Stress is everywhere

Robert A. Hatcher MD, MPH     

September 27, 2009 

Stress is all about us.  It creeps into our lives like fog the day after a rainstorm.  Stress seems to taunt us with the refrain: “Stop me if you can.”  But sometimes it seems almost impossible to stop.  Sometimes it enters our lives from unexpected quarters. Sometimes we can see it a-coming and run from it! Sometimes we bring it on ourselves. Sometimes it happens in response to something completely beyond our control.

So where does all this leave us? Hopefully, it does not lead us to paralyzing uncertainty. Stress is undoubtedly a major cause of disease – a formidable foe for a person trying to be healthy! 

No one has written my destiny for me or your destiny for you. No one has written my plan for today for me or your plan for today for you. Each person’s response to the stress in her or his life is going to be an important determinant of his or her health.

What are the diseases linked to stress?

  • Heart disease
  • Hypertension
  • Ulcers
  • Cancer
  • Accidents
  • Depression
  • Suicide
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Eating disorders (too much and too little)
  • Some kinds of headaches
  • Failure of women to ovulate (and therefore infertility – more on this in an upcoming column)
  • Poor school and job performance

What are some ways to lower the stress level?

  • Deep breathing is a part of virtually every stress reduction program for the past several thousand years
  • Prayer and meditation
  • Exercise is important for health and some of the healthiest aspects of regular exercise are the benefits of exercise in terms of stress reduction
  • Carrying a book at all time so that frustration from delays while driving, waiting rooms, lines, broken appointments, and waiting for the completion of car repairs becomes a treat rather than an event that raises your blood pressure
  • Carrying a charged up cell phone may also let you make a call you have been wanting to make diminishing your frustration from a delay
  • Daily meditation
  • Counting to ten when beginning to become angry


The serenity prayer outlines the two approaches you and I can take in the face of each stressful event, experience or relationship we face today. This short prayer helps many millions of people every day by encouraging us to accept things we cannot change and to have the courage to change things we can change.

But let us not give stress a 100% negative rating. It is certainly true that stress may have some beneficial motivating effects.  Stress can keep our nose to the grindstone if we are taking organic chemistry course, a tough math course or a daunting creative writing course. Stress can heighten our awareness in some dangerous situations where awareness is essential. Stress may cause us to eliminate procrastination. Stress may help us to visualize the best course of action for a given situation.

Stress can help a woman who is being beaten and sexually abused to see the wisdom of leaving that man. In Rabun County she should call FAITH. And stress can help a person prepare for a difficult speech (in most surveys found to be the most stressful experience a person can be faced with).

But for the most part stress is something I hope to minimize in my life today.