120914_SU_ Gold shutterstock_93772660.jpg

Holiday stress, sun, wrinkles and cancer…

by Dra Maria Alice [email protected]

Dr Maria Alice is a consultant in General and Family Medicine and is director of Luzdoc International Medical Service in Praia da Luz, Lagos.

holiday time is here and all of the above is included in the package. Stress is uncontrollably fashionable; suntan an irresponsible must; wrinkles an unavoidable reality; cancer a terrifying possibility.

All very stressful! Believe me, I am not talking nonsense. The high season for stress is here.

Even during the low season, wherever you turn there is someone talking about stress: if you pick up a newspaper or a magazine, watch TV, or even if you are queuing at the post office … you might find yourself in the middle of a very enthusiastic conversation in-between the lady behind you and her neighbour-friend standing in front of you, on how their doctor was absolutely sure that all their complaints were due to stress.

No doubt that when you finally get to do what you were there for, you are stressed for more than one very good reason.

During the high season, stress levels are sky-high both for residents and for tourists.

All those who cannot escape the invasion by going away themselves start suddenly suffering an acute attack of what I have named “The Resident’s Syndrome” characterised by a desperate need for parking space, peaceful shopping, easier and safer roads, a quiet and reasonably sized area of sand on the beach for your towel, a quiet night sleep and an uncontrollable desire that October comes fast.

Holidaymakers suffer as well. Before coming, they have all the stressful “getting organised” for their well-deserved dream holiday (so that they can relax and recover from work stress) and, when here, they desperately try to stretch the short time they have to do all they are entitled to do.

It is very frequent to have highly responsible professionals and even housewives with “Decompression Syndrome“ like when we let loose the pressure retained inside a pressure cooker. If you are not careful doing it gradually, everything goes all over the place. A total mess and a lot of work to tidy up the place.

It has turned into a very handy and fascinating word but stress is as old as life on earth.  

After all, stress has been around since Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden!

Stress is an unavoidable consequence of life – without stress there would be no life. Although to most of us stress is synonymous with worrying, it is not always necessarily harmful.

There is “good stress” that pushes you forward to do things. If you manage to learn how to “tame” stress, it can work for you and make you more productive rather than self-destructive.

“…Always fight for your highest attainable aim but never put up resistance in vain” (Hans Selye)

Stress is not “in your mind”. It is a physical response to any changing situation, through chemical mediators in the brain.

To the body, stress is synonymous of change, good or bad. Imagining changes in your life is stressful, even if we are talking about a good change, like a promotion or a well-deserved holiday.

Hot climates can be very stressful as they cause changes in the body internal environment.

The sun, being a very strong natural force, can be a friend or an enemy, it depends on how you understand and respect it.

A suntan is a warning as it tells you that your skin has been burned. By ignoring repeated warnings, you may end up with wrinkles, age spots and skin cancer.

Recent evidence suggests that sunscreen alone may not provide adequate protection against melanoma. Don’t assume it’s safe to stay in the sun just because you are wearing a sun block.

Do you have lovely memories of lying in the sun cultivating your tan? You can thank that misguided activity for most of the lines on your face.

Be sun smart instead:

1. Avoid the midday sun

2. Wear sun protective clothing

3. Wear sunscreen on exposed skin

…In that order.

Man being a rational creature should use the brain to control and take the best out of everything in life. Ignoring the reality is not a solution. We were given the capacity to choose.

I remember, some time ago, reading the following true story: During a workshop on stress management, a very important businessman asked: What do you call it if you don’t have any stress? The speaker calmly replied: Denial.

Reality has always two faces, like holidays…

Does anyone recall the starting lines of Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities?

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”  

Best healthy wishes,

Dr. Maria Alice

Consultant in General and Family Medicine. General Manager/Medical Director – Luzdoc International Medical Service. Medical Director – Grupo Hospital Particular do Algarve