Let's Talk More About Stress!By Varsha Rathod, M.D.
Ahhh, spring is just around the corner! Soon you’ll see blooming flowers, trees heavy with buds, and the array of nature’s beautiful colors. So the question arises: do you stop and smell the roses? No doubt you’ve heard that saying before, but have you ever really considered it? And how many of you have actually stopped and smelled those roses?
Stress has become an all too common part of our daily lives. Sometimes the effect is not noticed right away, but can take months or years to become apparent. Some people handle stress well, and display few, if any, symptoms. But other people have difficulty handling even the smallest amount of stress. “I’m stressed” is a complaint I hear again and again from patients. Although my patients would like to reduce stress in their lives, they don’t know where to begin. Here are a few easy tools that you can incorporate into your daily routine to help you combat stress.
The information I am providing can be found in several places. One of my favorite books is Unstuck, by James S. Gordon, MD. I reference this book often and utilize the exercises to decrease the symptoms caused by stress such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and fatigue. It is my hope that eventually you will learn how to prevent stress and anxiety before they become a problem.
A couple of years ago I recommended the following exercises to a patient who was depending on medication to help with her insomnia and anxiety. To this day, the patient uses ‘dancing to music’ to decrease anxiety and improve her mood. It is a good technique to practice, “having patience” and “keeping an open mind” when embarking on this de-stressing journey.
Let’s begin with a simple breathing exercise that physiologically allows your body decrease anxiety, blood pressure, pulse rate, panic, and much more.
1. Position: yourself comfortably with your feet on the floor or lay on your back.
2. Breathe in: through your nose. Do not move your shoulders. Completely fill your lungs. You will feel your belly expand (soft belly). Hold the breath for 2-4 seconds.
3. Breathe out through your mouth. When you have completely forced out all the air, your belly will be curved inward towards your ribs and will feel soft.
4. Relax in this rhythm for as long as it feels comfortable, on average 2-10 minutes.
Once you are comfortable with this technique you can perform it while sitting at your desk, standing in line at the grocery store, or while driving. It is an exercise you can use in all sorts of places and situations.
1. Pick a focus word, short phrase, or prayer. For example: “I am breathing IN all that I need, I am breathing OUT all that I need to let go.”
2. Sit quietly in a relaxing position.
3. Close your eyes.
4. Relax your muscles, starting at your feet. Then move to your calves, thighs, abdomen, shoulders, head, and neck.
5. Breathe slowly and naturally. As you breathe, repeat your focus phrase silently to yourself as you exhale.
6. Do not focus on how well you are doing the technique. Thoughts will come to mind and when they do softly push them back and return to your focus phrase.
7. Continue for the time you have allotted. You may find that you need to start out at 5 or 10 minutes and gradually work up to 20 or 30 minutes as you become more comfortable with the technique.
8. Do not stand immediately. Allow yourself to sit quietly for a couple of minutes until your thoughts gradually return. Open your eyes and sit for a minute until you feel you are ready to stand.
9. I recommend setting aside time for this exercise 1-2 times a day. Before breakfast and before dinner are optimal times to perform this relaxation technique.
To read more about this technique refer to the book The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson, M.D. These two techniques that I have presented constitute a brief introduction to the practice of stress reduction. You will also want to incorporate a movement/exercise program, see more on page 3, and improve your diet. Changing your diet is more involved than decreasing your trips to McDonald’s each week. It is a lifestyle change that not only helps the body deal with stress but also will help you prevent illness and disease in the future. This includes mindful eating, decreasing dairy and meat consumption, and eating more whole, plant based foods. For more information on nutrition and lifestyle changes you can call my office to schedule an appointment for nutritional counseling.
“We can either change the complexities of life...or develop ways that enable us to cope more effectively. Herbert Benson, MD
Did You Know.. . that journaling is a useful tool. In a study done at the University of Texas, students demonstrated decreases in stress & stress hormones and decreased chronic physical illness, after only 3 days of writing
No one will even know you are doing it! For a demonstration refer to www.youtube.com/watch? v=Y4pUerloSCk. Now let’s move on to a more advanced technique that may take a bit longer to learn. This exercise should not be confused with deep forms of meditation. This is simply a form of relaxation used to decrease stress and the symptoms that accompany it.
About the Author: Dr. Varsha Rathod is a Board Certified Rheumatologist and Internist. Preventive Medicine has focused on a combination of traditional and holistic medicine since 1967. For more information about alternative solutions, visit http://www.preventivemedicinestl.com or call 314-997-5403.
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