Stress is the No. 1 silent killer lurking behind today’s chronic diseases–high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and even cancers.
But stress is highly subjective. And difficult to measure. Especially since today’s health care system loves practicing “medicine by the numbers.” This reductionist version of health care involves plugging in simple numbers, and then doing sophisticated statistical analysis.
For example, research scientists continue to measure and fiddle with numbers like salt intake and cholesterol levels…because they can. Then, they give you drugs for a “numbers problem.” Unfortunately, the numbers they measure don’t provide the right answers for health.
So, yes, it can be difficult to measure stress. But that doesn’t mean research scientists and our health care system should keep ignoring it essentially.
Sources of stress lurk all around us in our everyday lives. And when researchers actually take the time to look, they find striking connections.
Researchers at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark recently made some wonderful insights about stress. (Interestingly, in “pop” media surveys, Denmark appears to have the happiest people on the planet.)
For this study, Danish researchers asked 9,875 men and women ages 36 to 52 years about their relationships. Some of the participants reported having a demanding life partner. (I don’t know the word in Danish, but in English, we call this behavior “nagging.”)
Eleven years later, the researchers followed up with the couples. They found that 4 percent of the women and 6 percent of the men had died. Nearly half of the deaths were from cancer.
And here’s the important part…
The participants who had a “demanding” life partner had a 50 to 100 percent increased risk of early death. That translates to 315 excess deaths per 100,000 in the population…even among the “happiest people on the planet.”
So, dealing with frequent worries and demands from a close family member was linked to early death. Even among basically happy people. And even after the researchers controlled for other factors. (For example, researchers took into account the person’s age, gender, living arrangements and employment status.)
Of course, many studies show that being married is generally a positive factor for health and longevity. And research has shown social isolation is a strong negative.
But it turns out that being married and/or closely connected to family can be a good thing…as long as it’s not accompanied by constant “nagging.”
This finding brings to mind an old adage from my grandmother and mother, “Mieux etre seul, que mal accompagne.” Roughly translated, it means, “better to be alone than in bad company.”
Now science is showing the wisdom of that old adage.
At the Claude Monet House and Gardens in Giverny, France, I once witnessed a flock of hens constantly pecking an old rooster. This sight was particularly sad, as the symbol of the French Republic is a rooster.
I did not get a chance to ask for the French term, but in English we say
“hen-pecked.” I’m not familiar with research on what causes hens to behave this way. Nor what causes the roosters to take it. But remember, it can go both ways…there are plenty of “roosters” out there who nag their “hens!”
Clearly, stress from a life partner or family member can have real and negative health impacts. And we need to look beyond the same old, one-size-fits-all, medicine “by the numbers.”
Fortunately, many different mind-body techniques can help you deal with stress from any source.
But first, you should learn which personality type you have. This knowledge will help you decide which technique will work best for you. For example, hypnosis or meditation works well for some personality types. But not at all for others.
Take this short online quiz to learn which personality type you have. Then, you can make a better-informed decision about which mind-body technique to use.
Also, try to remember someone else’s bad mood is not your problem. It helps to remove yourself from stressful situations. Go for a walk outside. Listen to some music. In addition, my books Your Emotional Type and New World Mindfulness can also help in your quest to stay stress free.
1. “Stressful social relations and mortality: a prospective cohort study,” J Epidemiol Community Health, published online 5/8/2014