Just like a car has its “check engine” light, the human body has its panel of stress-alarms. With times as turbulent as they are now, it is good to review our three lines of stress defense, before something breaks down.
1. First Alarm: “How do I Feel ?”
Do you hate your work and live for the weekends? If so, your current attitude will be a good indicator of your future health. People who love their work tend to have far less heart disease, have greater self-esteem, and good relationships within their immediate family as well as friends. People who are negative, and say “TGIF” instead of “TGIM” (“Thank Goodness Its Monday!”) have the opposite scenario. These are the ones most likely to harbour health issues, and actually carry home their negative work energy so that it ruins their sleep, and distracts them from enjoying their time off. If you hate your job, do not dismiss the longterm dangers to your health. At least try to develope a plan to upgrade your skills, and to seek other opportunities. Or find a passion to follow in your spare time. Also ask yourself how you feel when you are actively moving. Does it feel like you are carrying the same weight as you did in your younger years? Does it feel as if you are out of shape?
2. Second Alarm: “What is my Feedback ?”
Even if you feel great, don’t ignore the feedback that others give you. At work it may be obvious if your boss sees your performance numbers slipping. It could be a co-worker who might comment that you seem “a little off your game”. Customers or employees might ask “are you sure you are alright” if you look distracted or pale. If you are getting comments like “its not like you to make so many mistakes” then your “check engine” light is on. Just like a driver beside you who is pointing to your tire: ignore these comments at your peril. They can be a great signal that it is time to come in from the track for a pit stop, and review your stress strategies.
3. Third Alarm: “The Silent Signals”
Here is the tricky part. There are a whole series of stress alarms that don’t appear in your feelings or your feedback. These are the ones that your doctor can find for you. Blood pressure, blood sugars, levels of cholesterol, iron, and vitamins can all be measured. Levels of hormones, and other predictors of disease can also be tested. The cardiogram can be checked, under stress as well as at rest, and troubles can be spotted long before they surface as a pain (or, worse yet, as a sudden last breath!). Ultrasounds and other scans can detect enlargements of prostate, lymph glands, and blood vessels, while X-rays can rule out bone or lung diseases. More sophisticated scans like MRI’s and CT scanners can pick up tumors before they are palpable, and can alert us to other diseases at the earliest possible stage.
While stress is inevitable, bad consequences are not. At least we can shave the odds in our favor by paying attention to all three levels of stress alarms. If we don’t, then the first warning of our next heart attack could be our last breath.
1. Feel better: be in tune with your body, and match your fuel intake to your exercise needs. Also, for your mental health, keep your brain in shape and prepared for your current job, or to train for a future one.
2. Listen better: don’t ignore or reject unsolicited comments from others. Like the guy pointing to your tire as you are driving.
3. Look better: or in this case, have your doctor look. A simple physical exam can pick up a great deal of hidden information about your response to stress. If you have insurance, or can afford to dig a little deeper, consider additional tests, such as are offered in executive physicals at specialty centers like the Mayo Clinic, or Med-Can. The peace of mind can be most reassuring!