ALBANY, Ga. -- Around 75 percent of all doctor visits are in some part related to stress, translating to many thousands of hours per day nationwide, according to Robin Walsh, instructor of psychology at Troy University.
Walsh addressed Kiwanis Club members at the Hilton Garden Inn last week on potential physical effects of mental and emotional stress.
He defined good mental health as having adequate sleep and nutrition and leading a "stress-less" lifestyle.
"Having a calm, stable and peaceful mind fosters good heart health and helps develop a strong immune system," Walsh said. "It can ultimately have a real affect on our longevity. Hundreds of studies in the past decade bear that out."
Walsh said the human mind can't distinguish between the stress of mounting bills, strong arguments or traffic jams and the threat of genuine danger. Under such an alarm, the brain signals the release of hormones. That in turn releases oxygen and glucose, which give emergency energy to the brain and muscles: the classic fight-or-flight mode. Most times modern man has neither option, and without release the body can be negatively affected.
Warning signs of excessive stress are plentiful, according to Walsh, and may include aches and pains, nausea, chest pain, rapid heartbeat or loss of memory. Eating changes are common, as are changes in sleep patterns. Many drink too much alcohol or smoke excessively.
To help alleviate stress, Walsh recommends an hour of moderate exercise three days a week. Studies have shown that regular exercise enhances mental health, boosts energy and confidence, and shields against depression. Volunteering in a community organization is also beneficial, reducing stress and providing a sense of purpose.
"Watch your thoughts because you become what you think about," Walsh said
Developing a sense of forgiveness and optimism, eating and sleeping right, and practicing relaxation techniques or meditation are great stress reducers as well, Walsh said.