Dealing with Stress Can Be Less Stressful

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Some new perspectives on an old problem

Take a moment – when you have one – and try to inventory the particular stress load that you're carrying. While you're reflecting on your own personal sources of stress, keep in mind that it doesn't come about just from the negative aspects of life. Any change to your environment, both internally and externally, can create stress. For example, an illness in the family, financial difficulties, relationship problems or problems on the job can cause understandable and even expected stress. But at the same time, so can a job promotion, marriage, starting or going back to school or the birth of a baby.

You get the picture. Stress seems to be part of life and while you're probably never going to remove all the sources of stress in your life there are ways to manage it better. And that includes gaining a different way of looking at stress.

One approach offered by stress specialist and educator, Morton C. Orman, MD, is to stop trying to deal with this thing we call "stress" and start identifying the specific problem or problems behind it. Once you've looked clearly and realistically at the main causes of each specific problem, his recommendation is to deal with the root causes until the "stressor" – which he considers to be the problem itself – gets better or is eliminated.

Good advice, but at times we can't change some of the external causes of stress in our lives and other times we're not even sure of theno stress source of the stress.That's why it's important to put together a number of strategies that can individually or collectively help reduce the negative physiological, psychological, and emotional effects of stress. The good news here is that while stress takes a heavy financial toll because of its impact on things like healthcare costs, increased substance abuse and poor job performance, some of the ways we can address the problem of stress are free or available at a very low cost. For example:

Music: Almost everyone has some personal experience with the ability of music to relax the body and calm the mind. And scientific research backs it up, because just passively listening to music that pleases you has been shown to reduce blood pressure as well as the hormone levels associated with stress. Be sure to read the article in this month's My Healthy Lifestyle newsletter on bringing the benefits of Integrative Medicine into everyday life, which confirms the value of listening to music.

Breathing: Now there's something we can all do and it's definitely free. There are a number of breathing exercises you can try, but one of the easiest and most straightforward is simply to breathe deeply, hold it in for a few seconds and then exhale while focusing closely on the act itself. Deep breathing has numerous benefits for the body, including oxygenating the blood, which in turn, helps relax muscles and slow down the mind. You can do breathing exercises anytime, anywhere, and they can help you de-stress very quickly.

yoga crosslegged poseYoga: Yoga has been around for thousands of years and it's still helping growing numbers of people improve their health and wellbeing. Yoga combines a number of stress management techniques including breathing, meditation and movement and can be done individually or in a group setting. Riverside Wellness and Fitness Centers offer a number of types of yoga as part of their group exercise classes. And two new free classes are starting up as well.

  • Yoga Class, Beginner Level - Mondays 5:15pm – 6:30pm, Annex D Conference Room, Riverside Regional Medical Center. Wear comfortable clothing and bring your yoga mat. Information: Angie Claud, (757) 594-2772.
  • Yoga Class, More Advanced Level Class - Tuesdays 5:15pm – 6:30pm, Conference Room 2, First Floor, Riverside Warwick Conference Center, 12420 Warwick Boulevard, Building 6. Wear comfortable clothing and bring your yoga mat. Information: Angie Claud, (757) 594-2772.

Meditation: While there are a fairly wide range of meditation techniques, most build on deep breathing and take it a step further to actually change brain function to a state that can be similar to sleep but has added benefits that include the release of certain hormones that promote health.

Exercise: An ongoing exercise program can help control weight, increase energy and improve your strength and endurance. A more active life – everything from walking and gardening to recreational sports and more formalized exercise activities – can also help manage stress by helping to take your mind off stressful situations and giving you a healthy outlet for frustration. Be sure to check the variety of exercise programs provided throughout the Riverside Health System.

As you consider strategies for stress reduction, you might also want to look at Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Riverside is the first healthcare system in the region to offer a MBSR course modeled on the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. For more information click here.

So take a little time to incorporate stress reduction into your daily routine. We can't always change the concerns we have about health and safety, work, finances, relationships and other stressors in this fast-paced world, but we do have some control, often more than we realize, over how we react to them and manage them.

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