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We Have Met the Enemy - Part 1
By Caterina Spinaris
Published: 03/04/2019


It is estimated that 60-80% of visits to primary care physicians include a stress-related component [1]. That is, 60-80% of common illnesses may be due to what we loosely call “stress.”

It seems that even though we understand more than ever before the mechanisms through which “stress” can affect us, we are not doing as good of a job managing it and countering its long-term poisonous effects.

Some of us even scoff at the idea that “stress” can affect us negatively. We may instead proclaim that “stress” helps us focus, energizes us, and keeps us vigilant and on our toes. And I’ve heard corrections staff chuckle and say, “I don’t HAVE stress! I GIVE stress!”

And yet, the verdict is in about the outcomes of exposure to chronic and/or extreme “stress.” These range from cardiovascular disease to inflammation to gastrointestinal problems to brain damage, and more. In reality, our whole body is affected by “stress”—from the surface of our skin to our innermost core.

Therefore, it behooves us to try to learn to identify the entry points of “stress” in our lives, and how we can reduce them or avoid them altogether, when possible. When we start doing that, we may discover that some of the sources of our “stress” are easy to point out, but others push our buttons at levels below our awareness. To identify these we have to do some additional sleuth work, in order to be able to connect the dots and uncover them.

Some of the entry points of stress in our lives may be external, as in the case of a family member’s illness or a challenging boss. And some may be internal, as in the case of an excessive tendency to worry, getting angry easily, or being pessimistic. (My guess is that some of us may not have thought that negative moods are in fact stressful to our bodies.)

And it is equally wise for us to learn how to manage, how to regulate our responses to “stress,” so we can stay cool instead of becoming red hot when “stress” comes knocking on our door. In fact, since we cannot control many of life’s events, our habitual way of responding to challenges becomes a critical issue. Such habitual responses are in essence “automated” reactions, like a program that runs on its own once it’s started. We want that program to run to our benefit, to help us preserve our health, our sanity, and our overall well-being—not to make us sick.

In the next two issues of the Correctional Oasis, I plan to share more on dealing with external and internal sources of “stress,” and on consciously modulating our reactions to “stress.”

In closing, I’d like to share this quote from Dr. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, the director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at the Ohio State University College of Medicine: “Stress is a little like an avalanche. It starts at the top of the mountain when something breaks off. Barreling down the mountain, it not only gains momentum, it also gains mass as it keeps destroying things in its path that become part of it, a monster feeding on itself …. So the broad solution is better recognition of the early signals. That should prompt us to take stock and think about how to take care of ourselves” [2].

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4286362/
[2] https://www.everydayhealth.com/wellness/united-states-of-stress/

This article as been reprinted with permission from the March 2019 Issue of Correctional Oasis, a monthly e-publication of "Desert Waters Correctional Outreach".

Editor's note: Caterina Spinaris is the Executive Director at Desert Waters Correctional Outreach and a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Colorado. She continues to contribute to the field of corrections staff well-being individually and organizationally, in particularly regarding issues of traumatic stress due to exposure to violence, injury, death on the job, and also issues of organizational climate improvement.

Visit the Caterina Spinaris page

Other articles by Spinaris:


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