“The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming.”
When I was growing up, everyone knew what that meant. It was the title of a deliciously silly movie starring Carl Reiner and Jonathan Winters. The whole idea was so ludicrous – a word I didn’t know then – we could laugh at it.
I’m still growing up, and that phrase has taken on new meaning, and in spite of all best efforts to remain calm and non-reactive, I find myself … disturbed.
As your most personal and ACE-certified trainer, I can assure you that when I – plural, “we” – are disturbed, we are stressed. Repetitive stress syndrome doesn’t just manifest as tennis elbow. When we go around chronically stressed, our immune system weakens, our stomach acts up, we go looking for the chocolate chip cookies.
Hormone-wise, our dopamine goes down and our cortisol goes up, as may happen, for instance, when you hear an American presidential candidate express a preference for the leadership of Vladimir Putin over that of Barak Obama, who, by the way, is so tuned into lowering his cortisol he has managed to play about 200 rounds of golf during his presidency. If anyone ever needed to relieve stress, it’s the person who leads the very-much-freer world.
You can’t separate your own pursuit of a happy lifestyle from concern about the people who are running the country. Well, you can, but Healthy Lifestyle U gives no physical education credits for burying your head in the sand.
(CONTENT ALERT: I know some of you don’t like me to veer off into politics. You email to tell me you’re disappointed in me, and I listen. To those readers, I want to say, yes, I am doing it again. You have every right to stop reading. It’s a right worth fighting for, don’t you agree?)
For stressful times like these, Vivek Murthy, our U.S. surgeon general, should be leading all of us in jumping jacks on the White House lawn, but that isn’t happening. What is happening is another thing that’s sparking my stress.
Recently, for the first time ever in our history, our surgeon general wrote a publicly released letter to every doctor who still gets mail to ask for their help in solving “an urgent health crisis facing America: the opioid epidemic.”
“Epidemic” makes it sound like it’s a virus. It’s actually a very big business with devastating consequences. Between 2013 and 2014, deaths in America from synthetic opioids skyrocketed by 79 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Other statistics in the letter will curl your eyebrows. Among people 35-54, more die from overdosing on painkillers than die from car crashes and guns combined. And how’s this for being No. 1? Americans make up 5 percent of the world’s population and we consume 80 percent of its opioids.
“It is important to recognize that we arrived at this place on a path paved with good intentions,” the surgeon general wrote in his letter to 2.3 million doctors. But (here I am summarizing) hey, guys, could you please stop writing all those prescriptions for painkillers? We doctors were well-intentioned; we were led by Big Pharma to believe these drugs were harmless, and – this is big – we let them advertise on TV to drive up demand. But now the gig is up. People are dying in record numbers, and it’s time to stop.
Nearly two decades ago we doctors were encouraged to be more aggressive about treating pain, Murthy explained, “often without enough training and support to do it safely. … Many of us were even taught – incorrectly – that opioids are not addictive when prescribed for legitimate pain.”
It’s momentous and wonderful that the letter was made public. This is America. We still believe in the goodness of others who are honest and brave enough to make a course correction. You can’t kill thousands of your fellow Americans every year by prescribing a deadly combination of painkillers and tranquilizers and not expect a little reminder in the mail to do better.
So, back to managing your stress. Two great strategies are going outside to play (raising your dopamine) or sitting quietly on a park bench (lowering your cortisol).
But right now I’m pushing another treatment. It’s a powerful and patriotic way to break the grip of repetitive stress and to exercise some control over your future. On Nov. 8, go to your local polling place and vote.
– Marilynn Preston is a healthy lifestyle expert, well being coach and Emmy-winning producer. She is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website, marilynnpreston.com, and welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to MyEnergyExpress@aol.com.