Tag Archives: emotional-health

Stress: You Don’t Have to Live With It

Have you ever found yourself with sweaty hands before a big meeting or felt your heart pound before getting on a roller coaster? You are experiencing stress.

Stress is an automatic response our bodies have to unexpected or challenging circumstances. Your nervous system kicks into high gear, flooding your body with hormones that elevate your heart rate, increase your blood pressure, boost your energy and prepare you to deal with the problem.

Stress is often useful for helping us to focus on a task and perform at a higher level. But the constant pressures of life ─ such as working long hours, traffic jams, money problems and tensions at home ─ can cause your body’s alarm system to stick in the “on” position. This is chronic stress. Over time, it can interfere with your ability to live a normal life and can contribute to serious health issues, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems and asthma.

Recognize the symptoms of stress

How do you know when daily stress has become chronic stress? Look for these symptoms:

  • You become easily upset, frustrated and moody; feel overwhelmed, like you are losing control; have difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind; feel lonely, worthless, and depressed; and avoid others.
  • You have low energy, headaches, upset stomach (including diarrhea, constipation and nausea), chest pain and rapid heartbeat, tense muscles, insomnia, frequent colds and infections, loss of sexual desire and/or ability, nervousness and shaking, cold or sweaty hands and feet, clenched jaw and grinding teeth.
  • You experience constant worrying, racing thoughts, forgetfulness and disorganization, inability to focus, being pessimistic or stuck in negative thoughts.

How stressed are you? Take this quick test to find out.

Take steps to de-stress

Even if you are experiencing high levels of stress, you don’t have to stay that way. You can choose to make changes in your life and learn techniques to feel better now and lower the possibility of stress-related health issues in the future.

  1. Breathe deeply. Just a few minutes of deep breathing can calm you and tame your physical response to stress. You can do it anywhere, such as at your desk or in a parked car. As you breathe out, relax a specific muscle group. Start with the muscles in your jaw. On the next breath out, relax your shoulders. Move through the different areas of your body until you’re feeling calm.
  2. Focus on the moment. When you’re stressed, you’re probably worried about what to do next or regretful about something you’ve already done. Distract yourself from worry by focusing on what you’re doing right now. If you’re walking, feel the sensation of your legs moving. If you’re eating, focus on the taste and the sensation of the food. Practice being in the moment.
  3. Keep your problems in perspective. We get stressed when we focus so much on a specific problem that we lose perspective. You need to remind yourself of the ways in which you’re lucky — that you have family and friends, that you have a job and good health. Counting your blessings helps you put your problems back into perspective.
  4. Identify what’s stressing you. If you feel stressed, write down the cause, your thoughts and your mood. Once you know what’s bothering you, develop a plan for addressing it. That might mean setting more reasonable expectations for you and others or asking for help with household responsibilities, job assignments or other tasks.
  5. Build strong relationships. Relationships can serve as stress buffers. Reach out to family members or close friends and let them know you’re having a tough time. They may be able to offer practical assistance and support, useful ideas or just a fresh perspective as you begin to tackle whatever’s causing your stress.
  6. Get enough rest. 7-8 hours of sleep each night is a powerful antidote for stress. Try cutting back on caffeine and alcohol, remove distractions such as television or computers from your bedroom, and go to bed at the same time each night.
  7. Learn relaxation techniques. Meditation or yoga helps with stress management. Getting good at them will take a little time and practice, but the long-term result is an improved mood and better health.
  8. Get active. Regular exercise is key to long-term stress management. People who exercise tend to have better moods and more energy than people who don’t. Regular exercise will also lower your risk for many health problems.

Doing these things will help calm you down and lift you up. But if you continue to feel stressed, talk to your doctor. Your doctor can help you learn how to manage stress effectively or, if needed, refer you for additional care.

Dr. Sneha Sheth sees patients in MPCP’s Arundel Mills office. She received her medical degree from St. George`s University, School of Medicine, and completed her residency program in Family Medicine at Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center. She is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine.

Holidays Got You Anxious?

by Janice Rutkowski, M.D.

During the holidays, many people look forward to spending time with friends and family, but there is also a great deal of anxiety associated with various preparations, travel and time commitments. There may be an inability to sleep properly, exercise wanes and diets can be abandoned. How do we decide if this is “normal” stress from the holidays or is there more involved?

There are many kinds of anxiety disorders and these may have to be treated differently depending on the cause and symptoms. These include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social phobia. Modalities of treatment may include medication and/or counseling. Your physician should be able to diagnose the condition and determine appropriate treatment.

When should you seek medical help? If the level of anxiety is interfering with your day-to-day activities, the symptoms have been present for over 2 weeks, symptoms are worsening over time or interpersonal relationships are suffering as a result, you should make an appointment with your doctor to discuss therapeutic options.

Janice Rutkowski, M.D.Dr. Rutkowski is a Maryland Primary Care Physicians, LLC partner and is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine. She received her medical degree from the University of Limoges in 1981 and completed her residency program in Internal Medicine at Maryland General Hospital in 1984.

Be Kind to Yourself

New research on the mind-body connection

Are you your own worst critic? Do you treat friends and family better than you treat yourself? If you answered “yes” to these questions, you’re not alone. In fact, many of us find it easy to be supportive of others, but we are hard on ourselves for not measuring up in some way.

However, new scientific research is broadening the concept of how important the mind-body connection is to our health. Researchers at Wake Forest University and other institutions are looking at the psychological area of “self-compassion.” The research suggests that actually giving ourselves a break and accepting our imperfections may be the first step to better health. People who score high on tests of self-compassion have less stress and anxiety, and tend to be more optimistic. Data suggests that self-compassion can even influence how much we eat and may help some people lose weight, or stick to an exercise plan over time.

But “cutting ourselves slack” is often thought of as being undisciplined or self-indulgent, right? Researchers counter this much-held thought by saying that a cycle of self-criticism or negativity actually leaves us feeling less motivated to change.

“We don’t understand exactly how optimistic thinking translates to better health, but we see examples of it every day,” says Trang Pham, M.D. of MPCP Pasadena. “We know that thoughts and mood affect brain chemistry and immune function, so this is part of the answer. We also know that people who have a sense of control or optimism recover faster or deal better with disease or injury.”

Doctors aren’t saying to give up the daily practices that go with a healthy lifestyle- eating right, exercise, taking medications if needed – but to try to include positive thinking or self-compassion as much as possible. “Changing habits is hard, and this goes for our thought patterns as well,” says Dr. Pham. “But, as primary care doctors we know that making small changes can have a huge impact on health.”

Try some of the following tips to help influence positive thinking:

  • Monitor negative self-talk. If the thoughts that run through your head during the day are mostly negative, try to switch that around. For example, instead of thinking “I’ve never done this before,” try, “Here’s a chance to learn something new.”
  • Identify small changes. To become more optimistic, identify parts of your life that you typically think negatively about- work, your daily commute, relationships, parenting- and pick one area to approach in a more positive way. Either come up with a better idea to control/improve the situation, or realize that you may just need to change your attitude about it.
  • Surround yourself with positive people. Research shows that our relationships play a key role in our outlook and health, so keep ties with those who are supportive and add some fun to your life.
  • Act positive. Many experts ascribe to the “fake it til you make it” concept of becoming more optimistic. If you actually act happy, or force yourself to smile more often or try to find the humor in a situation, it becomes more natural over time.

With actual practice you can change your self-compassion. You may even improve the lives of those around you in the process!

Trang Pham, M.D.
Dr. Trang Pham, an MPCP partner who practices in our Pasadena office, is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine. She received her medical degree from Jefferson Medical College and completed a residency program in Family Practice at University of Maryland Medical Center.