Tag Archives: stress

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.

Teen Stress: Tips for Parents

By: Lisa Meade, PA-C

A recent study by the American Psychological Association (APA) confirms what I see weekly in my practice: Teens feel a great deal of stress and anxiety, but often don’t have the proper coping strategies to deal with these feelings.

The APA report “Stress in America” included data on American youth (teens ages 13-17) for the first time this year. The report found that teens feel higher levels of stress than they think is healthy, but don’t necessarily try to adopt healthy coping strategies, or don’t know what those strategies are.
When I talk to my teen patients, they say trying to juggle school, their social life, and home life can be overwhelming. Expectations and pressure about college are particularly tough for older teens. Plus, we can all remember how important friends and “fitting-in” are at this age– which makes all of the social media and online chatter an extra stressor.

Parents can be a huge help in teaching teens healthy coping strategies and how to keep things in perspective. Here are some suggestions:

1. Know the signs of stress overload in your child. Common results of teen stress can be: Increased physical illness (headaches, stomachaches, chronic fatigue, muscle pain); “shutting down” or withdraw from people and activities; increased anger or irritability; difficulty sleeping or eating; increased tearfulness or feelings of worry; difficulty concentrating.

2. Be willing to listen and model stress coping skills. It’s important for teens to know that stress is part of life and sometimes admitting you are “stressed out” helps. Try to help your child identify what’s really giving them anxiety and then come up with some coping strategies together.

3. Encourage healthy lifestyle habits and reinforce those at home. Here are the things I tell my teen patients to try:

– Get enough sleep! Teens still need 8-10 hours of sleep a night, especially during the school week. Prioritize homework, social or sports activities, phone/TV time. You may not be able to do it all.

– Focus on your strengths. Think about the things you are really good at- or that make you happy- and find ways to spend time doing those things. It will build your confidence and you will find people with like interests.

– Get some exercise. Physical activity is a proven stress reducer. If you’re not on a sports team, find any activity that you enjoy and try to do it at least 30 minutes a day.

– Eat right! Skipping meals or drinking energy drinks will make you feel more stressed in the long run. Try to eat three healthy meals a day and don’t rely on caffeine to keep you going.

– Don’t try to be perfect! Remember that we all make mistakes and a bad choice now and then. Try to keep things in perspective and not focus on the negative. The ability to learn from mistakes and move on is a sign of maturity.

– Talk to someone. It’s much easier to manage stress with a helping hand. Talk to a parent, teacher, doctor, or other trusted adult. They may be able to help you find a way to manage a problem, such as practicing a response to a social situation, getting a tutor in a class, or dealing with a difficult transition such as moving or divorce.

If you feel that your stress is making you depressed, or you find yourself using drugs or alcohol to cope, please tell someone. It might be time to talk to a psychologist or trained professional.

Helping your teen learn healthy ways to cope with stress now will prepare them for a healthier adulthood. Part of the great challenge- and reward- of parenting!

Lisa Meade, PAC
Lisa Meade, PA-C joined Maryland Primary Care Physicians, LLC in 2013. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Community Health Education from Towson University. She received her Physician Assistant certification from Essex Community College in 1987. Ms. Meade has over 25 years of experience as a certified Physician Assistant in primary care medicine.

Caregivers: Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself

8 Tips from Thomas Walsh, M.D.

Whether you’ve recently become caregiver to an aging or ill family member –or have been tackling the responsibility for some time– you must make your own health a priority. The caregiving role can be very rewarding, but it can also tax you both physically and emotionally. After becoming a primary caretaker myself, I learned several lessons and have a keen interest in this issue.

Here are 8 tips I suggest to my patients for reducing stress and staying healthy as a caregiver:

  1. Slow down. When you are trying to juggle many responsibilities, you often rush through things and are distracted. This can lead to accidents and injuries. You don’t want to burn yourself while cooking, slip in the tub, etc. Studies show that household and car accidents are more common among those with a high stress level.
  2. Use your freezer. Trying to “eat right” or prepare healthy meals when you’re caregiving is tough. Accept offers for meals from friends and try to cook ahead and freeze meals to have on hand. A big pot of soup is great to freeze in batches. Stockpile healthy snacks like almonds, yogurt and fruit to grab on the go.
  3. Make exercise a priority. Again, finding time for this is tough, but you need to keep your energy up and relieve stress. If you are caring for someone with mobility issues, you’ll also need to stay strong for tasks like lifting. Try to find at least 30 minutes a day for a workout you enjoy.
  4. Sleep to recover. Disrupted sleep definitely saps energy and can lead to more anxiety. Adults need 7-8 hours of sleep per night so try to adopt good sleep habits- a dark room, no electronics, no caffeine or alcohol close to bedtime.
  5. Stay organized. Another way to reduce stress is to know where things are when you need them. Starting a  file for medical/insurance papers, or financial information, for your loved one will help keep them in one place. A large calendar for family appointments/events can help with daily planning.
  6. Ask for help. Try to develop a support network and say “yes” if people offer to drive, sit with your loved one, or take care of errands. Look for professional resources such as adult day care facilities. Several organizations, such as the Administration on Aging (which has an elder care locator by state) and the National Alliance for Caregiving (www.caregiving.org) provide great information.
  7. Have “the conversation”. Make sure you understand what your family member wants in case you become responsible for making decisions for them. It may be uncomfortable- and stressful. However, you should know the ins and outs of power or attorney, a living will, or healthcare proxy. If you don’t, find an eldercare expert or attorney to help.
  8. Lastly, go easy on yourself. Don’t feel guilty for taking time to exercise or care for your own emotional well-being. Studies show that caregivers’ health often deteriorates over time due to stress and lack of sleep, poor diet, etc. Your doctor can also help with keeping you healthy and suggesting resources in the community.

As a reminder for how to tackle the caregiving role, I often use what I call the “airplane analogy”: Right after you board a commercial airplane, the flight attendants will review the important safety instructions. If the cabin loses pressure and the oxygen masks drop down, they stress, “If you are traveling with a small child or someone who needs assistance, put your own mask on first, then help the person that needs assistance.” Caregivers need to live by this rule: Take care of yourself first or you will not be able to help the person who needs assistance.

Thomas Walsh, M.D.

Dr. Thomas Walsh is an MPCP Partner and Clinical Director of the MPCP Queenstown office.