What jumps to mind when you think of some of the biggest threats people face today when it comes to their health and well-being?
Stress has skyrocketed from being considered an epidemic to pandemic in only 30 years.
In 1983, one Time magazine cover story was “The Epidemic of the Eighties.” Their survey showed that 55% of all people felt they suffered under ‘great stress’ at least once per week.
In 1996, just thirteen years later, Prevention Magazine conducted the same survey and found almost 75% of people claimed to have great stress at least one day per week; one third of these people felt they experienced great stress at least twice per week (1).
As if those statistics weren’t bad enough, today we hurtle towards 2013 with the effects of stress continuing to rise at an alarming rate. According to WebMD, currently 75% to 90% of doctor visits are due to complaints and illnesses related to stress (2).
Psychology Today refers to stress not just as an epidemic, but as a pandemic now (3). Author Paul Huljich explains that many of us are simply overwhelmed by the society we’ve created, and the pressure we’ve put on ourselves to accomplish more than we realistically can.
The Cost of Stress. Many of us ignore stress as best we can and keep on chugging along with life. People think of stress the way they think of taxes: an unavoidable part of life—resistance is futile. But the cost of stress may be even steeper than taxes, if you can believe that.
Consider some of these alarming statistics from Web MD (2)
• Stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression and anxiety.
• The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) declared stress a hazard of the workplace. Stress costs American industry more than $300 billion annually.
• The lifetime prevalence of an emotional disorder is more than 50%, often due to chronic, untreated stress reactions.
And from Stress.org (4) :
• Stress is the basic cause of 60% of all human illnesses and disease • Stress increases the risk of heart disease by 40%
• Stress increases the risk of heart attack by 25%
• Stress increases the risk of stroke by 50%
• 40% of stressed people overeat or eat unhealthy foods
The Proven and Powerful Antidote to Stress
Along with all these alarming statistics, thankfully more hopeful statistics are emerging. More and more studies on mindfulness can play a significant role in helping a person manage and reduce stress.
The effects of stress may be expressed on the external level as obesity, addictions, illness and depression, but it’s origin is all in the mind. The Institute of Psychiatry at the University of Bologna, Italy, found that Mindfulness courses helped people reduce stress, ruminative thinking and anxiety.
In addition, the practice helped increase empathy and self-compassion (5).
Harvard cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson found various forms of meditation created a ‘relaxation response’ that help calm the nervous system reducing stress.
In addition, he found that stress hormones, such as cortisol, could be reduced by practicing daily relaxation techniques (6). Dr. Dean Ornish of the Preventative Medicine Research Institute found that the reduction of stress hormones improve mood and emotional well-being, decreases chronic pain and helps the immune system to function better (7).
Treating The Root Cause of Stress
It’s clear that stress increases the risk of a number of health problems and conditions and can interfere with our overall health and well-being in many ways. It should come as no surprise, then, that the single act of controlling stress has a domino effect and can improve many different areas of our life where our health and peace of mind are involved.
Yet as research continues to pour in on the effects of mindfulness, scientists continue to be astounded at just how far reaching those effects can be. There is no longer any justification for overlooking mindfulness as a means of improving your overall health and well-being.
When it comes to stress, mindfulness treats the very root of the problem. It gives us the ability to be at peace with ourselves and experience happiness despite an increasingly demanding and overwhelming world.
Our perceived external stressors may never go away—we can’t control everything in our environment. What we can learn to harness and control is our internal environment and therefore how we react to our challenges.
The ability to do that may not only be the key in improving our quality of life, but for many people suffering from stress-related illnesses, may be a matter of life and death.
Please feel free to share your own wisdom and experiences or ask any questions in the comments section below. I’m happy to help. Stay in touch!