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What Causes Stress, How to Manage Effects

Dr. Earlexia Norwood of West Bloomfield Hospital and the Troy Medical Center for Henry Ford Health System talks negative stress effects in the African-American community and gives management tips

Stress is inevitable. Everyone gets it from time to time. That's just a part of living. But how an individual handles stress throughout their lives can have significant impact on their health and longevity.

According to the American Psychological Association's Stress in America study, the top three stressors of American adults are money, work and the economy. In the APA's Health Disparities and Stress report, research shows African-Americans and other racial group's health is overall worse than their White counterparts and that stress could be one of the reasons for these health disparities. For example, the APA cites a study on discrimination that states, "African Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Latino Americans have been impacted greatly by hypertension and diabetes due to chronic stress resulting from discrimination."

Stress is subjective and based on how an individual perceives it, according to Dr. Earlexia Norwood. A situation may severely stress one individual out while that same issue can have little affect on another. Norwood, service chief of family medicine at West Bloomfield Hospital and physician in charge of the Troy Medical Center for Henry Ford Health System, says stress is a stimulus that can either energize people to do what they need to do or have a negative effect on one's health.

 Especially in Detroit, employment, health care issues, family issues, and financial issues can all lead to a person having an increase of negative stress causing physical and emotional/mental manifestations including heart disease, according to Norwood. 

"Increase weight, headaches, problems with blood pressure, increase problems of heart disease being some of the major things you see from increase levels of negative stress. Heart disease is still the number one killer of all Americans and even more so among African-American men and women," says Norwood. "There are also concerns of increase blood pressure in long term stress that it affects the kidneys as well. There is an increase risk of kidney failure. We see more kidney failure in dialysis in the Black community. "

Norwood also adds that negative stress can cause obesity, which can lead to heart problems, backaches, and interrupted sleep.

"We can all come in contact and we will all come in contact with different levels of stress and things that can be perceived negatively," says Norwood. "The key is not saying we can insulate ourselves and live in a bubble but that we actually equip ourselves to manage stress and negative thoughts appropriately. There are different ways of doing that."

Norwood offers a few tips to manage and get those stress levels under control.

Faith, prayer and meditation

"We know in the African American community our faith based community is huge. People who pray tend to have a lower level of stress, a better response to blood pressure when coming in contact with stress. There is a lot of scientific evidence around the faith-base community being beneficial and prayer being beneficial and reducing stress. Not only that but meditation and things that you perceive as being relaxing."

Exercise and eat healthy

"Another one that we don't do enough of is exercise. Exercise decreases stress hormones in the body, decreases blood pressure, and decreases your pulse rate overtime." Also putting good foods in your body will help keep your body not only healthy but reduce stress, minimizing chances of becoming overweight (which also causes stress).

Get a wife or (for women) get girlfriends

"One study shows, I love this, for men, one of the best things they can do to increase their longevity, decrease their mortality is to take a wife. One of the best things that women can do for their health is to have girlfriends, a circle of connection where they can actually release their stress, talk about things that are bothering them and be able to reframe their perception around that stress."

Reach out to someone!

"That's something that's not well perceived in the African-American community, to get help when you need it. Whether it is seeking help from your pastor or spiritual leader, from family or a friend, or your circle of connection and influence. Sometimes it's talking to a healthcare professional. What we don't want is a cycle of secrecy where our health becomes negatively affected or you lose your life because some people choose to harm themselves or others."

Find an outlet

Norwood also suggests finding some type of outlet, something that is relaxing and calming to you.

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