Dr Susannah Ward

The term distress has many definitions.  But most generally describe an adverse state of physiological and psychological imbalance caused by chronic stress and/or an accumulation of stress over time (1).  Clearly, living with chronic distress negatively affects wellbeing and quality of life.  But can it also contribute to other health outcomes and even premature death?  Is there any research behind this theory?

A recent edition of the peer-reviewed medical journal Heart published some Australian and New Zealand research, which suggested that persistent moderate to severe distress in people with stable coronary artery disease significantly heightened their risk of death (2,3). Some 950 people aged 31-74 years with admission to hospital for either unstable angina or a heart attack in the prior 3-36 months completed questionnaires assessing mental distress at six months, one, two and four years after admission.  Their health and survival was tracked for 12 years. In the research, 35 people (4% of participants) reported persistent moderate distress and were nearly four times more likely to have died from cardiovascular disease and three times from any cause compared with those whom had not reported distress.  The research did not show any significant association between occasional and mild persistent distress and death.

Whether people without cardiac history are vulnerable to premature death, if chronically distressed, remains unclear.  But this research does provide some interesting evidence to suggest that, in those physiologically vulnerable, a perceived chronic moderate to severe adverse psychological mind state can contribute to poor health outcomes and even one’s death.

So then, what can people do to alleviate distress and thus improve their likelihood of optimal health and longevity?  Well, given that life can be very stressful and many people go through periods of chronic and accumulative stress, simply taking the approach of avoiding or minimising stress in order to prevent distress may be unrealistic and even not functional with everyday life.  Rather, learning ways to adaptively process stress, let off stream and maximise pleasurable and peaceful experiences in order to counteract the adverse psychological and physiological impacts of distress, may be a more helpful way to go.

As a doctor, stress seems an inevitable part of any work day.  Pleasurable and empowering coping tools like yoga, regular runs, meditation, and time in nature and with other beings who comfort me (like my doggies and hubby) have been my path through all this potentially distressing stress towards some kind of sustainable contentment.

If you, like me and most other beings walking this earth, find yourself inevitably living with stress but care about preventative health and wellbeing, then take some time to reflect on what it is that feeds you, nurtures you, inspires and empowers you.  Make a list of activities you can do to create a little peace and pleasure into your everyday life and then do them!  Enjoy them knowing that it is not selfish but rather medicine for your mind, body and soul.

If you have no idea what tools to use to combat stress in your life and are keen to experiment a little to find some that work for you, then join us for one of our upcoming events.   They are a surefire way to get you smiling and feeling inspired, well and empowered.

  • Our first Good Times will be held at Body Works Yoga in Newcastle on the night of Saturday, October 28th, 2017.  If you love house music and vinyasa flow then you will really love this Saturday night house music party yoga class.  Come along and let the inspirational tunes lift your spirits as you dynamically flow yourself into a state of freedom and bliss.  Hang back & makes some friends at the after party.  Tickets for Good Times will be sold through Body Works Yoga in Newcastle.  Please email anytime to enquire further. hello@ataraxiacollective.com.au
  • Sunday Sesh will be in Sydney on Sunday November 12, 2017, hosted along with Mindset Psychology.  This one-day urban workshop held in the city will teach you all about your values and self-limiting beliefs and help you develop your self-mastery using mindfulness, yoga and self-enquiry. Also it is just going to be awesome fun.  All tickets for Sunday Sesh will be sold through Sticky Tickets & further information on all events is available on our site and the Sticky Tickets sites.  You can also email anytime to enquire further hello@ataraxiacollective.com.au
  • Soulful Sunday will be held at The Novotel Newcastle on Sunday, January 21st, 2018, giving you all a chance to decompress, take stock, reconnect with yourself and get some peace and clarity before the next year commences.  All tickets for Soulful Sunday will be sold through Sticky Tickets & further information on all events is available on our site and the Sticky Tickets sites. You can also email anytime to enquire further hello@ataraxiacollective.com.au
  1. Recognition and Alleviation of Distress in Laboratory Animals.  National Research Council (US) Committee on Recognition and Alleviation of Distress in Laboratory Animals. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2008. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK4027/
  2. R Stewart et al., Persistent psychological distress and mortality in patients with stable coronary artery disease. Heart, 2017; heartjnl-2016-311097 DOI: 10.1136/heartjnl-2016-311097
  3. Gjin Ndrepepa. Psychological distress and mortality in stable coronary heart disease: persistence of high distress means increased risk. Heart, 2017; heartjnl-2017-311610 DOI: 10.1136/heartjnl-2017-311610