THE week has just started, but you're already sure stress will own you seven ways to Sunday.
Possible scenarios include: your boss’s fresh serving of demands that throw your ‘diskarte’ into disarray; the arrival of your three credit cards’ billing statements; your girlfriend’s pining for a designer bag that you can’t afford as her birthday draws near—there’s really an infinite number of stressors for each person. And right now, it’s safe to say we’ve already got you thinking about your own sources of stress. That’s the thing with this common adversary of ours: It has devious ways of trapping us in its web.
“Stress can affect the whole of a person’s being. Even if it starts affecting just one aspect of a person, it can have an eventual domino effect,” says Randy Dellosa, M.D., Psy.D., a clinical psychologist, psychiatrist, and founder of the Life Change Recovery Center in Quezon City. “Let’s say you may be under some emotional distress due to some of life’s disappointments. If that continues, stress can manifest physically through fatigue and illnesses. And if that carries on, your outlook may even change for the worse and everything becomes bleak, which will also affect the relationships you have.”
There’s no denying the perilous effects of being under constant stress. Unfortunately, it’s an inevitable part of everyday living, whatever your social class is. We even dare say it’s essential. These taxing things keep us sharp and on our toes as we work to solve the challenges they present. The key to effectively managing these worries is to determine exactly how they affect our bodies. That way, we know the red flags of being overstressed and, more important, the ways we can bring those stress levels down.
COOLER HEADS PREVAIL
Don’t be too quick to attribute some of your memory gaps to aging. “Too much stress can actually alter the normal functions of the brain, and increase brain cortisols that decrease synaptic connections of certain parts of the brain, particularly the memory center,” reveals Alejandro Bimbo Diaz, M.D., a consultant neurologist at St. Luke’s Medical Center Quezon City. “That’s why [among] the symptomatology of those who are under too much stress is that they forget.”
Old age plays a factor in forgetfulness, sure, but unceasing mental pressure catalyzes the natural effect of father time on your brain cells. Severe acute stress—which can range from forceful exercise to emotionally traumatic events—can likewise wear down your memory cells and disrupt your short-term memory momentarily. Experts call this transient global amnesia. No significant damage really happens underneath the cranium, but just like a computer, your brain just crashes and reboots, retaining only a loose recollection of what has happened.
Other than rusty recall, stress can also trigger nagging headaches that hinder your productivity. “If you feel tightness around your head but you can actually tolerate the pain, this is what you call tension-type headaches. And it can be a chronic one if the stress persists and is not dealt with properly,” warns Dr. Diaz.
To better protect your think tank’s functions, always get the right amount of shuteye. “You should spend one-third of the day sleeping—6 to 8 hours,” states Dr. Diaz. It’s not just holistic rest that you get from doing so; he says that “when you sleep, you consolidate what you’ve learned during the day, [and] experiences are stored in your long-term memory.”
Check your breathing, too. “Most stressed people don’t practice good breathing—either they hyperventilate, which is fast, shallow breathing, or they do it shallowly and very slowly. A stressed person is usually a chest breather kaya rin tumataas ang balikat natin kapag stressed,” notes Dr. Dellosa. Adds Dr. Diaz, “When you breathe slower, you’re actually activating your vagal nerve, which is the longest nerve coming from your brain [and which] goes down to almost all parts of your body; [it] affects your heart, your gastroenterological system, your muscles.”
Here’s how to calm those senses down. Inhale for three seconds and hold your breath for another three seconds. Little by little, exhale over the course of 5 to 6 seconds, then repeat the entire exercise. Ultimately, this practice will make you feel more relaxed because your nervous system unwinds from the strain it’s in.
While it’s definitely easier said than done, keeping a positive outlook also allows you to become more solutions-oriented. Choosing to be a morose, stressed-out guy only heightens your misery. “Stress can lead to depression, and what happens is certain chemicals in the brain get abnormal, connections in the frontal temporal lobe shrink, and there is a reduction in neurotransmitters,” shares Dr. Diaz. Poor sleep, anxiety, and sluggish mental processing are only some of the hazards of sulking and adopting downbeat habits.
But as with jumpstarting any seismic life change, tweaking your approach to stress should begin with the little things. Take, for instance, the everyday rush of going up to your office cube. “When you take the stairs because the elevator is full, it’s easier to say and feel, Nakakapagod naman ’to! Aakyatin ko pa [hanggang] 8th floor!’ But if you change your mindset and say, ‘Going up the stairs is actually good for my heart,’ it suddenly improves your mood,” Dr. Diaz points out. It also gives you a good workout.
CHECK OUT OF HEARTBREAK HOTEL
Cigarettes, a widely popular tool to de-stress, are said to provide smokers a sweet 5-minute release to unwind. Unfortunately, your heart couldn’t disagree more. “Akala mo na-re-relax ka, pero ang brain mo lang ang na-re-relax. Smoking is a deadly form of stress sa cardiovascular system mo,” says Eugenio B. Reyes, M.D., a cardiologist and president of the Philippine Heart Association. “Ang ginagawa talaga niya is pinatitigas niya yung ugat mo sa puso at pinapabilis yung pag-deposit ng cholesterol sa ugat.”
Regularly feasting on sizzling pork sisig and a bucket of brewskies carries not only the same supposed relaxation effect but also the same heart-stopping dangers. After all, eating highfat and high-cholesterol foods clogs your arteries bit by bit, making you susceptible to heart blockages later on in life. An overworked myocardium that’s been pumping blood into tight arteries will eventually quit way before you want it to.
Beef up your body’s defenses with superfoods that protect your ticker. These include asparagus (contains hearthealthy folate), grapes (rich in resveratrol, which lowers the risk of cardiovascular diseases), pears (prime source of vitamin C and fiber), and peaches (high in beta-carotene, fiber, and potassium). Missing out on these nutrients could spell potential complications to the heart and other essential organs. “Pag mababa ka rin sa fiber, mabilis mong ma-a-absorb yung cholesterol ng mga kinakain mo, mabagal ang transit time sa bituka, at mabilis mong ma-aabsorb ang bad chemicals,” Dr. Reyes cautions.
Apart from powering up your diet, you should also clean up your lifestyle to reduce the cardiac effects of stress. “Halos lahat ng klaseng sakit, naka-link sa bad habits and bad lifestyle dahil napaka-competent talaga at efficient ng puso natin—ang requirement niya lang is alagaan mo,” stresses Dr. Reyes.
TROUBLE IN EVERY GRUMBLE
Like two Jaeger pilots who’ve undergone the drift, your mind and stomach share a special bond that connects them in more ways than one. “The digestive system is actually controlled by the enteric nervous system, which is very much related to the central nervous system,” says Judith Gapasin-Tongco, M.D., a gastroenterologist at St. Luke’s Medical Center Quezon City. “There’s actually a ‘mini-brain’ in our digestive system.”
When you have a big client presentation coming up and you feel bloated or queasy, you may be experiencing stress-induced ysmotility—that is, your worries foul up the normally coordinated movements of your stomach and small intestines. Your brain may also release hormones that bring disorder to your digestive system’s duties. “Your esophagus can go into spasms, called globus pharyngeus. That’s why some people, when they’re nervous, they have the inability to swallow,” explains Dr. Gapasin-Tongco. “They can actually swallow, but they have a sensation that feels like they couldn’t.”
Heartburns could also be a problem for the stress-stricken man. “Your stomach increases its acid production, and then the acid can go up to the esophagus, causing a burning sensation in the chest area,” Dr. Gapasin-Tongco describes. But she adds there are cases when heartburns are almost phantom-like in nature: “We’ve actually seen patients who have no acid coming up their [esophagi] despite their complaints. So when there’s no objective evidence of acid coming up, we call that functional heartburns, and that has a lot to do with stress.”
The onset of poor eating habits can also be blamed on stress. If you think skipping meals is perfectly fine because it helps you lose weight, you’re sorely misinformed. Your body needs a certain amount of calories to function—for your heart to beat, for your lungs to breathe, for your muscles to move. “So when you don’t eat when you’re stressed, you put your body in a catabolic state, meaning there’s this excessive need in your body and you’re not giving the right fuel for it,” warns Dr. Gapasin-Tongco. “Ang mangyayari niyan, you’ll feel dizzy, you’ll lose weight, you’ll have headaches, and you’ll feel very weak.”
You should be equally cautious against stresseating. On the short term, “ang nangyayari kapag nag-se-stress-eating is you eat in a hurried manner and then you can have a bad case of indigestion,” notes Dr. Gapasin-Tongco. And of course, if you keep letting your appetite out of control during every meal, you may eventually end up with a fatty liver, elevated triglyceride and cholesterol levels, and higher risks of diabetes and hypertension, to name a few.
SAVING PRIVATE PROPERTY
As resilient as your penis is, it isn’t exactly stress-resistant. If depression has befallen you, your sexual desire and libido—two crucial and natural forces that make a normal erection sustainable for sexy time—may be dampened. But if you’ve been carrying a lot on your shoulders lately, the story could be a tad different.
“Long-term exposure to stress could mess up the endocrine pathway, which results in overproduction of cortisols,” shares Aristotle Bernard M. Roque, M.D., a urologist and current chairman of the Philippine Urological Association’s National Prostate Health Committee. “This eventually decreases the testosterone level needed by the penile tissues for nutrients and growth.” Shocker of the day: A daily dose of stress may reduce penile length and girth.
While this nightmare may be attributed to financial problems, job insecurities, and relationships woes, stress-related erectile dysfunction can be treated and is reversible. Penile health may be improved through psychotherapy or medication. But how do you know when your best friend is bogged down by stress and unprepared for bedroom liaisons? “Anatomically, there are no signs of a ‘stressed’ penis,” says Dr. Roque. “But as far as function is concerned, the telling sign is the inability to attain and sustain an erection for penetration.” If you want to keep your romps in the sack satisfactory for both you and your partner, keep this basic life rule in mind: Leave your worries out of your bedroom.
BANISH STRESS IN THREE EASY STEPS
Gerardine Josefina L. Sayo, M.D., clinical psychiatrist at St. Jude General Hospital and Medical Center in Manila, shows you how to score a victory against stress
1. Keep a clear mind
If you’re rattled by a high-risk situation, it means stress is already in control of you. “When confronted by stress, you have to tell yourself to calm down. Itanong mo agad sa sarili mo: ‘What should I do?’” says Dr. Sayo. Resolve the situation with contingencies, and once you’ve laid them out, let go. According to Dr. Sayo, chronic stress starts when you become too preoccupied with the different what-if scenarios of the stressor.
2. Take yourself out of the equation.
Before you allow yourself to lose grip on logic, attack the stressor as if you weren’t the victim. “Try to see it from a third person’s point of view, kasi mas madaling makita at mag-isip nang malinaw pag hindi ikaw yung involved dun sa situation,” points out Dr. Sayo. Also, focusing on relaxing mental imagery has been known to counteract the debilitating effects of stress.
3. Write it down.
If you’re temperamental, documenting your feelings will help you overcome stressful days. “Pwede kang gumawa ng anger journal, pwede mong isulat kung ano ang ikinagalit mo, ano’ng naging response mo, ano’ng pakiramdam mo pagkatapos,” advises Dr. Sayo. Every time you go back and sift through the pages, you must look at how you’ve been adjusting to stress and reflect on the ways you’ve been coping with it.
FACT OR FICTION:
STRESS CAUSES MIGRAINES?
Fiction. It’s more of a trigger
Stress is a definite cause of headaches, but it doesn’t directly lead to migraines. According to Alejandro Bimbo Diaz, M.D., an associate professor at the University of Santo Tomas’ Department of Neurology and Psychiatry, “migraines are now considered a brain disorder. It’s not just a blood vessel, or a muscle [that triggers it], because now we know that the origin of the migraine comes from [an irregularity] inside the brain.” It’s therefore impossible to develop migraines after two months in a highly stressful job. If you do suffer from migraines, however, stress is the most common trigger for an attack. Head to your doctor if you suspect that migraines have been playing cruel mind games on you.
FACT OR FICTION:
CHRONIC STRESS LEADS TO A HEART ATTACK?
Fact. But not often
“It’s possible lalo na kung may sakit ka sa puso na hindi mo alam,” confirms Eugenio B. Reyes, M.D. a consultant cardiologist at Manila Doctors Hospital on United Nations Avenue, Manila. “Pag tumaas yung blood pressure mo, bumibilis yung tibok ng puso mo. Tapos maraming bad substances diyan sa puso mo dahil sa stress [kaya pwedeng] pumutok ang artery and magfo-form yan ng sugat.” The body’s natural healing process for any wound is to stop the bleeding of the ruptured artery. But for the heart, part of its response is to stop the blood flow of your arteries, which then prohibits your heart from taking another beat. Dead end right there, bud.
FACT OR FICTION:
STRESS LEADS TO ULCER?
Fiction. Blame bacteria
You’re stressed out and your tummy is in a twist. You automatically conclude you’ve got ulcer, but it’s not necessarily the case. Being under great stress increases the acid production in the stomach, giving you symptoms similar to those of ulcer. The most likely cause of ulcer, though, is not the mountains of paper on your desk, but something unseen by the naked eye—a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori, which create breaks in the stomach lining. “Maraming tao ang nagsasabing masakit yung tiyan nila dahil sa stress at may ulcer na sila, but when you look at their stomachs, there’s probably nothing because the symptoms are the same as those of functional dyspepsia,” says Judith Gapasin-Tongco, M.D., a consultant gastroenterologist at St. Luke’s Medical Center Quezon City.
FACT OR FICTION:
STRESS SHRINKS YOUR DICK?
Fact. And it also ruins your sexual performance, which is as important as size
If you want to increase penile vitality, lifestyle modification is necessary. “Reducing your intake of white carbs, [and] eating more vegetables, lean white meats, eggs, and fish can all help boost your erections, make your penis seem bigger, and ultimately help you gain back your confidence,” says urologist Aristotle Bernard M. Roque, M.D. While you’re reconfiguring your diet, you might also want to avoid foods that come in plastic packaging: “Some plastics actually leech chemicals that can have a dampening effect on male testosterone levels.”
INSET : PAGE 59
Don’t just grimace through the pain