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The Best Medicine for Stress

Phillip Holman MD

Wedding season is just around the corner. Are you feeling the stressful tug of family expectations? Is the economy getting you down? Are you feeling disconnected and just plain old stressed out?
Stress can be real or perceived and either good or bad. The body responds to stress through the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal system (HPA). When the HPA system is triggered there is a production and release of glucocorticoids, including the primary stress hormone of cortisol. This is followed by certain chemical messengers being sent out into the body, including adrenaline. These chemical messengers are responsible for blocking some body system functions and triggering the appropriate emotional responses for flight or fight. The concern here is when the body remains in a chronic state of stress or under too much pressure, thereby exhausting our body’s wellness checks and balances.
There are many ways to treat stress, depending upon the individual and the type of stressfulness or pressures an individual is encountering. A few stress reducing ideas include:
1.       Take a walk in nature. The well- known holistic physician Dr. Larry Dossey found that Dr. Michael Cohen’s stress management activities within nature to be a “compelling application of eco psychology that connects us with the often the ignored source of spirit and wellness found in nature.” So let Earth balance and teach. Check out our local trails, city parks or your own backyard.
2.       Mindfulness training offers an oasis of stress reduction methods. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn developed the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. In this stress reduction program mindfulness, meditation and yoga are practiced together. Mindfulness practice is thought to create better awareness of the connection between the unity of the mind and body. You can create your own everyday mindfulness exercises for stress or begin with listening to music, deep breathing and listening to your body, feelings and thoughts.
3.       The mind through our emotions and mental states is known to be a factor in stress and stress-related disorders. Meditation has been illustrated to positively affect a range of autonomic physiological processes, such as lowering blood pressure and reducing emotional reactivity. And if meditation is not for you, prayerful acts may often impact your life in a strong and healing way.
4.       Take the time to laugh and smile. Humor is more than just laughter. It is an attitude change. Helen Keller said: “If you face the sunshine, you will never see the shadows.”
Think of stress in six steps:
S – Step back now.
T - Take a deep breath in the moment.
R- Relax. Provide re-direction.
E- Evaluate your environment. Identify what is real and not real.
S- Self talk your way to a better place. (For example, state the day, the place and where you are right now. Tell yourself you are OK. This tool is especially helpful for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder sufferers.)
S- Seek a calm, safe positive place or person for support, if necessary.
Be sure to check with your mental health provider and physician for other complementary measures to help keep you stress free.
 Phillip Holman, MD, is Community Physician Group Medical Director of Psychiatric Services