increase in personal and interpersonal problems.

— In many couples there’s a lack of communication and a lack of respect. The result: stress —

The fact that many relationships nowadays have broken up, often for little or no reason, has left a lot of people with a feeling of insecurity and a loss of trust. This has brought a great deal of heartache into people’s lives. Instead of being a safe haven, a place where you feel secure and comfortable, where you can relax after a hard day’s work, ‘home’ more often resembles a battlefield, a miserable place where bickering and arguments seem to be the order of the day.

A lack of communication and too little mutual appreciation are key causes of marital problems. Also, people often get married for all the wrong reasons and then wonder why they have problems. Relationship problems can be psychologically destructive and can become a source of extreme stress. In order to address such delicate issues, what is needed in most cases is a thorough self-analysis as well as an objective assessment of the relationship and the intentions of both partners. Often this means a third party has to be involved.

As is the case with marital problems, tensions between family members, friends, neighbours or club members can be very trying and can rob us of our peace of mind. Thus, instead of peace and contentment, tense relations generate stress and nervousness.

2. Tension in the family

Family troubles are another major source of stress. Most of the time, stress of this kind is created by arguments between children, quarrels with in-laws, tensions between a daughter and her mother-in-law, problems with inheritance rights and things of this nature. Of course, it’s always an individual problem. Nevertheless, most forms of family tension can be attributed to two fundamental problems:

A lack of communication. Gossip often passes for ‘news’. If this ‘news’ is accepted as true, the most awful misunderstandings can arise, especially if the persons involved haven’t had a chance to tell their side of the story. Open dialogue with the intention of finding a peaceful solution is really important.

The reality we all face is a little bit different. For one thing, we tend to see everything from our own personal perspective. Of course, we can’t change that. But who of us can be sure that ours is the right viewpoint? If we’re honest we’ll realise that our own way of thinking is often subjective and is therefore not always correct. At times we need to be re-adjusted. So we should be willing to listen to other people, try to understand how they view things and take their opinion into account. Listening is the most difficult aspect of communication, and a lack of proper communication can lead to stress.

Sticking to one’s own views, whatever the cost, and not even considering other people’s arguments. In flexibility sometimes has to do with the inability to control the adrenal glands. Chronic stress can lead to adrenal exhaustion, making us an easy prey to stress in everyday life.

— Disrespectful children can cause stress in the family —

3. A high-stress environment

While the hustle and bustle of city life along with the creeping urbanisation of our everyday existence and heavy traffic have taken their toll, the boom in communication technologies has made life altogether much more hectic. The fast pace at which everything is happening in the modern rat-race has certainly been a factor in the development of stress.

— Pressures around you can create stress —

Another significant factor in this regard is the incredibly rapid flicker rate of images on the television, on DVDs and in video games.

Most people who live to over 100 years of age live in or near the mountains, and often in beautiful, restful natural surroundings. Take for example the Hunzas, an ethnic group living in the foothills of the Himalayas. They’re not stressed. There’s a moral here for people who are caught up in today’s rat race…

4. Lack of sleep

Sleeplessness is not just a possible consequence of stress and nervousness. In fact, it can also increase tension. It may even be a possible cause of stress itself! A good night’s sleep is essential, otherwise your nervous system won’t work properly. If the quality of your sleep isn’t what it should be, you’re more likely to be stressed. Using opiates or tranquillisers to “sleep better” as well as sleeping in or near places that are electromagnetically charged can significantly impair the quality of your sleep. Also, the influence of electromagnetic fields generated by devices such as radio alarm clocks is a disruptive factor.

5. Noise

Only a few places in the world can still be labelled ‘noise-free’. Surveys have proved that noise pollution is a cause of stress. Noise can cause high blood pressure. It can disrupt your sleep. It can make it impossible for you to relax. At work too, noise pollution can be a source of tension, and just think of the constant noise to which you’re subjected when you’re driving. The influence of noise on stress levels is often underestimated, but over time it creates stress that can make you sick. In the long term, noise generates a form of stress that basically makes you ill.

— Noise is an underestimated stressor —

— Unpleasant situations at work can be very stressful —

6. An unpleasant working atmosphere

The atmosphere in your place of work plays a very important role in your life. On average, most people work about eight hours a day, which means that quite a large proportion of our life is spent on the job. Working amidst the buzz of fax machines, copiers and computers can be very stressful. Yes, some workplaces should come with a health warning! Even more important, as far as stress is concerned, are relations with colleagues and the people in charge. Personality differences can generate unpleasant tensions and even conflict. The atmosphere can become very tense if people fail to cooperate properly or if the people who have to work together don’t get on well. And if the company shows little or no concern or appreciation for its workforce, it can cause a great deal of stress which, in the long run, can be detrimental to the employees’ health.

7. Excessive ambition

Excessive ambition can be destructive for a person and for his entourage. If a career is your absolute priority, you will at some point have a price to pay. Part of the price is a lot of needless anxiety, stress that impairs the quality of your life. The precious time and energy that you need to communicate and relax with family members and friends are sacrificed to achieve your all-consuming objective: to become a director, to clinch that must-have promotion, to get the prestige of gaining a certain position in the company - whether it be chief engineer, sales manager or whatever. Any additional tension caused by people or things that get in the way will then become an insurmountable obstacle and generate an enormous amount of extra stress.

One of the richest men who ever lived and who during his lifetime had achieved more than most people would think possible said towards the end of his life: “When I reflected on all the works that my own hands had done and on all the hard work that I had toiled to accomplish, I saw that everything was futile, a chasing after the wind.”

8. Differences in personality

When people who “just don’t hit it off” have to cooperate, it can be very annoying for all involved. Our background, upbringing and education all play a very important role in the way we do things. Also, a person is partly determined by his/her intrinsic character. It’s the old nature-nurture dilemma, but for sure all these things are hard, if not impossible, to change. Therefore, given that it’s difficult to change ourselves, we shouldn’t go about trying at all costs to change other people by moulding them according to our own standards. Settling problems caused by personal differences takes a lot of energy and determination. The most important thing is that we learn to adapt and to readjust our own views. This is an absolute necessity if we are to get through a potentially tense situation without quarrelling or fighting. Of course, this is not always easy or even possible…

9. The pursuit of riches

Amassing wealth and possessions takes a great deal of time and effort. This in itself can be exhausting and very frustrating. And it’s doubly frustrating when, after having achieved something, you sit down and realise that it hasn’t made you any happier. This frustration, too, is a source of stress.

— Personality differences can create a lot of tension —

— The pursuit of material wealth is often a source of stress —

The possible consequences of greater wealth, such as a higher tax bill, a higher cost of living and inflation, are just a few of the additional stress factors that you might not initially have anticipated. There’s nobody who never worries. Investments can also be a source of great stress. Just think: In one day you can lose it all, perhaps because of a stock market crash, theft or fire. As they say, things happen.

How happy are the richest people in the world? Are they free from stress?

In 1963, in his book ‘How to live with yourself’ Murray Banks talks about eight of the world’s top financiers, all of them enormously wealthy. At least that’s what they were back in 1923, when they gathered for a meeting in Chicago. Murray Banks then makes a very interesting remark. He invites the reader to consider what became of these people.

Charles Schwab was bankrupt when he died. During the last five years of his life he had to borrow money to survive.

Howard Hopson went mad.

Arthur Cutten died abroad, unable to pay off his debts.

Richard Whitney, former president of the New York Stock Exchange, had just been released from Sing-Sing prison.

Albert Fall also spent a long time in prison. He was released to die at home.

Jesse Silvermore, a former Wall Street financier, committed suicide.

Ivan Kreuger, former head of the largest monopoly in the world, committed suicide.

Leon Fraser, once director of the International Credit Bank, committed suicide.

All these people understood the art of money-making, but none of them had ever learned the greatest art of all… the art of living with themselves.

10. Traffic

In the old days, families used to have just one car. Nowadays, in many households there are two or even three cars, since the son or daughter of the house has his/her own car as well. As a result, the total number of automobiles keeps on growing. Traffic jams and a lack of parking space in inner city areas have become stressful factors that some drivers have to deal with every day. So some people get bad-tempered, drive more aggressively and become less tolerant and more impatient. This behaviour breeds aggression. Traffic-related stress keeps on accumulating.

Not too long ago, I was driving home when suddenly, right at the traffic lights, a car moved out from a parking space, right in front of me. It startled me and, on impulse, I expressed my impatience with my hand - which of course was a very foolish thing to do. The man forced me to stop. He jumped out of his car and started knocking on my window: “Get out, get out! Come on then, if you wanna fight!” I pretended I couldn’t hear him. Luckily, he quickly gave up making a fool of himself and drove off. I guess you can imagine how I felt at that moment. So stress in traffic breeds aggression. And, as we all know, aggression simply adds fuel to the flames.

11. Financial problems

It can be frustrating and stressful when you can’t pay your bills. Economical woes, factory closures, company restructuring and sudden hikes in the cost of living are all factors responsible for this kind of stress. A lot of people have gotten themselves into a stranglehold this way. Many people wake up every day with that kind of stress. I know families who are in a terrible state because they’re in the grip of debt. Also, unexpected changes in the economic situation can be a contributing factor. However, making purchases on credit is asking for trouble, as you can quickly become ensnared by heavy financial commitments that cause long-term stress and anxiety. All this is caused by the unwise use of credit.

12. Disorganisation

This source of stress is caused by a basic lack of organisation and leads to poor and inefficient planning.

If your desk is a mess, piled up with bills, papers and magazines, it’s impossible not to overlook something. And forgetting things means (extra) stress. Because you’re not organised, you miss an important appointment, you have to pay a fine for being late with your tax declaration, and so on. Or you have to go digging in a pile of stuff for that one misplaced address or document that you really need.

— If you can no longer pay your bills, you’re on the slippery slope to frustration and stress —

Sometimes my wife says, rather tactfully: “You have quite a lot of papers on your desk.” What she really means is: Your desk is a shambles. Admittedly, the state of my desk is sometimes the reason I forget things. Of course, I use the excuse that I have a busy schedule and that everything has to get done right away. And it’s true. But still, when I think about it, from my own experience I have to admit that disorganisation is a source of stress. The reverse is equally true: when everything is well organised and neatly in place, work is more pleasant and relatively stress-free.

13. Competition

Competition is a very negative driving force that causes a lot of stress. Most of the time, feelings of jealousy lie at the heart of your ambition to be first, to be the best, to reach the top, to be richer than the rest of your family or to keep up with the Joneses. All this makes for tension and unhappiness. Comparing yourself to others or striving for prominence and wealth can create unhealthy rivalry.

Remember that rivalry is always at someone’s expense, and you yourself could be the next victim.

Competitiveness inevitably creates tensions and problems that can rob you of your peace of mind.

14. Illnesses and ongoing physical problems

Illnesses make for stressful situations which are hard to overcome. A terminal illness is very hard to bear. It can be a source of constant tension. However, a positive attitude and reliance on your own inner spiritual resources will help you remain balanced. In difficult situations, family and friends can be ‘life-savers’ as well. Remember that the best things in life are not things. Everybody needs to feel useful if they are to lead a meaningful life. And everybody needs hope to be happy.

15. Daily routine