The Spectator
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 by Manuel Batlle
2016 Spectator Ron - The Spectator All Rights Reserved
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Understanding Stress, No prescription needed!
(The names used have been substituted for privacy reasons.)
The Bay Area today has become a pinnacle of modern innovation and social trends pushing every second the boundaries of human potential in technology. A place I wonder if Babylonia would be envious that so many wonders come out of this area surrounded by a bay. Being in such a competitive environment this sprit definitely permeates areas of daily life like driving and family relations.
In the bay area I have seen a common trend. After reading an excellent an insightful article by Rachel Nuwer there was an interesting concept that I commonly have seen not just in cities but also in the proximity of homes. A common response heard when asking directly on the well being of a person the response tends to be “Busy.” Rachel writes on the influence our societal norms may have on our understanding, if stress is good or bad for us. Society portrays stress as if a badge or banner that gives a high “self-worth.” Addiction to stress is something that if not aware of its existence we can go throughout life unknowing this non-controlled substance may have hold on our life stronger than heroin or methamphetamine. (“Are you addicted to Stress?” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/19/stress-addiction_n_5689123.html)
Although this is a general concept that may affect both young and old, I would like to bring light to the long-term effect of stress by sharing about a friend who is 25 the 3rd time (75 years old). It is a way to look into the future of many of us.
Clark is in his late 70’s, a man who I used to work for in home care. He spent 40 years working for the grocery business, was married to a woman who early on developed mental health issues. Eventually obesity and heart failure would take the best of her until she passed away a couple of years ago.
Clark has 2 sons who both live in San Jose. Mike battles with mental health issues and lives with Clark. Clark now has weight limitations that impair his mobility and a fall 2 years ago affects the normal use of his right hand. When I worked with Clark we would talk for hours. He would always mention his Cabin north of Redding. He would tell me, “Manuel, if I can get you up there you will not want to come back!”
In February 2015 I took time off and took Clark to his cabin and then again in September. On the second trip I decided to search for a job in Redding and in late October I moved to Redding. Clark and I would call each other to update on how my medical credential process was going and he would share about his family. He would always repeat to me, “Manuel, I don’t know how much longer I can handle the fast pace of the Bay Area. People are in a rush and they don’t even know what they are in a rush for.” One of the new grievances was the “Avenue” he lives on that he jokingly calls “an expressway.” The sound of constant vehicle traffic is definitely a contrast to an area previously filled with orchards.
There were Sundays where I would be present during the visitation of his family. I would always notice how after a couple seconds of listening to his younger son John and the challenges of work, Clark would change his countenance as if morphing into a sage and keeping a serene composure. From the stillness of his wheel chair I could see how he would steadily glance at his two granddaughters running around with their uncle Mike then look at John’s wife Grace who sat silently in a patient manner and then return to listen to the challenges faced in the life of John. Clark would give John suggestions on his challenges with the hope he could see his son come down from the state of overdrive. I could see how Clark knew this was key, and if John were less stressed, this in turn would benefit the family as a whole.
When we work and get paid for labor it drains our body but I have noticed there is another drain that also happens that I call the drain of virtue. I noticed that Clark was giving his son John and the rest of his family much of his patience. In the same way we eat and rest to regain physical strength, virtue when shared is replenished and physical vitality is better restored. Sometimes a simple call or email (letter) could inform a loved one they are loved and therefore enrich their day and well-being with this gesture. The best are hugs, and no matter what inflation does to our economy, these are still free.
In late March I had a window of time and brought Clark to his cabin. As I helped him up the stairs he nearly jolted up to enter his haven, forgetting completely his weight and limitations. During his stay he would tell me how the water in the Shasta region was considered the best in the world. There were nights while looking at the expanse of the universe that Clark would say, “Manuel, this is my heaven on earth.”
As we age stress seems to be less tolerable. These stressors can be physical (extreme temperature or any sensory stimulant) or psychological in nature (stress from relationships). When the stressor presents itself, this activates our nervous system and stimulates the release of stress hormones. In turn their effect on the body is the acceleration of the heart rate, increased respiration, and blood flow redistribution from the skin to the skeletal muscles. The term commonly used is “fight or flight.” (“Alcohol, aging and stress response.” Alcohol Research & Health, Vol. 23, No. 4, 1999)
The difference brought by age or chronic stress is the inability to bring your body back to baseline once the stressor is not present. Therefore there tends to be an over-activity of the stress system in our body. It could be compared to a racecar that has the gas pedal full throttle while having the emergency brake set. (“Alcohol, aging and stress response.” Alcohol Research & Health, Vol. 23, No. 4, 1999)
I do not plan to lay out a method to follow since we all respond differently to different things. I will say that it is important to know how your body responds to certain stimulus. Be conscious of how much time you expose your body to chronic stressors. Find something what helps your body to calm down. In the past couple of years I have noticed a frenzy for yoga, mostly by women. Women that have a tendency to multitask are now flocking to the afternoon Yoga session. Alcohol stills seems to be a favorite stress antidote but there are some things all should know to prevent health spoiling effects.
Alcohol, although producing a sedating effect, overtime there is the development of tolerance. Since more alcohol is eventually required to produce the same sedating effect, it increases the release of the stress hormone that may have a rewarding effect in turn producing a vicious cycle (“Alcohol, aging and stress response.” Alcohol Research & Health, Vol. 23, No. 4, 1999).
Although, in the medical field there are hundreds of studies and known facts on the effects of chronic stress, the clock continues to tick and not many take time to find a balance that will provide well deserved and needed upkeep. All this is to ensure the longevity of our body since it is the only one we have.
Clark has definitely found a means to refill his virtue bank. Physically each time he drank water right out of the tap Clark would tell me, “ I just never get tired of drinking this water.” In the mornings we would sit on the deck and watch the deer as they visited Clark. As I watched his eyes I could see how the serene breeze, and the squawk of the overflying eagle were taking care of charging up all other areas needed.
In medical school I was taught that your patients would tell you 85% of the time what is wrong with them. Listen to your loved ones. Many times the stressful lifestyle has become such a routine that they are unaware of being high-strung. Have patience with them, young or old, since most do not know how to come down from the “fight or flight” state. Some may become even anxious when letting go of old ways due to the fear the new method will not produce the desired results in their life. In this case Clark even gave me the medications best for him. Although the effects of being at the cabin are temporal, and there may be a more absolute solution, right now he is convinced this is what is best for him.
I truly believe there is a season and a time for everything we do and not all things are truly urgent. Stress can be addictive, it may have a long-term effect on your body if chronic and the body changes with old age on how much stress the body can buffer. With this, I hope you can find the balance in your life, find your source of living waters and a consciousness about this information as many other creatures have learned to do.