By Chioma Obinna
Every day, Nigerians go beyond their limits to put food on the table. They overuse their bodies just to survive economic challenges. Sadly, the heavy traffic on some of the roads like the Oshodi – Apapa Expressway, Lagos- Ibadan Expressway, tollgate in Ibadan to Iwo Road roundabout remains a daily stress for workers coupled with their workload. It is no longer news that life expectancy in Nigeria remains low.
The effect of stress on emotional and physical health can be devastating. According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, stress has become a ‘World Wide Epidemic’. Today, Nigerians are having their own fair share judging by the number of people affected by various forms of mental disorder. And medical experts in various forums warn that there is likely increase of cases of mental illness in the country. According to a professor of community health, Prof Akin Osibogun, about 40 million to 60 million Nigerians have one form of mental disorder or another.
Experts link long-term stress to health challenges including weight gain, high blood pressure, insomnia, lack of energy, depression, diabetes and hypertension which can later lead to damage of blood vessel, etc. Also, a report by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, says 110 million people die suddenly every year or seven people every two seconds as a direct result of stress. Meanwhile, millions do not understand what stress does to their health and well-being. Sunday Vanguard x-rays the problems caused by stress.
“If you care about something, stress about it less”. These were the words of Jonathan who almost lost his life to stress. Just like many other successful young and dynamic executives, Jonathan experienced stress during what he described as a very “successful” period in his life.
And the poor handling of the stress severely impacted on his health leading to an emergency. The doctors handling his case told him he was close to dying.
At 37, Jonathan was already established in his business where he made millions monthly. It was during the execution of his firm’s many projects which they needed to seal within a few weeks that he almost worked to death. As team leader, he had so much in his hands. He believed there was no problem that was insurmountable if he could just think harder and work harder. The conflict caused Jonathan to take on a huge amount of stress. Unfortunately, in this part of the world, managing executive stress remains a challenge.
“I thought I could solve every problem with my head. All I needed was to focus and increase concentration. But what I didn’t realize was that constantly increasing my concentration was having serious negative effects on my health that almost killed me,” he told Sunday Vanguard.
When Jonathan lost consciousness and was rushed to a nearby hospital, medical experts discovered that he (Jonathan) was moments away from irreversible organ and brain damage, no thanks to stress. For two hours in the Accident and Emergency Department of one of the hospitals in Lagos, Jonathan was transfused with three pints of blood.
He woke up the next day and could not understand how he landed in hospital. However, two questions occupied his mind. Why was he so stressed? If he weren’t rushed to hospital, what would have been his fate?
Since that episode, Jonathan has systematically gone about reframing his work, not doing different work but approaching work differently to remove stress.
Jonathan is among the about 7 million Nigerians suffering from stress-related conditions.
According to medical experts, there are two stress hormones. One is called adrenaline which is the ‘fight or flight’ response and the other called cortisol. Once the body undergoes some form of stress, these hormones are released and they begin to perform various functions.
While cortisol does a lot of good work; increasing glucose in the bloodstream and thus helping the brain to use glucose more effectively and to control fear and stimulate perspiration, studies have shown that being under stress for a prolonged period of time harms individuals mentally and physically.
Studies also show that long-term stress causes weight gain, high blood pressure, insomnia, lack of energy, depression, diabetes and hypertension that can later lead to damage of blood vessels, headaches, stroke or a heart attack, anxiety and weak bones.
Throwing light on how stress is linked to most diseases and mental illnesses, a consultant told Sunday Vanguard that most sicknesses and diseases, including mental and physical health, have link to stress.
“In as much as some are hereditary, stress goes a long way to cause most conditions. According to Stress Diathesis Theory in mental health, somebody may have inherited mental illness but the person may not show any sign till he dies but if the person is stressed, the stress will make the mental illness to manifest. Stress can bring up internal problem”, he said.
“It is also important to know that when the body is stressed, the body generates some hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, and all these have been found to affect the way the heart and brain and other organs work. These hormones that are dangerous to health are released during stress and then the person will begin to feel stressed, look old, fatigued, tired and the immune systems will begin to fail. It is also important that when the body is working and stressed up, there are tendencies to be tired and pack up. That is why people who are stressed up can die of many diseases.”
The consultant explained that stress was dangerous to the body because it affects the brain and leads to all forms of mental illness like depression, a common mental health problem affecting 29 million people in Africa out of an estimated 322 million people worldwide, insomnia, and anxiety disorders among others.
He counselled, “If a person is able to manage his level of stress, he will live well and dietary is also important but when you reduce the stress, every other thing will follow.”
Also speaking on stress, the Founder of Blood Pressure Control Foundation of Nigeria, Dr Jacob Nwachukwu, said that working beyond one’s limit to achieve corporate objectives is one of the major causes of untimely deaths.
Nwachukwu explained that overworking often results in high blood pressure and hypertension, which often trigger sudden death.
To Family Physician, Dr Olabode Shabi, stress, as an exaggeration of normal physical response to events and life challenges, makes a person feel threatened or upset in some ways.
Shabi, in a paper titled, ‘Stress and Depression in Workplace: Strategic approach to management”, said that major causes of stress in the workplace include ambiguity in the job schedule of workers, career development pressure, poor working environment, lack of job security, fear of redundancy and early retirement.
Shabi, Chief Consultant, Family Health of the Federal Teaching Hospital, Ido-Ekiti, listed other causes as the struggle to meet unrealistic targets, poor interpersonal relationship with colleagues and superiors in the office, low trust level and lack of problem shared.
For stressful life conditions outside the work-place, he stated that low literacy level, poverty, short life expectancy, negative life events such as bereavement, job loss, financial difficulties, divorce, loneliness, childhood abuse and neglected medical illnesses also contribute to stress.
Others are exposure to chronic pains as well as imbibing mentally stressful lifestyles such as misuse of prescription drugs and abuse of substances such as narcotics and alcohol.
Strategies for managing stress
Experts say there are various symptoms that can help individuals look out for stress even in the immediate environment. According to them, stress can be identified through emotional symptoms like frustration and moodiness; having difficulty in relaxing, low self-esteem, depression and emotionally unbalanced. Also, it can be identified through behavioural symptoms like changes in appetite which can lead to peptic ulcer and the ulcer would not heal if the person is under constant stress because the hormones prevent the healing process.
Cognitive symptoms like constant worrying, forgetfulness, disorganisation and racing thoughts are the other signs. However, experts argue that if someone is going to manage stress, he must identify what is causing the stress and once it is identified, solutions on how to cope with it can be found.
A medical expert, Dr Gregory Mowete, advises that people should aim to sleep for about seven to eight hours every night, exercising regularly; coffee, caffeine or alcohol should be minimised or stopped.
“People can manage stress by avoiding unnecessary stress; reduce job stress by improving emotional intelligence, creating time for fun and relaxation”, Mowete adds.
“Caffeine increases adrenaline and alcohol does a lot worse because alcohol worsens the situation of hypertension caused by stressed resulting in cardiomyopathy, liver and heart problems.
“Stress could be managed by better management of one’s time and the ability to reframe from problems, focus on positive things and accept things one cannot change. The ability to share one’s feelings with friends, resolve conflicts positively, adopt healthy lifestyles, exercise regularly, eat healthy diet, avoid alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, reduce sugar and caffeine as well as getting enough sleep can help”.
Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of Vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.