Dr. Rangan Chatterjee authored a new book, “The Stress Solution” offering advice on countering the damaging effects of chronic stress. In it he details patients who, despite following intense diet and exercise programs, struggle with serious health issues like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
Dr. Chatterjee counseled one 53-year-old businessman patient to focus on the root cause of his problem: chronic stress. The patient was putting in long hours and skipping sleep. Dr. Chattterjee told him that constant stress can wreak havoc on blood sugar levels, urged him to practice meditation and yoga, and to shut off his screens 90 minutes before bed each night. Six months later, the businessman’s blood sugar levels improved almost to normal.
I could have been a poster boy for Dr. Chatterjee. Regular readers of this column know that I recently had to undergo open heart triple bypass surgery despite my healthy diet and passion for exercise. My doctors told me that stress and genetics played a huge role in my condition.
A typical day for me began at 6:00am and often stretched to 11:00pm. Even when I ate dinner with my family, I’d retire to my home study to log into my work system to finish projects, answer emails and delegate work to my team.
I enjoy my work, and everyone’s career has some element of stress. What I didn’t realize is that I was pushing my body beyond its limits. I’m back at the office now, having made internal changes to better deal with day to day life.
“A lot of people are oblivious to the effects of stress,” Dr. Chatterjee said in one of his Feel Better, Live More podcasts which tops the iTunes rankings.
When one of my law school classmates, Mark Stein, now a Miami intellectual property attorney, learned of my surgery, he called with well-wishes. During our conversation he asked if I meditated. I told him this was something that I had planned to do but never got around to.
The next day I received a package from Amazon with a book entitled Practicing Mindfulness – 75 Essential Meditations to Reduce Stress, Improve Health, and Find Peace in Everyday by Matthew Sockolov. Mark later explained to me this is an excellent book for beginners, as he’s used the techniques for more than 25 years.
I’ve seen clients who suffer from stress, even retired ones. One of my retired law partners, John Sheppard, once told me, “I’m busier and more stressed in retirement than I ever was in my law practice!”
One of the things that stresses out clients is not having a plan in place in case they get sick or die. Thinking about one’s own mortality can be stressful by itself, so people put it off. Rather than relieving anxiety, it appears that hiding from it only makes it worse.
Other clients appear to believe that once they’ve signed their estate planning documents, they’ve somehow set in motion a sequence leading to their own demise! I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve sent drafts out to clients, but they hesitate for months or even years before reviewing those documents with me and actually signing them to put them into effect.
Given Dr. Chatterjee’s findings, it isn’t a wild assumption to believe that the buildup of stress in not planning for the inevitable would somehow make the inevitable more imminent, rather than the other way around. Our clients almost always feel an overwhelming sense of satisfaction and calm after signing their documents, as they know they now have peace of mind over their affairs.
In any event, you have a sympathetic ear when discussing these issues with me now. While I don’t wish open heart surgery on anyone, the experience has broadened my understanding of what many of my clients have been through, and opened my eyes to the fears and stresses associated with taking care of your loved ones, planning for a future that you may not be a part of.
Hopefully, of course, all of us live a long and healthy life. My doctors have assured me that I’m expected to live a normal life, and that my new pathways to my heart will likely improve my vitality for many years going forward.
If you’re under a lot of stress, check out the books and other resources I suggest here. Others can’t remove the stress from your life, but you can certainly take steps to become more resilient and take action to increase the pleasure in your life going forward.
© 2019 Craig R. Hersch. Originally published in the Sanibel Island Sun.