How to Better Manage Stress

If you’re feeling really stressed, the most important thing to do is stop what you’re doing. Evaluate what is causing the stress and eliminate some things from your life so you feel more balanced.

It’s like putting 21 things on a plate that only holds three things. The only way to get rid of harmful stress is to go back and decrease those stimulating factors or harmful stressors.

So, if you’re trying to go to school, work, take care of children, aren’t getting enough proper sleep, and now your mother-in-law is coming over or you have another problem, you’re not going to be able to fix your stress issues unless you unload that plate.

Most of us have difficulty doing that, because we’re working mothers or fathers with families to take care of and things we have to do. We keep pushing and pushing until our body says stop, and we can’t take anymore. I’ve had patients who’ve tried to keep doing just that, and they work themselves into depression and eventually break down.

How to Address Symptoms of Stress

When you start having physical symptoms of stress, you have to hold up a huge STOP sign. That’s the No. 1 step in fixing stress-related health problems: Stop what you’re doing and take an assessment. Many people will say, “Oh, it doesn’t bother me. I’m used to it.” But, I’m here to tell you, oh yeah it does. Your body’s telling you, even if your brain doesn’t.

The second thing you have to do is go back in time. When you’re on that life-stress curve and you fall off and feel yourself going downhill, the only way to get back on it is to backtrack to see where the problem started. Eliminate those things from your plate so you can start back on the positive slope again.

Many times I don’t see people in my office until they’re already near breakdown, and they ask  what can they do to get better. I tell people to stop whatever they’re currently doing, and we’re going to look together to see what can be removed from their plate right away. When they do that, their bodies get some rest and recuperation. Pretty soon, the panic buttons stop going off and the person starts feeling better.

Patients often say they don’t know how to eliminate things from their plate. I say, “Get out of Dodge.” Back in the days of the old Gunsmoke TV series, Dodge City was where they’d have gun battles and bodies would be lying all around. People would always get out of Dodge when they knew there was a big gun battle going on. That dates me somewhat, but it’s important advice.

If something is going on in your body that shouldn’t be, step away from the problem. It may mean getting out of town for the night or going off by yourself for a quiet afternoon, but you’ve got to get away from that stressor. Forcing yourself to carry on will get you nowhere, and you’ll likely continue to feel worse.

What Can a DPC Physician Do to Treat Stress?

As a direct primary care physician, or DPC, I think stress is a health issue that’s really important to address because stress can be caused by an accumulation of various factors in your life, which may not be obvious at a glance. It takes quality time to understand a person and what they’re going through on a daily basis.

We can really take the time to sit and listen to patients. I have to figure out what’s going on with a patient when they tell me they have headaches, dizziness or are unable to sleep. We have to peel back those onion layers and find out what’s really wrong. When we take the time to do that and really listen, oftentimes the patient says, “Well, here’s the problem. I don’t sleep; I’ve got too many things going on,” or they don’t realize that is the problem. I point it out to them and say, “Look, you can’t be all things to all people. We’ve got to unwind some of these things.”

Many of my patients don’t realize stress can cause physical harm, not just mental stress. If you don’t straighten it out, it can lead to high blood pressure, cause weight gain or weight loss, and all kinds of other physical problems. It can cause chest pain and you end up in the emergency room.

So, I think the most important thing for me as a doctor is to sit and understand what a patient is really feeling, and decide if it’s a stressful situation that is manifesting itself in physical complaints. We have to find out the actual reason behind the symptoms, and that takes time and open dialogue. Was the chest pain from stress or is it caused by another reason? We help the person sort it all out. We become a friend and give them someone to talk to while we uncover all of those hidden things that are causing the stress problem.

Tips for Stress Relief

There are a lot things a person can do on their own to avoid a negative stress pattern. Many times, patients don’t know what they can do at home to relieve stress. Life is good and they enjoy it, but they still experience stress and don’t know what to do when they feel it. Here are my top five tips for relieving stress:

Sleep. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. That’s when the body repairs itself. I don’t mean sleep where you’re waking up two to three times a night to check on kids or take the dog out, but a solid seven hours of uninterrupted sleep. People who are sleep-deprived get stressed very easily.

Eat Properly. I just had a patient this morning who found that when she went back to her old way of eating, which included a lot of carbohydrates, saturated fat and fast food, she felt terrible. When she eats fruits and vegetables and eats on a regular basis, she feels great. Eating regularly is important, too. I have patients who say they only eat one time a day, and that’s terrible for you. Eat three to five times a day, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and drink plenty of water so you can give your body the fuel it needs to get through a stressful day.

Remove Excess Stress. Take things off of your proverbial plate. If you’ve got three “main” things on your plate, that’s fine as long as your health stays in check. If you’ve got six or seven things to focus on, start to look around for other people who might be able to help you.

Snap Yourself Out of Stress. There are many things you can do to calm or center yourself when you do experience stress. Don’t dwell on what’s bothering you. One thing I personally do is wear a rubber band around my wrist. If you’re particularly stressed about a certain situation, it could be a family member’s death, a bad relationship or sick child, and you can’t keep from thinking about it, all you do is snap the rubber band. It tells your brain “No!” so you can get the stressor out of your head and take a moment to reset yourself in a different direction.

Prescription medications. We do have medication we can give patients to help them relax, so they can realize that nothing in life that’s stressing them out matters all that much if you’re not healthy. Antidepressants can often help a great deal when trying to get a patient back on the right road, where they’re happy, healthy and very productive.

There are many ways stress can affect you or your family, and there are many tricks you can use to stop those problems right away and deal with the stress in a healthy way.

Rest, exercise, take some time away and remove some things off your plate. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it, either by getting assistance from a loved one or co-worker so you have less to worry about, or by asking your primary care doctor for help. You have to learn how to snap yourself out of a negative feedback loop, and I can teach you techniques to beat stress before it makes you sick.

If you decide to become a member at Westfield Premier Physicians, I think you’ll be pleased with the amount of time we can devote to helping you recover from stress and avoid it in the future.  

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