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The dangers of stress

Woman stressed - the dangers of stressThe world keeps turning we were once told, and boy does it ever. In 2012, the pace of life continues to increase and that precious “down time” that many of us look for doesn’t seem to be anywhere on the horizon. 

The advent of the Internet, and the subsequent 24-hour news cycle, has given birth to the Information Age with everything at our fingertips. Digital technology’s spread to the lives of everyday folks means that we sometimes surf the web for hours – watching movies, emailing and gathering information. At the outset of this new era, a decade or two ago, this was enticing. But it’s wearing thin.

Employers have their own perspective. Employees are now available anytime, anywhere, thanks to smartphones, email and similar tools.  

All this has added up to a lot of stress on parents. Not only do we have to struggle with balancing work and  home, the new model often requires that moms and dads are no longer able to “turn off” once they cross the family threshold after a hard day’s work. Being available all the time has become a reality for many of us, even for those who work from home or who are full-time stay-at-home parents. This quest for balance and sanity in itself can also lead to stress.  

According to a recent worldwide survey by The Harris Institute, almost 71 percent of Canadians called in sick when they weren’t really ill, citing “stress,” rather than illness, as being the number one reason for doing so. Furthermore, the question of whether or not parents can really “have it all” seems to be pervasive in both the media and on the lips of moms and dads everywhere who are, frankly, exhausted.  

Something’s got to give

As more and more women and men head to their family doctors complaining of aches, pains, headaches and more, the root cause, in many cases, points to stress as being the primary culprit. Dr. Esther Konigsberg is a Toronto-based Integrative Medicine physician who deals with patients who are interested in a holistic and preventive approach to their healthcare. As part of her practice, Dr. Konigsberg treats parents who exhibit a variety of stress-related symptoms. “Stress is one of the primary factors behind many patients’ afflictions,” she says. “The physical results of stress can range from the mild to the extreme.” She estimates almost 80 percent of the afflictions that family doctors diagnose in their patients can be directly attributed to stress, including:  

Anxiety: Feelings of anxiety can cause a range of symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, sleep interruptions and insomnia, distorted appetite (which includes both  over and under-eating), and panic attacks with rapid heart beat, shortness of breath and chest discomfort.

Irritable bowel syndrome: An increasingly common result of stress, symptoms of IBS include difficulty with digestion, abdominal pain and discomfort, bloating, and a shift in normal bowel movements. Extreme symptoms such as diarrhea and constipation may both be attributed to IBS.

Chronic diseases: Includes high blood pressure, heart disease, addictions, ulcers, asthma and diabetes. Stress also affects our immune system making us more vulnerable to infections and even cancer.

Auto immune disorders: Sufferers of such ailments as psoriasis, Crohn’s Disease, colitis and lupus have in many instances been found to have underlying stressors that exacerbate these illnesses.

“The high-paced society in which we’re living is, unfortunately, a major cause of stress in many cases,” says Dr. Konigsberg. “For the leagues of parents that are holding down jobs while commuting daily, in addition to taking care of their families, the risk of falling ill with stress-related ailments is high. Fortunately, there are steps  that individuals can take in order to fend off the signs of illness.”

Read about How to handle your stress.

Samantha Kemp-Jackson is a Toronto-based freelance writer and mother of four (ranging in age from twin toddlers to adult daughter).

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, February/March 2012.

a man carrying two children

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