Stress: A Friend or a Foe?

February 16, 2013 by  
Filed under STRESS

Everyone has had a fair share of being stressed. Life’s everyday challenges are usually more than enough for one person to carry, and not all people around you are willing to share that burden. Everyone experiences stress, but not all people deal with it in the same way. Some have effective strategies and attitudes for handling problems, but some end up buckling under pressure. Why is this so?


Stress Can Be Your Friend

Stress has always had a negative connotation to many. It is almost synonymous to the words headache, anxiety, exhaustion, or fatigue. This is actually a little unfair, because in reality, we need stress. Stressful situations present us with challenges, and these should be taken as opportunities to come up with creative solutions and strategies to solve problems. Just keep in mind that stress is basically a reaction to an anxiety-provoking situation, and this can turn into either positive or negative experiences.

Stress can be your friend if it makes you think on your feet and make good decisions under time pressure. In fact, short-term stress can be helpful to you physically, in a sense that it actually trains the body to become stronger in warding off infections or viruses. As long as stress is at a minimum to medium level, it is not a cause for alarm.

Stress Can Be a Monster

Now let’s take a look at the bad side. We all know that high levels of stress presents us with a myriad of mental and physical problems. Emotional stress especially leads to a higher risk of fatigue, nervous breakdowns, and other psychological concerns. People who usually experience high emotional stress are those who have had a traumatic event in life such as abuse, maltreatment or a death of a loved one. These events trigger negative feelings and may lead to long-term stress. Some people simply avoid stressful situations, but that is not effective at all times. Stress can definitely be felt for long periods of time, which means that you have to find ways to manage it, face it, or deal with it. Remember, when stress strikes and you are not able to control it, it ends up controlling you.

What You Should Do

To avoid falling into the dark abyss of stress, learn to ask for help. Communicate with others whom you feel comfortable with. They may not be going through the same problems as you are, but a dear friend with a listening ear may make your burden lighter. Things may be really hard for you to deal with right now, and it might seem that there is no escape, but do not be shy to admit this to yourself and to others. Be proactive and seek for help. Solve your problems, not dwell on them. Stress doesn’t always have to be the monster you should fear every day. Stressful situations can actually give you unique challenges that you can overcome in many positive ways.

About the Author

Adeline is a practicing physician specializing in family medicine. She also writes for The Family Compass, a group dedicated to helping parents deal with the turbulent teen years of their children.


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The teenage brain and how it works

February 16, 2011 by  

Just as nutrition in the early childhood years is crucial to a schoolchild’s IQ, the experiences of the adolescent brain can affect behavior as adult.

It was always assumed the brain is fully mature in adolescence. Recent research evidence however shows this is not so. According to Harvard neuroscientist Dr. Frances Jensen, “adolescent brains “are only about 80 percent of the way to maturity.” Full maturity is reached in the mid-20s or even later.

The adolescent brain (according to a report in Newsweek):

These properties of the adolescent brain explain risky behavior, insensitive remarks and other signs of thoughtlessness.

In the same period, the impressionable adolescent brain is high susceptible to environmental influences, especially peer pressure. It is during this period that strong relationships and social connections help navigates the so-called growing pains.

According to Dr. Mitch Prinstein, professor and director of clinical psychology, at the University of North Carolina in  Chapel Hill:

“The most potent predictors of why adolescents engage in all kinds of health-risk behaviors—substance use, sexual behavior, even recently, self-cutting—is very much related to how much they perceive that their close friends are doing the same thing, or someone that they consider very cool and popular is doing the same thing.”

Unfortunately, risk behavior in adolescence can have consequences in adult life. Those exposed early to high levels of alcohol will have the risk of having alcohol problems later in life.

A Harvard study found that kids who smoked pot before age 16 had more lifelong cognitive problems than those who started smoking after 16.

Other types of stressors, including bullying and abuse can reflect as posttraumatic stress in adult life and can even be passed on to the next generation. Peer rejection as teenager, for example, may translate into depressive symptoms.

Fortunately, strong relationships and coping skills can counterbalance the negative stressors: Examples of such coping skills are anticonformism and dabbling with delinquency without crossing the boundaries.

And the good news is that, despite our most susceptible brains at adolescence,  most of us – more than 90% in fact – turn out fine and outgrow the delinquency.

Women and work-related stress

January 7, 2011 by  

Women are out working as hard as men and  although they don’t have the same pay as men, they have similar chances of having heart risks known to men.  As one author says „Working women are equal to men in a way they’ll wish they weren’t.“ 

Heart disease is among the top three leading causes of death among 20 to 60 year-old women worldwide, according to a women’s report put up by the World Health Organization (WHO) last 2009.  Like most reports, WHO links this phenomenon to a generally unhealthy lifestyle such as  smoking, wrong diet and physical inactivity.  A new study presented at a conference of the American Heart Association in Chicago  reported the link between heart disease and work-related stress among professional women.  It showed that working women have an 88% chance of getting a heart attack compared to women without stressful jobs and a 43% probability of undergoing a bypass procedure.  Worrying about losing one’s job does not increase chances of heart attack but heart-disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and obesity.  “Overall, the increase in heart-disease risk in high-strain workers versus their low-strain counterparts was 40% ”. The study involved more than 17,000 health professionals from a socioeconomically diverse group followed for over 10 years in the U.S.

Stress is defined as “enduring extremely high demand while having little control”.  There is nothing wrong with having a demanding job as long as there is room for creativity, development of other personal skills and decision-making.  Since most women in these professions are not in management positions, their jobs entail them only to be productive and to learn fast.  Thus the often “lack of authority or control over their work“ may be an important factor.    However, the researchers found that “the correlation between heart-disease risk and job strain had  more to do with the position’s demands rather than the women’s lack of control. That is, women with demanding jobs, regardless of their level of decision-making control, were worse off than women with less demanding positions”.

The importance of association of stress and heart risk is not a cause and effect and although the researchers do not know whether less stress would help in lowering chances of getting heart risks, they advised women to engage in physical and social activities that can lessen stress.

Stress-free holiday travel Part II: Flying with kids

December 28, 2010 by  

My kids flew for the first time when they were 6 months old. We know many friends who travel around the world with little children. It can be tough and stressful but there are ways and means to lessen the stress. Here’s how.

Prepare the kids.

Discuss with the kids the length of the flight, the possible inconveniences, limitations, such as jet lag, cramped accommodations, etc. Discuss the itinerary and what they can do, see, try, eat or drink in the place of destination.

Choose a children-friendly airline.

We’ve flown with many different airlines during our travels but none did the kids like better than Emirates airlines. They spoil kids with a whole backpack of toys, books, drawing materials and even an in-flight kiddie magazine, and kiddie meal goodies. The entertainment program includes many age-appropriate films and TV series as well as video games. A few days before the trip, my kids came home from Christmas school crafts with 2 gift-wrapped presents labeled “for Emirates crew” (and not for Mommy or Granny anymore). Yes, definitely a well-satisfied clientele of the airline.


Clothes during the trip are of utmost importance. Rather than trying to make a fashion statement, go for comfort. For kids, sweatpants and leggings are the best. Avoid the hassles of buttons and zip that can break or get stuck. T-shirts are the ideal tops, with light zip up jackets to keep them warm. Airports and airplane can be drafty and cool from air conditioning. When going from a cold region to warmer climates (as we did), follow the onion principle – put on layers to clothes that one can easily peel off layer by layer depending on the temperatures. Shoes should also be comfortable. Don’t wear new shoes for the time on trips. Having blisters while travelling is not desirable. For kids, shoes that are easily to slip on and off are recommended. Shoelaces cost time and nerves. Go for Velcro sneakers instead. And finally, pack a set of spare clothes, not only for the kids but for you.


One of our boys is prone to airsickness despite all the travels they have done. But we don’t let this small inconvenience deter us from enjoying our trips. I always have an airsickness bag in my handbag ready for use. The kid is also prepared for this contingency especially at take offs and landings. However, we always try to distract him and encourage him to nap during these times.

Toys etc.

We took the AirBus 380 from Dubai to Sydney non-stop for 15 hours, the longest flight we’ve have so far. This is tough on the kids. We always make our kids choose 2 to3 toys that they can carry, normally plush toys. However, mini-games and card games may also come handy. Some people bring portable DVD players for long flights. We don’t have this but our kids got a portable Nintendo for Christmas (in mid-flight) and this is now their main source of distraction.

Little babies

Lots of people travel with little babies. During the long flight on the A-380, I saw several moms letting their little babies have a “crawl around.” Luckily, this big plane has lots more space than the smaller models, even in the economy class.

I hope that these tips will help you to enjoy your trips with your children. Enjoy.

Stress-free holiday travel Part I: The Preparation

December 23, 2010 by  
Filed under STRESS

Holiday season and traveling. For many people, it’s all about getting stranded or lost somewhere in the chaos. The story of little Kevin of the “Home Alone” series and the current problems in almost all major airports in the northern hemisphere is enough to make even the most seasoned traveler to say “No way will I be caught flying at time of the year.”

Normally we wouldn’t either. But this time it’s different. Family reasons require us to fly down under to New Zealand via Australia and spend the holidays there. For us, however, it is not a trip of duty but a great opportunity. We needed no second urging to say “Yes, we are coming!”.

So here we are, getting ready to fly on the 23rd of December.

Now, holiday travel can be pretty stressful and chaotic but if planned properly, it can actually be a pleasure. So here are some tips to take away the stress from holiday travel

Prepare way ahead.

Book tickets, car rentals and accommodations way ahead. Especially when you are going where it’s peak season. It’s summer holidays down under.

Prepare a checklist.

Over the years, we’ve used a checklist for traveling, starting from the packing to the last minute things like taking out the garbage and turning off all electronics. The checklist has been updated over the years, when nappies and sippie cups have been replaced by play cards and drawing materials.

Secure the documents.

There is nothing more important in travelling than having all the necessary documents. Here is list of important documents to pack:

  • Passports and visas
  • A paper copy of your ticket!
  • Health insurance cards
  • Vaccination records
  • Other relevant medical info
  • A paper copy of important phone numbers and addresses

Pack smartly. Pack way ahead.

If you are making several stops, then pack smartly. Before heading to NZ, we are stopping by for a couple of days in OZ. We have packed a special bag just for OZ. The rest of the luggage stays at the airport storage.

Order foreign currency way ahead.

Going to a foreign country? It’s best to order a small amount in the currency of your destination at your bank. Enough for a bus, train or taxi fare. This saves you the hassle upon arrival of finding a bank machine which hopefully will accept your card.

Opt for early/ web check in.

Avoid the long queues and the fight for good seats. Use web check in whenever possible. Upon booking several months back, we could already choose our seats online. We are only flying today but the luggage has been checked in last night. With our hand-carry back packs, we’ll be taking the bus or train to the airport tonight. No problems with traffic jams or parking.

When people are having a melancholic Christmas

December 15, 2010 by  

‘Tis the season to be jolly but not everybody is celebrating/has something to celebrate this Christmas. There are many reasons why people are melancholic rather than merry this Christmas. Let us look at the possible scenarios and see how we can help people in these situations.

Loss of a loved one. Loss of a loved person so close to the holiday season is hard. For a little child, the loss of a parent or sibling around Christmas is very sad situation. For a parent, losing a little child is a big blow. How we can help:

  • You can show sensitivity and understanding by downplaying your own Christmas cheerfulness when your bereaved friends are around.
  • You can provide distraction – a dog or a cat or a house pet to take care of, even if only temporarily.
  • You can let your bereaved friend take care of you – let them feel they are needed.

Health issues. There is nothing like health problems to dampen the holiday spirits. This is hard enough for adults, but much more for a child who is stuck in a hospital bed while his or her friends go Christmas caroling. How we can cheer them up:

  • Visit, call, visit. My husband’s grandma, who is 90 years old, broke her leg from a fall the other week and had to stay at the hospital. She lives in another country 260 km away, but we visited her on that first weekend after her admission, braving the snowy road conditions. Boy, was she happy to see us, chuckling at my husband’s joke that her ice hockey career for this season at least is over. We called almost every day afterwards even after she was transferred to a rehabilitation clinic, where she will stay till after New Year.
  • Donate. Donate time and money to cheer up the sick during the holiday season. I know somebody who runs a Toys for Tots fund drive every Christmas for a public hospital in Manila, Philippines. It is not only the kids but also other hospital patients who need cheering up during the holidays. The elderly, with no family to visit them, are especially lonely during this season of cheer.

Stress and responsibilities. It is not only the patients who need cheering up this season. Their caregivers need our help as well. Let us face it: taking care of the sick is a big burden both physically and emotionally. Here is what we can do to help them:

  • Time off. Giving caregivers time off even if only for a few hours is the best gift you can give them. A whole free day without responsibilities would be a special treat.
  • Moral support. Luckily, there are groups providing support for caregivers the whole year but more so during the holiday season. Some caregiver support programs can be found at:

the Leeza Gibbons Memory Foundation and Leeza’s Place,

Stand Together for AD: Strength and Support for Alzheimer’s at

I’ll be bringing you some more tips on caregiving in the coming days.

The health benefits of hiking

If I tell you I did not do a single jogging run last week, you’d think I’m getting slack and lazy, right?

Well, not quite We (I and my family) just got back from a week of autumn holidays in the Swiss Alps where we did lots of walking and hiking. This time we did long (5 to 6 hours) and short hikes (2 to 3 hours), easy (100 to 200 m altitude difference on easy clear pathways) and tough ones (500 m or more altitude difference on difficult terrain). The family consists of middle-aged parents and two seven-year old twin boys. During the week, we did two of our toughest and longest hike yet and I learned a couple of things:

  • For my kids, the tough hikes consisting of rock climbing and cliff hugging and crawling on your hands and knees are much more fun and interesting than the easy slopes and incline. We heard nary a complaint during the tough climbs except “Mom, why are you so slow?” During the easy walks however, there are the frequent “Are we there yet?” and “How many more minutes/kilometers?”
  • My kids have overtaken me in skills when it comes to climbing mountains, at least when the going gets tough. You see, Mommy is so slow because her knees were trembling as she scrambles and crawls on the rocks. Mind you, I have no fear of heights nor do I suffer from vertigo. But as somebody who was born close to the seacoast of a tropical island, it took me more than 30 years to find my way to the Swiss Alps, much more hike around. But how I got here is another story. This post is about the health benefits of hiking.

According to the American Hiking Society:

Now, I hope my description of our hikes did not turn you off and made you come to the conclusion that hiking is too challenging or difficult for you. The trick is to start slow and small. I did. My family did. I had to train my body for years, then my kids. The important thing is to start. Now.

Here’s what the American Hiking Society advises:

Beneficial exercise does not need to involve a long, painful and boring workout. A good workout can be a brisk 30-minute hike with the dog, or a slower one-hour hike through a local park. According to the American Heart Association, it’s best to walk vigorously for 30 to 60 minutes three or four times per week.

Here are some tips from Nomad Journal Trips:

Here is what I’ll tell you next: preparing for a mountain hike and taking safety precautions. Stay tuned for my next hiking post. Meanwhile, I am back in the lowlands and have to go for a jogging run.

Autumn is stressful time for some, relaxation for others

October 11, 2010 by  

It is interesting how the season affects our moods. Scientists attribute this mainly to changes in the day length and weather conditions. But it seems there are other factors involved.

A recent study by Swiss researchers reports that autumn is a difficult time for young people, a time of stress and depression, which sometimes results in substance abuse, violence and suicide. For the young, autumn is the time to go back to school after several weeks of summer holidays. It means loss of freedom, the start of school work overload, the build-up of peer pressure, the recurrence of bullying. For those who just finished school, it is the start of the struggle to find a job, something that is not easy during hard economic times. Those who start with their first real jobs get to experience the cut throat rat race of the corporate world.

In other words, autumn is a time when young people are expected to deliver and perform before the start of the winter and the Christmas holidays.

Autumn, on the other hand, can have a different meaning for the older generation. Reports indicate that more and more senior citizens go on holidays in autumn after the summer peak season is over, when the kids are out of the house and off to college, and the southern sun is less intense. Many of them take up in daring and extreme sports such as sky diving and bungy jumping, trying to catch up with things they could not do before. Or many of them simply lean back and relax and enjoy the relatively mild weather.

Somebody once told me that the elderly of Europe behave like migrating birds. They go south in autumn to enjoy sunny Spain and Greece and come back to the north in springtime. Our population is rapidly aging, and a large segment of our population is senior citizens who are still healthy and fit and can afford to live a life of leisure.

Does this mean that the older generation has a much better life than the younger generation? It all depends from what perspective you are looking from. The elderly had their share of stressful autumns. Let them enjoy the late autumns of their lives as long as they do not overdo it with risky behavior.

On the other hand, having lots of time on their hands will most probably bore the young to death. Still, they need all the support to survive autumn and the other autumns to come till they can enjoy their retirement.

The benefits of walking to school

September 27, 2010 by  

School has just started in many parts of the western world.

Since my kids joined the Swiss public school system last year, they’ve been walking to school on their own. School is just a 5-minute walk from our home but I know of kids who have to walk for 15 minutes or longer. For those who live beyond the 20-minute walking time, school bus service is usually provided. This is more or less the same all over Switzerland.

Many expats, including me, have difficulty at first in coming to terms with this system. In many countries, the way to school is full of hazards and dangers. Abduction and traffic accidents are just a few of them. We  are appalled that kids are expected to walk to school at age 6 or 7 when they start the 1st grade. But they have been prepared for this. Swiss kids are instructed by a traffic police officer during their kindergarten years on how to walk on and cross the street. Parents are expected to do their share and give instructions as well as set a good example. Schools make it difficult for parents to drop off and pick up kids by providing no parking or drop off zone close by.

But why should kids walk to school? There are several benefits to walking to school that the Swiss system believes, outweighs the risk.

Physical movement. Walking is not exercise but it is nevertheless a physical activity that is much better than simply just sitting in a car. With kids becoming more sedentary and overweight these days, walking is more important than ever in getting them move.

Self-sufficiency. By learning to walk to school by themselves, kids learn to be self-sufficient and be responsible. At an early age, they are trained to stay safe and avoid risks, training which will help them avoid risky behaviour as they grow.

Real life. The way between home and school is the real world where kids learn about life. Sometimes the lessons may be hard. My kids experienced bullying on the way to school. This made them strong.

Getting rid of stress. For some kids, school is full of pressure and stress. A study by researchers at the University at Buffalo in New York report that the walk to and from school actually can take some of school-related stress off. In a test of kids age 10 to 14 years old, those who walked showed relatively less stress during an exam than those who did not. According to researcher James Roemmich:

“These children had smaller increases in perceived stress, heart rate, and systolic blood pressure, compared to children who didn’t do the walk to school.”

Of course walking to school is not possible in many places for reasons of security and distance. I am, however, very grateful to live in a country where walking is possible, even part of the culture. My kids think the same. My suggestion of driving them to school on a rainy day was met with strong opposition.

You are not supposed to do that, Mom.”

Stress in your tresses: what your hair can tell about your heart

September 8, 2010 by  

Our hair tells a lot of stories about us. Substances we get in contact with get deposited on our hair and persist there for a long time. Thus, your hair records environmental exposure to substances be it inadvertently (e.g. occupational exposure to certain chemicals) or intentionally (e.g. performance-enhancing and abuse drugs).

In the field of forensic medicine, hair has been invaluable in solving many mysteries and crimes.

A recent study by Israeli researchers indicates that hair can also tell stories about our state of health based on substances our body produce. In particular, the stress hormone cortisol accumulates in our hair and is easy detectable. Thus, our hair actually serves as a “long-term record of chronic stress.” Previous studies on stress relied on interviews, surveys, and questionnaires, with the limitations of relying on people’s long-term memories which are often very subjective. The record on our hair, however, tells a very objective story.

How do the cortisol and other substances get into our hair?

The human hair mainly consists of 3 parts:

  • The shaft forms the curls and tresses that are clearly visible on our head. The shaft consists of non-living hair cells.
  • The root and bulb of the hair are buried under the skin and contain hair stem cells and dermal papillae. It is supplied by tiny blood vessels in the scalp.
  • The follicle is the part that connects the shaft to the root through pores in the skin.

Hair growth is mainly due to production of hair stem cells.  Substances in the blood such as cortisol seep into the root and follicle of the hair. These substances get trapped in the growing hair and become part of the shaft. Our hair grows at a rate of about 1 cm per month. Thus, we have several months or years ‘ record of stress based on cortisol levels in our hair. In fact, cortisol has been found to persist in the hair for a long time, from 6 months to 1,500 years in the case of well-preserved Peruvian mummies.

Chronic stress being closely linked to cardiovascular problems, it is logical to hypothesize that high levels of cortisol in the hair are also associated with cardiac events.

The researchers tested this hypothesis by collecting hair samples from 120 patients of the cardiac unit of the Meir Medical Center in Israel. Half of the patients had heart attack, the other half had other diagnoses. The researchers analyzed hair samples for cortisol, mainly the part of the shaft 3 cm closest to the scalp, representing cortisol record of the last 3 months. They found that cortisol levels were significantly higher in men who had heart attacks compared to those without.

The results need to be confirmed by larger studies before the technique becomes mainstream for testing heart attack, but it has the following advantages:

  • It is non-invasive.
  • It is more reliable than long-term memories of stress.
  • It is not expensive.

The stress-infertility-stress cycle

September 7, 2010 by  

Stress is linked to many health problems, including depression and cardiovascular diseases. Less known is the fact that stress can also cause infertility.

A joint study by the National Institutes of Health and the University of Oxford reports that stress can prevent a woman from becoming pregnant. The researchers identified the substance as alpha-amylase which is an enzyme secreted by the parotid gland via the saliva to help digest starchy food. However, starch is not the only thing that triggers alpha-amylase secretion. It is also secreted in response to the presence of catecholamines, “compounds that initiate a type of stress response.”

The researchers followed up 274 English women of reproductive age (18 to 40 years) who were trying to conceive and charted their ovulation cycles. The women were participants in the Oxford Conception Study that investigated whether daily information from a fertility-monitoring device would increase the chances of conception. The phases of their monthly cycles were tracked using home fertility test kits.

In the current study on alpha-amylase, the participants were asked to collect a saliva sample on the 6th day of their ovulation cycles. The saliva samples were tested for stress-related substances, including alpha-amylase and the stress hormone cortisol. The saliva analyses were performed till the participant conceives or until 6 menstrual cycles were completed.

The results showed that women with high levels of alpha-amylase in their saliva are less likely to conceive compared to those with normal or low levels during the fertile window –e.g. the 6 days of the cycle when conception is likely to occur.

According to study author Germaine Buck Louis, director of the NICHD’s Division of Epidemiology, Statistics, and Prevention Research:

“Overall, the 25 percent of women in the study who had the highest alpha-amylase levels had roughly an estimated 12 percent reduction in getting pregnant each cycle in comparison to women with the lowest concentrations.”

Cortisol levels on the other hand were not associated with the chances of conception. Dr. Cecilia Pyper who heads the Oxford Conception Study comments:

“This is the first study to show an association between a biomarker of stress and a reduction in women’s chances of conceiving throughout the fertile window — underscoring the importance of considering stress when attempting to identify the determinants of conception.”

In addition, it also highlights the need for finding ways to alleviate stress in women who are trying to get pregnant. This is especially difficult since each failed attempt brings even more stress that sets off a vicious cycle.

Anti-stress strategies: how to keep stressors at bay

August 11, 2010 by  
Filed under STRESS

Kids. Work. Relationships. These are things that can give color to our lives. They can also be a source of stress. Research has linked stress to many chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease, depression, sleep disorders and ulcers. Stress also can aggravate diseases like cancer and mental disorders. According to Dr. Lorenzo Cohen, professor and director of integrative medicine at MD Anderson Cancer Center:

“Chronic stress affects almost every system in our bodies and wreaks havoc on their functioning. It weakens the immune system, affects tumor development and makes it harder for your body to remain healthy.”

That is why we need to keep stressors at bay. Researchers at MD Anderson shares with us 5 tips on how to beat stress, as follows:

Share with us your anti-stress strategies. Let us from you!

In addition to these tips from MD Anderson, I have my own anti-stress strategies:

  • Watch a “feel good” film that you’ve seen before. There are films I love to watch over and over again – no surprises there anymore – that gives me such good feeling afterwards. My favorites are Forest Gump, A Beautiful Mind and Mama Mia. However, you shouldn’t get chilled in front of the TV that often as too much screen time is not good for your health.
  • Sit down with a favorite book. Here are my favorite volumes that I read over and over again: To Kill a Mocking Bird, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Frogs, Flies, and Dandelions, A Short History of Almost Everything.
  • Try out a new recipe. I go through my cookbooks and check out what’s yummy and healthy that I haven’t tried yet. With luck, I might come up with a masterpiece.

Share with us your anti-stress strategies. Let us from you!

How to counteract the emotional stress of the World Cup (or any sports event)

June 17, 2010 by  
Filed under STRESS

Ok, so I like watching football every now and then but I am not one of those fanatics (fans for short!) who would stay up the whole night to watch all the games. Sorry to say this, but some matches can be downright boring. I mean where is the fun in watching 20 guys kicking a ball listlessly back and forth listlessly for 90 minutes and not even getting within 1 meter of the goal and ending up with a 0:0 score?

But there are matches which are so exciting and can be emotional stressful that I can truly understand why the rate of heart attacks spikes during major football tournaments. Take the game between European champions Spain and the underdog Switzerland yesterday. It was plain nerve-wracking, and a friend called it “a pain to watch”, especially in the second half.

So how did I make sure that my heart didn’t suffer too much during these stressful moments of the match? Well, here is what I usually do (and what I did yesterday):

Scream and shout. I do not repress my excitement, at least when I am watching the game at home. Screaming certainly helps me a lot when I saw the ball heading towards the goal. Okay, so it is not good for my vocal cords, not to mention for the people sitting next to me. But it eases the strain on my heart. Repressing excitement is actually bottling up feelings. The pressure builds up and can eventually explode. Screaming is the vent to ease the pressure.

Stand and jump. I can seldom sit for long while watching football. Standing, I can stretch, bend, pace around and jump up and down when the moment warrants it. It also prevents me from being sedentary. But something to lean on is great.

Drink plenty of liquids. This will drive me to the bathroom every now and then which is a good thing – I get to exercise and take a break. But I avoid alcoholic drinks or stimulants (e.g. coffee) though.

Tweet and post n Facebook. I am not really a big Twitter or FB user. But I did have my laptop nearby yesterday and posting on FB helped ease my tension and even added to the fun. Short tweets can be done through iPhone, too.

Walk away. If the emotional stress really gets too tough for me, then I walk away. It is equivalent to covering my eyes during the most suspenseful parts of films. I will always know the outcomes so why should I subject myself to the torture?

Watching the World Cup can be emotionally stressful. Or watching any favorite sports events for that matter. So what are your strategies in easing the stress to your heart at times like these? Share with us.

Workplace stress linked to obesity

March 25, 2010 by  
Filed under STRESS

The typical American employee is overstressed, sedentary and overweight. This is according to a study by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center. And even a healthy diet of fruit and vegetables cannot undo the damaged.

The researchers looked at 2,782 employees of a large manufacturing company in upstate New York, whose working conditions are supposedly representative of any job situation where lay offs are of major concern. The employees were typically middle-aged, white, married, highly educated (college degree or more), relatively well-paid (earning more than $60,000 a year), with an average of almost 22 years at the company.

The study results indicate the following:

  • Most of the employees are chronically stressed.
  • 72 to 75% of the employees were overweight or obese. The body mass index (BMI) of the employees surveyed was similar to that observed in the general American population, i.e. obesity rates of 32% in men and 35% in women.
  • Workers seldom take time to take a proper lunch or go for a walk for fear of their jobs.
  • When pink slips are circulating, fat- and calorie-rich snacks from the vending machines become very popular.
  • At the end of a working day, employees would eventually “vege out” in front of the TV. 55% of employees watched at least 2 hours of TV each day.
  • Employees engaged in jobs of high stress levels have higher BMs compared to those engaged in low-stress, more passive jobs.


A healthy diet doesn’t seem to help much. The lack of physical exercise at the workplace as well as at home seems to be highly responsible for the weigh problems.

This is not the first study to link stress at the workplace to weight problems and the links can be direct as well as indirect.

Directly: stress can affect the neuroendocrine system, resulting in abdominal fat, for example, or it may cause a decrease in sex hormones, which often leads to weight gain.

Indirectly: stress is linked to the consumptions of too many fatty or sugary foods and inactivity.

The study results emphasize the importance of improving corporate polices to protect the health of employees.

According to lead researcher Dr. Diana Fernandez:

“In a poor economy, companies should take care of the people who survive layoffs and end up staying in stressful jobs. It is important to focus on strengthening wellness programs to provide good nutrition, ways to deal with job demands, and more opportunities for physical activity that are built into the regular workday without penalty.”

Aside from weight gain, pressure and stress in the workplace has been linked to cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, depression, exhaustion, anxiety and weight gain.

In the making: stress-measuring device

March 9, 2010 by  
Filed under STRESS

Can you imagine yourself wearing a device that can measure your stress levels? A device that can tell you to stop, slow down, and take a deep breath? A device that may be able to prevent an impending heart attack or stroke?

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) were just testing a prototype the other day. The ETH researcerhs, together with psychologists from the University of Zurich tested the device on 30 volunteers – students who were about to take a rather difficult Math exam. The prototype performed rather well, with an estimated 83% success rate of recognizing “stressed individuals”.

So how does this device work? The device works in different ways and measures several parameters, namely:

  • Heart rate
  • Respiration rate
  • Levels of the stress hormones cortisol in the saliva
  • Conductivity of the skin

Heart and respiration rates increase when people are under pressure. The body then produces increased levels of cortisol. Sweating of the palm and the soles of the feet occur, leading to increased conductivity. With these measurements, the device can tell you how stressed you are.

The performance of the prototype was definitely better than a device installed in the students’ chairs which measured the movement of the seated person with the hypothesis that the more movement, the higher is the stress level. The rate of success of the chair-attached device is only 73%.

There is a great potential for an effective stress-measuring device in terms of health care and financial xxx. The currently prototype being tested is kind of bulky with lots of cables and electrodes attached to it. The researchers, however, hope to make the device smaller through miniaturization and wireless technology so that it would be small enough to wear like a watch around the wrist or inserted in your socks.

Measuring stress levels is very important as research evidence has shown stress to be linked to cardiovascular as well as mental health. A small device that can measure different parameters related to stress can help people keep their stress levels under control comparable to how diabetes patients keep their glycemic levels under control by monitoring blood sugar levels. In doing so, stress-related heart attacks and strokes can be prevented and minimized. Do you think we will finally see such a device in the market? Let’s wait and see in 2 to 3 years’ time.

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.