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What Luke Perry's Death Can Teach Us

Luke Perry, who became well known as the beloved Dylan McKay on the series Beverly Hills 90210, died on March 4th.

I like to look for the synchronicities in life, the quiet moments when puzzle pieces begin telling us where they fit. March fourth and march forth are homophones, they are pronounced alike but have different meanings. I, however, like to think there's a hidden message here. A message Luke is leaving with all of us to march forth more aware and enlightened after learning of his passing at an age most would argue was way too young-52.

Although details haven't been released yet, we do know he suffered a stroke. And while we largely as a society view strokes as a condition of the elderly, Luke's death is a reality check that none of us are immune to health conditions that can result in permanent disability or even death.

Strokes are usually classified as ischemic, those caused by blood clots, or hemorrhagic, those caused by bleeding. Risk factors for strokes include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, and diabetes. What you may not see on this list, but is deserving of attention in our fast-paced society, is stress.

Since we do not have details of Luke's condition, I am not suggesting stress caused his stroke. However, I believe the level of stress so many of us are under can be a contributing factor to conditions like a stroke. And here's why. Stress increases our body's release of two important chemicals: cortisol and adrenaline. Both of these result in an increase in blood pressure, along with other impacts to the body that prepare us to either fight or flight. This was adaptive centuries ago when we needed to run from tigers, but has become maladaptive in our society when the body thinks it's fighting a tiger but it's actually responding to daily stress from work.

Chronic stress results in chronically elevated levels of cortisol and adrenaline. Studies have shown that people with higher levels of depression, stress, and hostility showed a higher risk of stroke. This is understandable both from a logical perspective and a physiologic perspective.

So, what can we do about it? Engaging in stress-reducing activities is becoming a more important practice than ever. If the source of stress is a job, the longterm plan might be to look for a new job, but in the short term, consider techniques like meditation, exercise, and avoiding isolation. If meditation scares you, start by simply stopping for 5 minutes and doing nothing but taking deep breaths. If going to the gym is too expensive or difficult. start by walking down the street and back. And always keep your social network in mind. Asking for help is a sign of courage, not weakness.

March forth, and prioritize self-care to reduce your stress.

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