In my office stress is classified as a disease, just
as it is for diabetes and hypertension. A majority of my patient visits are related
to stress, and it’s often the underlying cause of most people’s physical problems.
It’s high time to take stress seriously because it can be discouraging, debilitating,
and, in a growing number of cases, deadly.
What does stress do to your body?
Stress is your body’s natural “flight or fight” response and it’s meant to protect
you from danger. When you face stress (real or perceived):
1. Your brain’s hypothalamus is activated.
2. Your sympathetic nervous system and pituitary system are also
triggered — releasing “activating chemicals” like
3. Your body prepares to fight an enemy or flee a threat. Your
heart rate becomes rapid, blood pressure rises, blood glucose levels increase, and
your respiration quickens.
Then after the threat is passed, your body is supposed to return to a more level
state. Under normal conditions, stress is used to help you survive and thrive. It’s
when stress becomes more intense or doesn’t recede that your adrenal function is
pushed into overdrive and stress symptoms arise.
Before you get even more stressed out, there is good news about stress. New ways
to prevent and relieve stress are proving to be extremely effective and can help
roll back a level of stress in your life, along with the symptoms it causes.
While I’ve always encouraged my patients to practice stress relief every day, I’ve
learned that many of them simply don’t know how. Learning how to identify the effects
of stress is the first step. That’s important because stress, and
stress symptoms, can accumulate and build up over time. Chronic, unrelenting
stress results in a chronic state of “flight or fight” that is damaging both to
your hormonal health and your overall wellness.
What kind of stress do you have?
In general, stress exists in two forms today, mental/emotional stress and physical
- Mental/emotional stress is often a reaction to the burdens of daily
life, the strain of unresolved traumas in your past and the mystery of the unknown
- Physical stress is often introduced to your body by certain elements
of your daily life or in response to mental stress. Common physical stressors are
wide-ranging and include wireless technology and the devices that go with it, processed
foods, inadequate or poor quality sleep, stimulating substances like caffeine, downers
like alcohol and lack of exercise.
Since mental and physical stress can go hand-in-hand, removing one will help lessen
the impact of the other.
7 doctor-tested tips to relieve stress
When it comes to dealing with unexpected everyday stress, or that stress that just
won’t go away, here’s what I suggest:
1) Write it out. Take all your tasks, appointments
and plans for the day and jot them down on paper. This achieves two goals – it provides
you with a nuts-and-bolts way to organize chaotic and unconnected tasks into one,
less intimidating to-do list. You’ll also feel a sense of empowerment when you scratch
each accomplishment off as you go.
Lists are great, but may not be enough. Consider taking five minutes to write down
what’s really bothering or stressing you and then put it away — or even better,
2) Eat stress-free foods.
Caffeine, alcohol and processed foods can actually exacerbate stress and
its effects. These choices leave you with fast energy or a false sense of calm —
but then drop you off a seemingly hundred-foot cliff, searching for the next quick
To feel less stressed, you don’t have to completely give up any foods or completely
overhaul your diet. Simply take a minute before you choose a food or drink. First
of all, do you really need to consume it? Or are you just trying to avoid the stress
effects a little bit longer? Then ask yourself, is there a better choice I could
make, such as herbal tea instead of coffee?
3) Sleep like a baby. Set yourself up for the best night’s
sleep possible by creating restful conditions in your bedroom. When you put a child
down to rest, do you hand her an iPhone so she can check social media just one more
time? Do you make sure to leave the TV blaring so she can catch the last few minutes
of her favorite show? No! You give the child a warm bath, a cuddle, read her a story
and lay her down in a comfy bed, in a cool, dark and quiet room.
You should be doing the same for yourself. Babies sleep well (for the most part)
because they’re practicing perfect sleep hygiene (though they may not know it).
Quiet, calming patterns with no electronic stimulation let your body know it’s time
to rest and restore. Getting both the amount and quality of sleep you need leads
to a better sense of well-being, and much less overall stress.
4) Silence your phone. Turn down the volume of your
busy world by shutting off your phone for a period of time every day. During that
time, focus on the here and now, and don’t worry about your plans for the rest of
the day. Your quality of sleep will improve greatly if you turn your phone off at
night, or simply keep it out of the bedroom.
5) Get up, get out and exercise. Exercise stimulates
the release of endorphins, feel-good chemicals that are natural anxiety reducers.
It doesn’t take much physical movement to start the process either. A few jumping
jacks may be all you need to find relief from an immediate stressful situation.
Then, incorporate regular exercise to provide long-term stress relief and improve
your physical well-being. Start out as slow as you like, and then aim to exercise
for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days per week. And mix it up — variety makes exercising
easier and more fun.
Try 3 second breathing any time
Inhale a deep breath counting 3 full seconds. Hold it for 3 full seconds and then
exhale counting 3 full seconds. Do this at least 3 times in a row and take your
time. You’re forcing your body to slow down and de-stress.
6) Find your best form of meditation. Meditation
is a well-studied method of stress reduction, but I know from personal experience
it’s not easy for everyone. Even when I created a mediation corner and followed
YouTube meditation videos, I always felt like I was doing it wrong.
I finally discovered the key to meditation is finding a way that fits your lifestyle.
I try to meditate for a few minutes at a time. Here’s what works for me:
- Sit in a comfortable chair or on the floor.
- Take a deep breath and exhale, blowing out the heaviness and stress in your mind.
- Find the pulse on your neck with your fingers and feel the gentle “bump, bump” of
your heartbeat (don’t press too hard or you’ll cut off your circulation).
- Keep breathing in and out, and just sit and listen to that gentle pulsation.
- If it’s too hard to concentrate, try repeating the sound of your heart over and
over again: “ba bump, ba bump, ba bump.”
There are also countless phone apps that walk you through a meditation. Try as many
as you need to until you find one you like.
7) Say yes to starting a positive affirmations journal.
Writing in my Affirmations Journal is by far my absolute favorite stress-reducing
technique and I practice it every day. Choose a time of day that you have as little
as 5 minutes to yourself, and write down 5-10 things you are grateful for right
at that moment. I learned this trick when I was going through a very rough period
in my life. I found myself waking up in the morning dreading the day, hyper-focused
on my burdens at the time. By writing a gratitude journal I was able to shift my
attention from negative influences to what was good that day.
Stress is a terrible burden on your body and I encourage you to get started on relieving
it today. Make simple changes — perhaps try out one or two of my suggestions
— in a way that matches your lifestyle. When you take an active role in managing
stress, you will be taking a big step toward relieving the miserable symptoms that
stress is causing. You’ll find your blood pressure improves, those sugar cravings
disappear and soon, the day will feel a lot brighter too.