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
"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
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.
Identify negative thoughts and don't let them ambush you, Orloff advises.
"Don't beat yourself up for being stressed, but bring your fears into the
open on paper. Make a list of your seven worst fears."
Then, she says, make a second list of the things you are grateful for.
Irwin says he did much the same with a family member who was getting down
and negative. Parents need to teach children to make a list of positives,
Writing the negatives bleeds them of power. They become words on paper.
Second Tip: Protect Yourself From 'Energy Vampires'
People can be very unrelaxing, to say the least. In her book, Positive
Energy: 10 Extraordinary Prescriptions for Transforming Fatigue, Stress &
Fear into Vibrance, Strength & Love, Orloff catalogues some types that
can derail your best efforts to handle stress.