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Stressed About Stress

It’s not a germ left behind on a door knob or a grain of pollen floating in the spring air, but stress can be equally as debilitating once it settles into your body. In fact, while a cold or allergies will fade with time, stress can set down roots and stay, threatening your physical and emotional health in the process.

Stress seems to be all anyone’s talking about these days - stress at work, stress over looking for work, stress from the kids, stress from your partner, stress about the lack of kids or a partner, stress over losing that promotion, stress over stretching money in your budget, stress over that last 10 pounds you can’t seem to lose. Stress, oddly enough, over being under too much stress.

“Stress results from interactions between individuals and their environment that are perceived as straining or exceeding their adaptive capacities and threatening their well-being,” according to Richard A. Brown, PhD, director of Addictions Research at Butler Hospital. “Life seems to move at a faster pace than ever before.”

Responses to stress – which Dr. Brown explains vary from one person to the next based on their personality, physical strength or general health – can include such physical and emotional health problems as:
  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart problems
  • Diabetes
  • Skin conditions
  • Asthma
  • Arthritis
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
Experts have come up with a variety of practical solutions to handling everyday stress. The first step, Dr. Brown explains, seems basic - admit you are experiencing stress.

“If you can identify the source of your stress, perhaps you can intervene directly to try to change the conditions that are causing the stress,” he says simply.

If the answer is not this simple, he suggests:
  • Practice relaxation techniques, meditation, massage or yoga
  • Exercise
  • Seek social support from family and friends, although you should not discuss problems over and over without seeking solutions
  • Indulge in activities you enjoy
  • Spend time with people who can make you laugh

Mindfulness meditation is one of the newest ways people are reducing stress. Pioneering work by Jon Katat-Zinn, PhD, at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, has highlighted its effect. Mindfulness is a way of relating directly to situations in your life and taking charge of them to consciously work with your own stress.

Talk to a pro

Professional counseling can help if your stress level is such that it is causing you significant anxiety or depression or your normal functioning is impaired, Dr. Brown says.

“First, try talking to a good friend or partner because that’s the kind of social support strategy that may help prevent more serious problems in the long run,” he says. “But, if your day to day functioning is affected, you may need to speak to a professional counselor.”

If self-help coping strategies like yoga and friends don’t seem to help, and even appointments with a professional counselor doesn’t seem to ease your stress, you may need to consider a visit with a psychiatrist and medication treatment.

“I believe in trying the non-medication routes first,” Dr. Brown explains.

For a counselor or psychiatrist in the area who could help, Butler has assembled a guide to Rhode Island mental health practitioners.

You can also make an appointment for a massage or yoga class at the Care New England Wellness Center or through the Integrative Care Program at Women & Infants Hospital, which offers therapies for cancer patients and the general community.

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