Wes Emmert: A way to combat No. 1 modifiable health risk in U.S.

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It’s colorless, tasteless, invisible, odorless, doesn’t draw blood, doesn’t cause bruising or broken bones, but it can be toxic.

No, I’m not talking about radon. I’m referring to emotional stress. Stress is universally defined as a reaction to demands placed upon us that exceed our ability to cope or manage those demands. Stress stimulates hormones in our system that prepare us for "fight or flight." It arouses the sympathetic nervous system in an effort to prepare us to react to external threats.

At times, stress can be a good thing. When athletes are in the starting blocks for a race or preparing to compete in a game, it is advantageous for them to be excited and the hormonal stimulant, adrenalin, flowing in preparation for their competition. Physical stress can also be a good thing for athletes, especially in strength and conditioning.

The detrimental side to stress is when we don’t have the ability to turn off or manage the stressful stimulus. Emotional stress can take its toll on the body resulting in physical health issues.

Individuals respond to stress in ways specific to them. Reactions to stress can lead to loss of sleep, loss of appetite, increased appetite, depression, and smoking, to name a few. It has been linked to heart disease, cancer, accidents, alcoholism, and suicide. It’s estimated that stress has an annual economic impact in the U.S. of $400 billion. That’s approximately $5,000 per employee per year. With this amount of money caused by stress I can only imagine the economic resources used to treat it.


I am not a gloom and doom individual, so along with the brutal facts, I’ve got some good news. Stress is the number one modifiable health risk in the United States. This means you can learn through various programs how to manage your stress.

Enter, the Oxygen Plan; an online self-help stress management program that has been recently presented to me. The Oxygen Plan stresses "living in the green," which refers to your level of stress as determined by taking their stress test. The stress test quantifies your level of stress in each of three categories; home, work, and social. The results are then assigned a number and color. The higher the number, the better and closer to the color green.

The higher numbers represent areas that give you the most pleasure and the least amount of stress and are assigned the color green. Those areas that cause you moderate amounts of stress are assigned the color yellow and lastly, those areas that cause you the most stress are coded red.

The Oxygen Plan then takes you through a four-step program to help manage your stress. Number one is to take an inventory of all stressors from home, work, and your social life that cause levels of stress. Number two is to categorize the inventory by assigning a color — red, yellow or green — to each stressor based on the level of stress you get from each item in your inventory. Number three, is setting life rules. Life rules are how you plan to react to your three different levels of stress. A life rule would be to spend more time exposed to those green stressors. Conversely, you would learn how to stay away from red stressors or learn how to turn a red to a yellow and then ultimately to a green one. Step four is to simply repeat steps one through three.

One final note, as with all treatments, you do at some time have to physically take action to treat the issue. Go Green!


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