My alarm woke me at 6 a.m., and I headed for the shower. Soon I was out of the house and headed to work to arrive by 7 a.m. This was going to be a great day.
Before I reached my office, I received a text from the on-call physician at the hospital informing me that he was not going to be able to admit the two patients from the previous night. Then I received a phone call from my office notifying me that my nurse practitioner was delayed getting back from a medical conference in Dallas due to the weather.
I detoured to the hospital to make the admissions, putting me at least an hour behind schedule. While there, a nurse spilled coffee on my shirt. Luckily, the hospital was able to lend me a pair of scrubs.
Leaving the hospital, I found a man standing next to my car, which had a newly smashed passenger door. The man looked stressed and agitated. He told me that he had accidentally backed into my car and was waiting for the police to file a report. He assured me that he had great insurance and the damage would be covered.
By then, it was already 9:15 a.m., and my office texted me to say I had five patients waiting in exam rooms and another six in the lobby signed in. I asked my office manager to trade places with me. He could wait with the car accident, while I took his car back to my office to start seeing my patients.
I finally got to the office at 10:45 a.m., only to find that my head nurse was out with a sick child. My receptionist asked me what was up with my new look. I could feel my stress level mounting.
The first three patients I saw were angry over the delay; a fourth left because she had to wait so long. I had to call the ambulance for a patient due to severe chest pain and an EKG showing acute cardiac ischemia (decreased blood flow) or the beginning of a heart attack. Later that afternoon, I had to call the ambulance again when a patient informed me that he wanted to take his life. As the ambulance was leaving for the hospital, the paramedic asked me how I always remained so cool, maintaining a calm demeanor despite all that was going on.
I told him my secret: the wonder drug of exercise.
Cope with Stress Holistically
Every day, I head to the gym after work for a workout. Some days I run, and other days I lift weights. Why?
Stress significantly contributes to two-thirds of family doctor visits, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Medical researchers have proven that exercise releases neurotransmitters such as serotonin into your brain that help us relax and increase mood during and after a workout.
With persistent, daily exercise of 30 continuous minutes or three 10-minute increments most days of the week, research has shown that individuals have a higher level of these neurotransmitters at baseline in their brain, and that they handle stressful situations better.
Most of us face at least one incident every day that throws our bodies into a stress reaction, which is a normal physical response to threatening events. When we sense a threat, whether it's real or imaginary, the body's defenses automatically respond with a rapid "fight-or-flight" stress response. A near-miss on the road, feeling overwhelmed with tasks at work or school, or waking up to find that your little one has almost set the house on fire trying to cook you breakfast—any sudden or unforeseen incident can cause our bodies to react.
The American Medical Association reports that stress is responsible for 85 percent of all diseases. But a "stress-free" life doesn't exist; stressors are always around. Research has demonstrated that some stress can positively affect performance. For example, the pressures and demands of a job or school could be positive for someone who has been unmotivated, but only to a certain level. Once past that point, additional stress becomes negative and may lead to depression and anxiety, especially if you don't properly manage it.
When developing a plan to deal more effectively with stress, use a holistic program that uses a variety of approaches. By making one area of your life better, the positive effect will flow into other aspects as well.
As always, consult a physician before undertaking any new diet or exercise program. Under no circumstances should you stop taking prescribed medications without talking to your doctor first.
Holistic Stress Busters
You have many different options for effectively coping with stress without drugs. The bottom line is to learn what works for you. Learn to identify your personal stressors and stress symptoms. Pay attention to the signals your body sends, then incorporate coping mechanisms to reduce stress. Your body will thank you for it.
• Eat Healthy. Not eating a healthy diet can stress our bodies and brains. In fact, the stress many of us experience may be a direct result of a nutritionally poor diet. If you are confused about what food constitutes a healthy diet, just remember to eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits and drink plenty of water. If you drink alcohol, limit the amount of alcohol you drink to one serving per day.
• Exercise. Stress affects nearly every part of the body. Exercise, on the other hand, improves the functioning of nearly every part of the body that stress adversely affects. Recent studies show that regular cardiovascular exercise alleviates stress symptoms and is useful in maintaining good health. The American Heart Association strongly suggests that you do 30 minutes of cardio exercise daily, such as jogging, aerobics or cycling. Make it a habit, and you will be doing something positive to help your mind, body and self-image.
• Try Yoga and Meditation. Both have been around for thousands of years. Yoga is not just about stretching, strange pretzel poses or merely a form of exercise. Done right, yoga is a spiritual, meditative practice (not religious) that helps you maintain a healthy life balance and a healthy mind by getting in touch with your body. Meditation is the process of clearing and resting your mind so that you can begin to recognize the way your brain reacts to life. That recognition can help you let go of negativity and habitual reactions. When your focus shifts to the positive, your overall mood can also lift.
• Self-heal by Sleeping. Our bodies are truly amazing works of art. To date, no drugs or medications have been able to compete with the body's natural self-healing ability. Bodies have a natural self-healing mechanism, and it works best while we are sleeping. That's why doctors advise you to sleep at least seven to eight hours a night. Adequate sleep gives your body an opportunity to go through the self-healing process. National Institutes of Health sleep research shows that individuals who do not receive adequate sleep experience dramatic effects on their health. Some of these effects include decreased work or school performance, impaired judgment, and memory loss. Lack of sleep can also put you at a higher risk for automobile accidents.