There are many aspects of our lives that change daily in a social setting. Our relationships at home and at work; how we manage our time and our money; our religious commitment and the social support we receive from friends and relatives. Researchers have studied many of these in relation to both disease and healing.
Disease Prevention: Social
Although this varies from one survey to the next, about 50 to 60 percent of the population is unhappy in the workplace. That means that 40 to 50 percent are satisfied. This also varies from one part of the country to another. But, since we spend a great deal of our waking hours on the job, it makes sense that job dissatisfaction can lead to much distress, which can cause disease if it continues for a long time. There’s no easy solution to being happy at work. Booker T. Washington, born a slave in Virginia in 1856, worked with his parents on a farm until 1865 when they became free. Going against the odds, he became educated, eventually becoming the president of Tuskegee University from its beginning in 1881 until his death in 1915. Washington is a role model for all people and expressed his thoughts about working: “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure."
If you are one of the 50 percent who are happy on the job, congratulations! That is one less stressor in your life. If you are not, try to figure out if you would be better off staying in your line of work or moving on to a different career or a different company.
Being A Caregiver
Many studies have shown that being a caregiver to a person with Alzheimer’s disease carries a risk of ill health. In one sense this is a job, although perhaps worse than a job because it involves seeing a loved one deteriorate on a daily basis, week after week. Being a caregiver to a family member with a terminal disease, such as cancer, can also produce a lot of stress.
Medical studies show that it is important to have fun during this time of sadness. This may mean that you should get a babysitter for this sick relative and take some time off to energize yourself. Taking a class, learning a new skill, working out at the gym, making time for a mini-vacation or doing something that would give you positively great feelings would help.
Scientists recognize that it is extremely helpful to talk to someone about your problems.(1) Some community health centers conduct support groups for survivors of sexual abuse, which has been found to be effective in coping with this burden. Evidence points to the fact that people who have strong social networks (family, friends, religious groups, support groups, etc.) live longer and healthier than those who are more isolated. (2,3)
Sexual abuse has always been veiled in secrecy and this makes it difficult for survivors to talk about “their little secret.” However, a support group of fellow SA survivors offers an excellent therapeutic chance for all to share their ideas, emotions, and histories with others who have also been abused.
- Cohen, S. & Willis, T.A. (1985) Stress, social support, and the buffering hypothesis. Psychological Bulletin 109, 310-357.
- Berkman, L.F. & Syme, S.L. (1979) Social networks, host resistance, and mortality. American Journal of Epidemiology 109, 186-204.
- Vogt, T.M. et al. (1992) Social neworks as predictors of ischemic heart disease, cancer, stroke, and ypertension. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology 45, 659-666.
Researchers have found that religion helps sick people to improve their coping skills and to have greater social support. (1,2) Researchers at Stanford (3) found a positive correlation between religious involvement and immune function in women with metastatic breast cancer. NK cell activity was enhanced in the women with religious connections. This study also found that cortisol levels were lower in the women with religious conviction. Cortisol, the stress hormone, has been shown to lower NK cell activity, an important part of the immune system. Another study (4) examined women awaiting breast biopsies and found that cortisol levels were lower in those women who had religious expression.
Over the ages there have been many amazing healings from religious leaders and religious beliefs. One modern example is the grotto of Lourdes in southern France where millions of pilgrims have visited since 1858 when Bernadette Soubirous received 18 apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary. French physicians examined these miraculous cures in 1859. Today hundreds of crutches and wheelchairs, left behind by those who no longer need them, line the entrance to the grotto.
Modern medicine has difficulty in explaining such cures but, with understanding of psychoneuroimmunology, one can understand how lowered levels of cortisol and enhanced NK cell activity can destroy harmful cells and increase wound healing. Deep religious beliefs, hope, optimism, and other extremely powerful thoughts and emotions can certainly help the SA survivor to avoid disease.
- Koenig, H.G. et al. (1998) Religious coping and health status in medically ill hospitalized older adults. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 186, 513-521.
- Krause, N. (1998) Stressors in highly valued roles, religious coping, and mortality. Psychology and Aging 13, 242-255.
- Schall, M.D. et al. (1998) Religious expression and immune competence in women with advanced cancer. Paper presented at the Meeting of the American Psychological Association, San Francisco.
- Katz, J. et al. (1970) Stress, distress, and ego defenses. Archives of General Psychiatry 23, 131-142.
If your marriage or relationship is a constant source of unhappiness, beware: this stress will definitely lower your immune function. One study evaluated 90 newlywed couples and found that those who displayed anger or negative emotions during a 30-minute discussion had decreased NK cell activity and an increase in blood pressure (1). Years ago a survey found that the average amount of quality time (no TV, no kids, no distractions) spent between a husband and wife was 30 minutes a week. Books, CDs, and websites all offer a host of ways to improve a marriage.
- Kiecolt-Glaser, J.K. et al. (1993) Negative behavior during marital conflict is associated with immunological down-regulation. Psychosomatic Medicine 55, 395-409.
It’s the strong desire of every SA survivor to protect his or her children from any kind of abuse, especially with the knowledge of health outcomes associated with abuse. Still, as any parent knows, raising children can be a difficult, yet rewarding challenge. Telling your children that you love them is one of the best ways to let them know that they are special. Spending time with them, whether they’re two or 32 is also a way to nurture the relationship.
The teenage years tend to be as difficult for parents and for their children, those ducklings who are beginning to learn to fly. Patience is more than a virtue; it is the measure of a parent’s character and a quality that will endure the test of time. Learning to say, “No,” also shows the teenager that he or she is loved and helps the child to understand that the world does not owe them anything.
If family distress is becoming overwhelming, the Internet provides hordes of resources. Psychologists can be effective, looking from the outside in, and can help to restore sanity and happiness. The old adage from the 50s, though largely forgotten, still applies today: “The family that prays together, stays together.”
In today’s society, it seems that everybody wants things done quickly. Many of us have a lot to do each day and never manage to complete all the tasks on our list. And yet, many of us don’t have time for what’s really important. We can get lost in the shuffle and succumb to the stress of feeling overwhelmed by so many things to do and so little time to accomplish our objectives.
If you type “time management” into the Google search engine, you will find nearly a million and a half websites dedicated to this topic. You could spend the better part of a lifetime reading about ways to squeeze more minutes out of each day.
Some achievers try to do so much in each day that their bodily system stays energized continually. This means that the release of epinephrine and its cousins constantly batter down the body. After a while, one’s energy level disintegrates. It’s important to realize that your health suffers if your body never takes a break. Some work two or three jobs; manage household; and raise children. Some workaholics start at four in the morning and work into the wee hours of the night; all in search of more almighty dollars. It’s no wonder that, when highly paid executives retire from their demanding jobs, many die within five years of retirement. They don’t know what to do with “free time.”
Common sense tells us to make a list of daily chores to accomplish and to prioritize so that the most critical ones are taken care of before those of lesser importance. It’s also vital to take relaxation breaks in order to shut down the adrenaline flow and to allow one’s immune system a chance to strengthen. If you don’t do everything on your list, it’s OK. That’s what tomorrow is for.
If, on the other hand, you procrastinate easily and frequently and fail to do what’s really important in your life, then it would be worthwhile for you to explore some of these websites on time management or find a good book on the topic.
Someone said that money can’t buy happiness, but it can come awfully close. Many studies have shown the link between poverty and disease. In third world countries and in poor areas of America many illnesses associated with poverty are infectious diseases, such as those caused by diarrhea and lack of clean water and sanitation (1). Malaria and tuberculosis are prevalent from such conditions overseas. Lack of access to medical services, another part of poverty, allows diseases to take their tolls. Ironically, in the USA, one of the most affluent countries in the world, where food and medical supplies seem limitless, obesity, the other side of the coin, rears its ugly head. Fast food, lack of education, and adverse childhood experiences combine with poverty to lead to obesity, which, if untreated, can lead to hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and respiratory problems.
But, the key to financial success does not require making a seven figure income each year; if that were true, all high powered executives would be able to retire in style. And all those lottery winners would have a comfortable life. As it is, many affluent wage earners live beyond their means (some live from paycheck to paycheck) and have little left in the bank when they’re 65. Often they feel the need to display their income with luxurious cars, homes, boats, vacation villas – to impress their peers.
Rather, the key to financial success, whether your salary is modest or immodest, is to live within your means and put money away each month into a savings vehicle, whether is stocks, real estate, mutual funds, or bonds. Then as each month passes, your savings should grow so that you can relax when you near retirement age. A Chinese proverb goes something like this: “As a young man I work many hours a day so that as an old man I can relax many hours each day.”
- Poverty and health: an overview of the basic linkages and public policy measures. Health Economics Technical Briefing Note. WHO. Geneva 1997.
Lack of effective communication is one of the most common forms of distress in the business world and in relationships today. If you doubt this, form a circle of eight to ten people and ask one person to write down a fairly simple message. Each person in the circle then whispers the message to the next until it comes around to the beginning. Then see what the message is.
The Internet again shows how important this topic is. By typing “effective communication” into Google, 255 million websites will appear. Unless you work on an assembly line or have a similar job with little interpersonal contact, most of your day is spent in communicating with others. If you communicate well, you will lower the possibility of distress and remain healthy. If you have poor communication skills, you are liable to miscommunicate, create friction, and suffer from mistakes created by ineffective messages. Now that we have the gift of email, there is one more way to fail in communications. What, you didn’t get my email?
Remember that listening is just as important as talking in a message transfer. And don’t always assume that what you heard is really what was said. If you’re not paying attention, you can miss the meaning behind the words.
In conclusion, these are some ways to manage daily stress, methods that you can use to improve your life and remain healthy. If you choose to live a stressed out life with lots of worrying, anger, fear, jealousy, and anxiety, you may succumb to a disease listed earlier on this website. Remember: it’s your choice. And, as Andy wisely proclaimed in the movie, Shawshank Redemption, “Red, it’s a simple choice: get busy living … or get busy dying.” Good luck to each of you and God bless you. If you wish to share your ideas, your story, or how this site has helped you, go to the testimonial part of the section, Survivor Awareness.