This April, Stress Awareness Month has me thinking about the universal problem of stress. A certain amount of stress is normal, and keeps us actively engaged in work, love and life through the release of hormones that increase our energy levels and help us focus on beneficial activity. But circumstances can rapidly turn a healthy amount of stress into distress, which may negatively affect patterns of injury, illness and functional recovery.1
Psychological stress is known to influence a variety of physical conditions, ranging from autoimmune diseases and type 2 diabetes to cardiovascular diseases and cancer, and not only elevates the risk of disease onset but potentially affects disease progression.2,3,4,5 And there’s an interesting interaction between job stress and injury. Healthy individuals who perceive their jobs to be psychologically or physically stressful are twice more likely to become injured than those who don’t,6 and once injured or ill, the stress associated with physical discomfort, functional impairment and loss of independence and income may further the problem by delaying healing and return to activity.1
A multifaceted interaction of biological, psychological, social and economic factors play into the successful recovery from injury and illness (biopsychosocialeconomic model).1 Whereas some of these factors can’t be changed, our reactions to unforeseen misfortune can. Although feelings of stress and anxiety seem beyond our control, positive adaptation to calm the mind and enhance positive outcomes is possible. Mindfulness, or focusing on the present moment without re-hashing the past or worrying about the future, is a learned technique that can help individuals stop trying to control the uncontrollable and enable them to release unhealthy stress.7
It’s an interesting concept that the process of learning to control one’s mind involves letting your thoughts go. Research shows that while the tendency to feel anxious and stressed-out is in part genetically driven, mindfulness can be learned by the majority of individuals.8 So this month, in conjunction with continuing to exercise, eat a healthy diet, and practice good sleep hygiene, I plan to embrace Boynton’s “Please hassle me — I thrive on stress” motto. I’m going to attempt to view stressful situations as personal challenges to actively choose how I wish to respond, rather than passively reacting to them and then trying to restore my mental equilibrium later on. My strategy for when I start feeling overwhelmed will be to slow my racing thoughts, bring my attention to my surroundings, and simply breathe in the present situation in a nonjudgmental way without immediately trying to change it. Who knows? My health might just be at stake.
Please join me and other members of the MDGuidelines team this month in taking on the mindfulness challenge — let’s thrive on stress together, by letting it go.
- Harrell, M. “07: Psychological Factors and Workforce Health. Stress Management.” Occupational Medicine: A Basic Guide. American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 1 Apr. 2019. https://ohguides.acoem.org/07-psychological-factors-and-workforce-health-stress-management/
- Hackett, R.A., and A. Steptoe. “Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus and Psychological Stress — A Modifiable Risk Factor.” Nat Rev Endocrinol. 13 9 (2017): 547-560.
- Ginty, A.T., et al. “Cardiovascular and Autonomic Reactivity to Psychological Stress: Neurophysiological Substrates and Links to Cardiovascular Disease.” Auton Neurosci. 207 (2017): 2-9.
- Powell, N.D., A.J. Tarr, and J.F. Sheridan. “Psychosocial Stress and Inflammation in Cancer.” Brain Behav Immun. (2013): S41-S47.
- Bennett, J.M., et al. “Inflammation–Nature’s Way to Efficiently Respond to All Types of Challenges: Implications for Understanding and Managing “the Epidemic” of Chronic Diseases.” Front Med (Lausanne). 5 (2018): 316.
- Baidwan, N.K., et al. “A Longitudinal Study of Work-related Psychosocial Factors and Injuries: Implications for the Aging United States Workforce.” Am J Ind Med. 62 3 (2019): 212-221.
- Worthen, M., and E. Cash. “Stress Management.” StatPearls [Internet]. 16 Feb. 2019. StatPearls Publishing. 1 Apr. 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513300/
- Waszczuk M.A., et al. “A Multivariate Twin Study of Trait Mindfulness, Depressive Symptoms, and Anxiety Sensitivity.” Depress Anxiety. 32 4 (2015): 254-61.