Stress or Distress

Stress or Distress

In Times of Stress

The matador is in a very high stress job situation and says to his doctor, "I've been feeling a lot of work related stress".

“I’m so stressed I can’t even think straight.” Sound familiar? Is stress always bad? Can it even be motivating? Are we suffering too much stress today? What is the link between stress and memory and mood?

Strangely there is a link. Stress physiology has come of age. It all started in the late 1950’s with the pioneer work of Hans Selye at McGill University in Canada. He developed the general adaptation theory. The modern leading researcher in stress is Robert Sapolsky author of the delightful and whimsical book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. He is professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University and a research associate with the Institute of Primate Research, National Museum of Kenya.

But let’s start with Selye and the short unknown volume he wrote in 1975 entitled Stress with out Distress. Turns out stress is actually motivating. It gives us our edge. It is what keeps us moving. It is distress that causes dis-ease. So the notion we call stress is really distress, a pathologic condition that leads to ill-at-ease, disease and a general assault on our immune system. This has given rise to a most compelling but quite daunting term — psycho-neuro-immunology. It is the science of how our emotions and perceptions (brain) control our immune system and thereby affect our susceptibility to disease and pathology like cancer and chronic illnesses.


We live in a world today that probably pushes the limit. Where stress is leading to distress. Hope seems to be fading. Too much to do, not enough time, too many demands. Drivers trying to run you off the road in giant monster trucks hurtling down the road at 95 mph. Moms driving to work breast feeding the baby, talking on a cell phone and fixing the last touches of mascara all — at the same time. That is sensory overload. It is an overwhelming degree of sensory and physical overload that we are subject to every day. One wonders whether this is in part a reaction to the confines of cubicles at work and the need to just “break out” on the road late in the day.

There was orange alert, and then even dreaded red alert, and then back to orange. It affects us everyday.

So what can be done?

First, and most simply and, yes, this sounds just too simple, but try it. Breathe! Do it right now. Just breathe in very deeply, slowly, and then exhale, hold it … then breathe in again. Do that 2 or 3 times and there is a guarantee that your blood pressure will fall 10-20 mm. It can be demonstrated every time. 10-20 points of blood pressure fall by a simple breathing technique. The ancient and modern Yogis knew that. Breathing is seen as therapeutic and transformative.

What else?

Here’s another really simple trick. Just get up 20-30 minutes earlier and prepare for the day rather than a last minute run to the door and out to the car. Don’t have time for a good breakfast. Get up earlier. Breakfast sets up your day. That is why it is called Break–fast. Breaking the fast. Eat a hearty and densely nutritious breakfast with plenty of nutritional supplements and a large “protein drink” and you will again be guaranteed a noticeable burst of energy within a week.

A good night’s rejuvenating sleep is critical to day time vigilance and the ability to cope. Are you getting a good nights sleep? You might even need to think about a sleep study as these are becoming more commonly performed and revealing of hidden problems affecting your daytime alertness.

Here is a path to “instant” meditation. And while instant anything is not always the path to lasting effects try hemi-sync or Holosync CD discs. These are CDs that are technically fashioned to create frequency beating. That is, they beat two almost similar frequency waves together to produce very low frequencies in the 8-14 cycles per cycle range. This allows for alpha rhythms which are calming and soothing. It allows for theta rhymes which simulate and induce deep meditation and even delta waves of sleep. The newer discs from The Monroe Institute called hemi-sync tapes and CDs or the holosync from The New You Enterprises. A great one is called Mind Aerobics which is a simple 20 minute routine that is almost guaranteed to make you feel more relaxed and less edgy and … happier.
Practice Mindfulness DailyIf stressed to the point of distress, breathe and then “chunk it out.” Break down your immense demands into smaller “doable” chunks. Just like out of the movie What’s the Matter with Bob? Baby Steps. See … Slow down, smell the flowers, talk to your kids, talk to your spouse — in person. Don’t answer the cell phone as if a subject in one of Pavlov’s labs. Take a mental vacation.

We can’t really stop all of this. We can’t really “stop the world — I want to get off.” But we can aspire to move in the eye of the hurricane. The center of the cyclone. That is where calm exists while all swirls around you at breakneck speeds. It is your time and perceptions that you can change. It is Time Shifting.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That is what we were guaranteed by some very wise men two centuries ago at the birth of our great nation. Aspire to some small nature of happiness. We can all do that. Hope is still alive. Now … just do it.


Philip Lee Miller, MD
Founder, Los Gatos Longevity Institute [renamed California Age Management Institute]
Author, the Life Extension Revolution
January 1, 2006
Originally published in the Affluent newspaper

California Age Management Institute
Monterey, CA, USA
(408) 358-8855 tel
(408) 358-8855 fax

copyright © 2006-2016 ™ and California Age Management Institute.  All rights reserved.

3 thoughts on “Stress or Distress

  1. This article was very helpful in that it made me take a moment to think how I can slow down and just breath to make a difference. I want to stay as healthy as I can and this article had me thinking about how even baby steps everyday, to look at nature and take a minute can take the distress away.

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