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Handle Everyday and Chronic Stress with Our Stress Management Services in Park Ridge, IL

What is Stress?

The American Psychological Association’s 2007 “Stress in America” poll found that one third of people in the U.S. report experiencing extreme levels of stress. Forty-four percent of the people reported that “their stress levels have increased over the past five years,” in the 2010 Stress in America survey.

In fact, nearly one-in-five of those polled report that they are experiencing high levels of stress 15 or more days per month.

Situational Stress

Stress can be a reaction to a short-lived situation, such as being stuck in traffic, a residential change, or having a deadline to meet.

Long-Term Stress

Stress can also be a response to a long-term situation, such as the following:

  • Unemployment/financial issues
  • Relationship problems
  • Health problems
  • A spouse’s death, etc.

Stress becomes dangerous when it interferes with your ability to live a normal life over an extended period. You may feel tired, irritable, or unable to concentrate. Research has proven that stress can damage your physical health. In fact, chronic stress can impair the body’s ability to respond to inflammatory signals from the body’s immune system.

Physical and Emotional Stress

Stress can affect your physical health because of the human body’s built-in response mechanisms. Sweating, rapid heartbeat, fatigue, etc. are natural physiological reactions to stress initiated by our hormones.

If the cause of your stress is temporary, the physical effects are usually short-term as well. These physical effects may include headaches, stomachaches, tiredness, irritability, and more.

The longer your mind feels stressed, the longer your physical reaction systems remain activated. This can lead to more serious health issues, which can only add to your stress level.

Excessive stress can worsen existing risk factors such as hypertension and high cholesterol levels.

Studies also show that people who are quick to anger or who display frequent hostility, a behavior common to those under stress, have an increased risk of heart disease.

Feelings of despair that accompany stress can easily develop into chronic depression and poor daily living habits. This, in turn, can put you at a greater risk for heart disease, obesity, alcoholism, and kidney dysfunction.

Stress can also complicate your ability to recover from a serious illness. Research shows that chronic stress can impair the body’s capacity to respond to the immune system.

Work Related Stress

Research shows that lack of control over job functions, high job demands, and poor support at work can actually predict coronary heart disease. The American Heart Association found that women with high job strain have a forty percent increased risk of cardiovascular disease as compared to their counterparts with low job strain. Psychological stress such as job strain is noted to exist when people have a demanding job with little ability to control or make decisions about the process of their work.

[We would like to credit the American Psychological Association for some of the information provided.]

Stress Management

Stress management training is a proven method in reducing the negative effects of stress in the home and workplace. It can even help speed recovery following a heart attack.

The psychologists at Michael J. Athans, Ph.D. and Associates are trained to help you learn techniques to manage stress.

Fight or Flight Response

Did you know?

When the mind/body perceives a threat to the body, the body’s natural reaction is to increase adrenalin and signal the autonomic nervous system to fight or run away. An increase in blood flow, heart rate, and breathing prepares the body for action. This response may even occur in times of acute stress or prolonged stress.

The Relaxation Response can similarly occur by placing the body into inaction. Deep breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, biofeedback, etc. are ways to help the body “switch gears,” thereby reducing the release of hormones and lowering the heart and breathing rate, digestive functioning, etc. The doctors at Michael J. Athans, Ph.D. and Associates understand how the mind-body connection works and are trained to help you anticipate stress and respond to alleviate stress through several different techniques.

Biofeedback is an advanced technique used to train people to improve their health by controlling their heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and skin temperature. Most people who benefit from biofeedback have conditions that are brought on or made worse by stress. When your body is under chronic stress, internal processes like blood pressure become overactive. The doctors at Athans and Associates can help you learn how to change your body’s physiology (such as blood pressure, etc.) through relaxation techniques and mental exercises. Biofeedback is a specific technique which will allow you to see the results on the monitor, encouraging your efforts.

Biofeedback is an effective therapy for many conditions, including, but not limited to high blood pressure, tension headache, migraine headache, chronic pain, abdominal pain, constipation and encopresis, Irritable Bowel Disease, attention problems, anxiety, etc.

Neurofeedback is a similar type of training: emphasizing brain training through the use of EEG (brain) electrodes and the feedback your brain sends back directly to you and the computer. Neurofeedback can improve symptoms of inattention, cognitive difficulties, and emotional regulation by re-training the brain.

Research supports biofeedback and neurofeedback in improving a number of physiological conditions and often results in reducing the need for medication.

The doctors at Athans and Associates have the appropriate biofeedback/neurofeedback equipment and are trained and credentialed in the above techniques.

Stress and Heart Disease

A message from the American Psychological Association

You might think heart disease is linked only with physical activities—a lack of exercise, poor diet, smoking, and excessive drinking.

While these habits do heighten the risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular problems, your thoughts, attitudes, and emotions are just as important. They can not only accelerate the onset of heart disease, but also get in the way of taking positive steps to improve your health or that of a loved one.

Practicing Prevention

A healthy lifestyle can go a long way toward reducing the risk of heart disease or managing a diagnosed condition, even if you face a higher risk due to uncontrollable factors such as age, sex, or family history. But making changes in your daily life is not always easy. You may sense a loss of control over your life by having to give up favorite foods, make time for exercise in a busy schedule, or take regular medication. It also takes personal discipline to ingrain these new habits into your lifestyle. Deviating from a prescribed diet or sneaking a cigarette when no one is looking may satisfy an immediate craving, but it won’t achieve the long-term goal of improved health.

Coping with Life’s Pressures

Heart disease has many other mind-body connections that you should consider. Prolonged stress due to the pressures at home, on the job, or from other sources can contribute to abnormally high blood pressure and circulation problems. As with many other diseases, the effects vary from person to person.

Some people use stress as a motivator while others may “snap” at the slightest issue. How you handle stress also influences how your cardio-vascular system responds. Studies have shown that if stress makes you angry or irritable, you’re more likely to have heart disease or a heart attack. In fact, the way you respond to stress may be a greater risk factor for heart problems than smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

You might think heart disease is linked only with physical activities—a lack of exercise, poor diet, smoking, and excessive drinking. While these habits do heighten the risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular problems, your thoughts, attitudes, and emotions are just as important. They can not only accelerate the onset of heart disease, but also get in the way of taking positive steps to improve your health or that of a loved one.

A Downward Spiral

Then there’s depression, the persistent feeling of sadness and despair that can isolate you from the rest of the world. In its severest form, clinical depression, this condition can not only increase the risk of heart disease, but also worsen an existing condition. Research shows that while approximately 20 percent of us experience episodes of depression in our lifetimes, the figure climbs to 50 percent among people with heart disease.

Long-term studies reveal that men and women diagnosed with clinical depression are more than twice likely to develop coronary artery disease or suffer a heart attack. In addition, heart patients are three times more likely to be depressed at any given time than the population as a whole. And happy people have healthier levels of fibrinogen and cortisol in their blood, making them less vulnerable to cardiovascular disease and other ailments. Left untreated, depression can put you at substantially greater risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke. In fact, clinically depressed people are twice as more likely to suffer a heart attack as long as 10 years after the initial depressive episode.

The Struggle to Rebound

Depression can also complicate the aftermath of a heart, stroke, or invasive procedure such as open-heart surgery. The immediate shock of coming so close to death is compounded by the prospect of a long recuperation, as well as the fear that another, potentially more serious event could occur without warning. The result is often feelings of depression, anxiety, isolation, and diminished self-esteem. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), up to 65 percent of coronary heart disease patients with a history of heart attack experience various forms of depression.

Though such emotions are not unusual, they should be addressed as quickly as possible. Major depression can complicate the recovery process and actually worsen your condition. Prolonged depression in patients with cardiovascular disease has been shown to contribute to subsequent heart attacks and strokes.

What You Can Do

Although heart disease is a serious condition that requires constant monitoring, there are many things you can do to reduce your risk for cardiovascular problems and live a full, active life, even if you should suffer a heart attack.

Talk to Your Doctor

No two people are alike, and some treatment or risk reduction strategies may be inappropriate or even harmful if you attempt to do too much too quickly. Avoid trying to fix every problem at once if possible. Focus instead on changing one existing habit (e.g., eating habits, inactive lifestyle). Set a reasonable initial goal and work toward meeting it.

Don’t Ignore the Symptoms of Depression

Feelings of sadness, emptiness, loss of interest in ordinary or pleasurable activities, reduced energy, and eating and sleep disorders are just a few of depression’s many warning signs. If they persist for more than two weeks, discuss these issues with your heart doctor. It may be that a psychologist working in collaboration with your physician would be beneficial. Identify the sources of stress in your life and look for ways to reduce and manage them.

Seeing a professional like a psychologist to learn to manage stress is not only helpful for preventing heart disease, but also for speeding recovery from heart attacks when used along with structured exercise programs and other intensive lifestyle changes. Enlist the support of friends, family, and work associates. Talk with them about your condition and what they can do to help. Social support is particularly critical for overcoming feelings of depression and isolation during recovery from a heart attack.

If you feel overwhelmed by the challenge of managing the behaviors associated with heart disease, consult a qualified psychologist. He or she can help develop personal strategies for setting and achieving reasonable health improvement goals, as well as building on these successes accomplish other more ambitious objectives. A psychologist can also help clarify the diagnosis of depression and work with the physician to devise a suitable treatment program.

The American Psychological Association Practice Directorate gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Sara Weiss, Ph.D. and Nancy Molitor, Ph.D. in developing this fact sheet.

Learning to Deal with Stress

What is causing people the most stress in the new year? A recent survey by the American Psychological Association said the following issues are the top vote getters:

  • 63% of those surveyed said money issues
  • 44% said national security
  • 31% said job security

Younger Americans were more worried about money (74%) and national security (40%) than those over 35.

Many of us include getting a handle on stress as part of our New Year’s resolutions, and the survey also shows the most popular things we do to deal with our worries:

  • One-third of us either eat (22%) or drink alcohol (14%) to cope with stress;
  • Others rely on exercise (45%) and religious and spiritual activities (44%);
  • 14% turn to massage and yoga to relieve stress.

If you’ve resolved to get a handle on stress in the new year, psychologists offer this bit of advice: The quickest fixes are rarely the best fixes. In fact, they can sometimes cause more harm than good.

While people tend to reduce stress in familiar ways they’ve learned over time, those ways may not be good for their health. In fact, these healthier behaviors can have added effects and be longer lasting when trying to deal with stress and build resilience:

  • Make connections — Good relationships with family and friends are important. Make an attempt to reconnect with people. Accepting help and support from those who care about you can help alleviate stress.
  • Set realistic goals — Take small concrete steps to deal with tasks instead of overwhelming yourself with goals that are too far-reaching for busy times.
  • Keep things in perspective — Try to consider stressful situations in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing events out of proportion.
  • Take decisive actions — Instead of letting stressors get the best of you, make a decision to address the underlying cause of a stressful situation.
  • Take care of yourself — Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Taking care of yourself helps keep your mind and body primed to deal with stressful situations.

(Credit to the American Psychological Association)

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