Health care misses the boat on stress management

Ever felt like you’re in a crisis?  You hear someone say, “Calm down, you’re just stressed out. There’s nothing more to it.”

Believe me, there’s a lot more to it. Stress is the underlying killer behind an astonishing number of cancer and heart disease cases. In fact, studies show that stress exacerbates heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the U.S.

And while we can blame ourselves to a certain extent, we can also point a finger at a surefire culprit: the U.S. health care system.

Clinical institutions spend billions in research each year to determine the effectiveness of various blood pressure medications. While this doesn’t hurt patients, it fails to promote healthy lifestyles.

“If I went to the doctor and he diagnosed high blood pressure, he would prescribe a pill,” said Guilford’s former Head Athletic Trainer Mary Broos. “It would be a rare doctor who says, ‘Mary, you need stress management.’ The profession as a whole doesn’t encompass stress because it isn’t paid for.”

With health insurance cutbacks today, even transplant patients have trouble getting the costs of their medications covered. Insurance for stress management? Forget it.

“Businesses are recognizing significant influences of stress. But the medical system and insurance aren’t well structured to deal with that type of prevention,” said Wake Forest’s Behavioral Science Education Director Dr. William McCann to The Guilfordian.

“Although they know of a direct link between stress management and heart disease, I don’t know any insurance company that covers (stress management) today,” said Broos.

Our health care system is all about the big picture. Treatment is geared towards the symptoms of health problems and not always the causes.

“You show up, you have 15 minutes, and the appointment’s designed to look at acute problems,” said Dr. McCann.

“Stress in America,” a national study, found that only half of Americans concerned with their stress actually receive support from their health care providers.

“Health care in general is just awful in this country, and it’s going to get worse,” said Adjunct Lecturer of Sports Studies Aaron King. “Doctors can’t spend time with patients because they’re seeing a thousand of them a day.”

Guilford’s community is no exception to the list of victims of our health care system’s structure.

In a randomly distributed survey, 40 of 50 total students identified themselves with a stress level of more than 5 on a 10-point scale with 1 being low and 10 being high.

Of the 40 stressed-out students, only eight reported satisfactory stress support from a health care provider.

“Students experience great levels of stress,” said Professor of Sports Studies Kathleen Tritschler in an email interview. “There is definitely a need to teach ways to cope positively with stress.”

Below-par health care is hitting us hard. But in the light of a couple of stress-intervention techniques, it may not mean the end of the world.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Organization, any physical activity ranging from daily 10-minute walks to regular vigorous 45-minute workouts reduces likelihood of stress by 25 percent.

“The number one stress management intervention is exercise … it doesn’t have to be marathoning, even walking 15 to 20 minutes a day will do,” said Dr. McCann.

While exercise provides stress relief through physical activity, meditation gets the job done through mental inactivity.

“Everyone should meditate for 15 minutes daily. People who say they are too busy to meditate — they need to meditate for 20 minutes,” said Yoga Instructor and Ayurvedic Physician Dr. Vijaya Singh in a phone interview.

“I like to spend that extra time with those patients,” told Internal Medicine Physician Dr. Nina Uppin to The Guilfordian. “I tell them that meditation can work miracles that modern treatment can’t.”

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