By Helen Kirwan-Taylor
Many years ago I had a falling-out with a girlfriend that proved so painful, I can hardly talk about it today. My friend (let's call her Mary) was a colorful television personality and had the world at her feet. She was engaged to a handsome European, and her face was plastered across the newspapers. I was working for 60 Minutes at the time, and we often met for lunch. Then one day her show was canceled and she asked me - casually, as though it didn't really matter...
Michael Irwin, MD, director of the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology of the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, tells WebMD that scientists now know that being wound too tight can lead to behaviors such as eating too much, losing sleep, and drinking to excess. If left untreated these stressors can cause depression.
"Depression mainly affects the immune system and how our brains work," explains Irwin. "Five years ago, we would not even have seen cardiovascular disease as related to the immune system, but we know now that strokes and heart attacks can result from inflammation. People who are depressed have two-thirds more chance of having a heart attack or stroke.
"And it doesn't end there," he continues. "Stress affects such diseases as rheumatoid arthritis, too. Depression is a common pathway to a number of diseases."
"I think we are in an epidemic of exhaustion and stress," Judith Orloff, MD, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at UCLA, tells WebMD. "This leads to a joyless, tense life."
Some people, Irwin notes, do fine with stress. "They learn how to cool down and not let it lead to depression."
You may think that jumping a foot in the air when the phone rings or yelling at the kids is normal behavior, but these reactions are the result of chemicals coursing through our systems.
The key is to recognize this and try to build new patterns. Let spring be the starting point -- a new beginning, nice weather, a chance to exercise and contemplate life.
But where to start? Inside your own head! Negative thoughts, Orloff says, are a major stressor, and we (not the kids, boss, bank balance, or the nightly news) are stressing ourselves.