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Don’t Let Stress Harm Your Health

I’m Doctor Sneha Sheth. I’m one of the board-certified family physicians here at Maryland Primary Care Physicians.

Did you know that stress is a normal part of life? In fact, in certain situations, it can save your life.

But, if stress becomes a constant companion, it can do serious harm to your health.

Stress is the body’s reaction to a demand or threat. Your body releases stress hormones that increase your heart rate, tense your muscles, and get you ready for action. This is your “fight or flight” response.

But when the stress becomes a constant state of being, it can cause real damage. It can lead to aches and pains, headaches, anxiety, depression, digestive issues, and even frequent illness due to a weakened immune system.

Many aspects of life can lead to chronic stress: Financial worries, job issues, relationship trouble. Even positive things can cause stress – like retirement, buying a house, or planning a wedding.

So, it’s important to identify and break the patterns of stress in our lives. It can take as little as 10 to 20 minutes a day to reset your body’s stress response.

Meditation can help calm your body and your spirit. Exercise or a short walk outdoors can help the body to release endorphins, which trigger positive feelings in your body. Be sure to get enough sleep. Even pausing to take a few slow and deep breaths can make a difference.

So, if you’re feeling that stress might be gaining the upper hand, talk to your doctor. We’ll work with you to help you break the patterns of stress in your life.

Tackling stress could be key to you feeling better and staying healthy.

Dr. Sheth is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine. She cares for patients at MPCP’s Arundel Mills office.

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.

Respiratory Illnesses: Nothing To Sneeze At

Do you know the number-one reason people come to their doctor this time of year? If you’re sneezing or coughing as you read this, you already have a pretty good idea: respiratory illnesses are the chief reason for doctors’ visits.

Some respiratory conditions are fairly mild, but others can be life-threatening. And cold weather can make them worse.

You are probably most familiar with the common cold and seasonal flu, which are prevalent this time of year.  Caused by viruses, colds and flu have respiratory symptoms that may include runny nose, congestion and cough. Symptoms can usually be treated with over-the-counter medications, but your doctor may prescribe antiviral medications such as Relenza® or Tamiflu®. You can also reduce your chances of getting the flu with an annual vaccine, available at MPCP offices.

Pneumonia is an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs. The air sacs may fill with fluid or pus, causing cough with phlegm or pus, fever, chills and difficulty breathing. A variety of organisms, including bacteria, can cause pneumonia. For treatment, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, which are often effective.

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of your bronchial tubes, which carry air to your lungs. Bronchitis is very common and often develops from a cold or other respiratory infection, or is caused by smoking. People with bronchitis often cough up thickened mucus, which can be discolored.

Bronchitis may be either acute or chronic. Acute bronchitis usually improves within a few days, and can be treated with rest, drinking lots of fluids, avoiding smoke and fumes, and possibly a prescription for an inhaled bronchodilator and/or cough syrup. However, if you have repeated bouts of bronchitis, you may have chronic bronchitis, which requires medical attention. In some cases, oral steroids to reduce inflammation and/or supplemental oxygen may be necessary.

Asthma affects people of all ages, but it often starts during childhood. It is a chronic disease that inflames and narrows your lungs’ airways. Symptoms of asthma include bouts of wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and coughing. Most people who have asthma have allergies, but some people develop asthma because of contact with chemicals or industrial dusts in the workplace.

Many things can trigger asthma symptoms:

  • Allergens from dust, animal fur, mold and pollens from trees, grasses and flowers
  • Irritants such as cigarette smoke, air pollution and sprays, such as hairspray
  • Medicines such as aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Sulfites in foods and drinks
  • Viral upper respiratory infections, such as colds
  • Physical activity, including exercise

Doctors treat asthma with two types of medicines: long-term control and quick-relief. Long-term control medicines help reduce airway inflammation and prevent asthma symptoms. Quick-relief or “rescue” medicines relieve asthma symptoms that may flare up.

Emphysema is a chronic disease that gradually damages the air sacs in your lungs, making you progressively more short of breath. Smoking is the leading cause of emphysema. See your doctor if you’ve had unexplained shortness of breath for several months, especially if it’s interfering with your daily activities.

Emphysema can’t be cured, but treatments can help relieve symptoms and slow the progress of the disease. Your doctor might prescribe bronchodilators to relax constricted airways or inhaled steroids to relieve shortness of breath. You may also need pulmonary rehabilitation to reduce breathlessness or supplemental oxygen.

If you have questions about any of the conditions described in this article, an MPCP physician would be glad to discuss them with you.

 

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Dr. Sneha Sheth practices in MPCP’s Arundel Mills office and is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine. 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.