One of the major factors or enhancing conditions in disease formation is tension/stress. This could be emotional or psychologic stress, or stress from an unhealthy lifestyle, exposure to chemicals, radiation, or other toxic agents in our environment.
Stress, induces thickening of blood and predisposes a person to clot formation in arteries and veins, which increases the risk for heart attack, stroke, and thrombophlebitis in the legs that could send blood clots to the lungs, a life-threatening condition called pulmonary embolus. Stress, just like lack of physical exercise, believe it or not, stress is also a significant factor in the development of cancer. For one thing, stress produces hormones that aggravate and magnify stress itself, reduce the level of happy hormones in us, and weakens our immune system. This lowers our resistance to prevent and fight diseases.
Living a healthy lifestyle, which includes relaxation and stress reduction strategy, is like taking good care of any household appliance or electronic gadget, or of our vehicles with regular tune-up and oil change, to reduce stress and premature wear and tear and break-down.
Severe emotional stress could lead to mental breakdown. When I was a teenager in Quezon City, I knew of a 30-year-old female neighbor who was severely heart-broken when her American boyfriend left her because her parents rejected him. She literally went crazy and became insane and had to be institutionalized. Indeed, stress could be seriously harmful to our body.
We live in a complex, hurried and stress-laden society. The carousel of life spins so fast we sometimes can’t get off and get confused with our priorities and goals. In this world of instant this and instant that, of split-second email, express grocery checkout counters, drive-up fast food, pharmacy and banking, people give high fives instead of the old-fashioned handshake, and friendly conversation is reduced to “Hi!” and “Bye.” Everyone seems to be in a hurry. People can’t even say “Just a second, please.” They now say “Just a sec,” to save a split second of time. Everything is now, now, now. I have been so guilty of this myself, they call me “Dr. Karon” (Dr. Now) in Cebu. Instead of mailing handwritten letters, we now transmit email messages with lightning speed, domestic and international. The whole world has shrunken smaller and it seems even the hour has been reduced to less than 60 minutes, and the minute to less than 60 seconds.
We are all in a rat race. Sometimes, no time for visiting our parents, friends and other loved ones. No time for exercises or R & R. No time for contemplation and soul-searching. No time to appreciate and smell the flowers along the way. No time to commune with nature. Simply no time, except for the wild and dizzying ride in the fast lane of today’s society.
For Christmas, a husband and wife colleagues of mine in Cebu gave me four books, among other gifts, when I left for the United States to spend the holidays with my family almost 20 years ago. One of these books was entitled “STOPPING.” Reading that book while on my international flight opened my mind and my eyes, and provided me a wiser perspective in life, one that I never had the time to stop for and realize.
Looking back, from the time I stepped out of high school and the 18 years of college, medical schooling, internship, residency training and fellowship that followed, and then the hectic medical practice thereafter, I was always on the expressway of my life. Somehow, the speedy lane was the only path and direction I knew. I was caught in the vicious cycle of work, work and work, unwittingly sacrificing the beauty of life itself. It now seems that part of my life had passed me by as I was whirling away, barely noticing it.
Not experiencing every minute of our life and savoring its beauty and wonders is really missing it all. And it would indeed be a great pity if, in the twilight years of our life, we woke up one morning and wondered “where have the all years gone by? Did I enjoy life to the fullest, or did I miss it all?”
Stopping is the way to get back to the right track in life and to have a life. Although in a zip and zoom modes, we sometimes have to put the brakes on, even if the inertia throws us overboard and wakes us up. Stopping the vertiginous circus, in order to live again, seems to be the saner and healthier way. For many of us it might be difficult to simply “slow down” gradually, because the habit we have developed over the years had conditioned our mind and body to “full speed ahead,” and reducing the pace only leads to a poor compromise. What we have to do is to just STOP as I have just learned from that book. At least to re-orient our bearings in life and review our priorities.
Stress is a natural force in life. There is no one exempt from stress. It is how each of us handles it that makes the difference on its impact. Dealt with properly, stress could be positive; it could be an inspiration for us to be better persons or drive us to perform more efficiently to achieve our best. This double-edged sword could certainly be used positively, wisely.
Stopping the vicious cycle of work, work, work does not mean quitting work altogether. All we simply have to do is to punctuate at a pre-scheduled intervals this unending circle of work with “nonwork-related, fun-filled, pure-play” activities we have always wanted to do alone, or with our loved ones, “if we only had the time.” Time management is not limited to our job, even in this mega-trendy times. It also applies, and more appropriately so, to our life and to our happiness. After all, we are here on earth to be fulfilled and to be happy. And happiness is not the destination in life. Happiness is the journey itself. Let’s enjoy it to the fullest.
Let us not hurry to our graves
by casting recklessly our fate.
Not much time to abuse and waste,
let all the empty gravesites wait.
Savor life’s overflowing cup
and every second we have left.
Time pauses not for any man
Mortals can’t amend God’s plan.
PSC Houston 1972
Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, a Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus based in Northwest Indiana and Las Vegas, Nevada, is an international medical lecturer/author, and Chairman of the Filipino United Network-USA, a 501(c)3 humanitarian foundation in the United States. Websites: FUN8888.com, philipSchua.com Email: [email protected]