What Doctors Tell Their Friends About Fighting Stress
"A woman I know recently told me, 'I can't switch off my mind—ever!' She couldn't relax or fall asleep. I told her, simply, 'Breathe.' Belly breathing is the easiest way to get rid of your stress immediately. Next time you feel yourself getting frazzled, stop wherever you are and focus on counting every inhale or exhale. Breathe in slowly and count 'one'—then breathe out and count 'two'. Repeating this for even just a couple of minutes will calm your body and mind, quieting your reactions. If you have a little more time at the beginning or end of your day—like 15 to 20 minutes—try sitting still and using a breathing break as a calm transition into or out of your day. The woman I mentioned started doing that at night to wind down. She seems more vibrant every time I see her!"—Frank Lipman, M.D., integrative and functional medicine physician and founder of Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in New York City
"When you have to see a friend, colleague, or family member who drives you nuts, tell yourself, 'I control my attitude and will not allow this person's behavior to make me miserable.' Be aware of your feelings, and when you get angry and your heart rate increases, either leave or consciously make yourself think about something else. The cool thing about developing this awareness is that it's an opportunity to grow. For example, my husband's parents did not like me. Every time we visited them, I was nasty beforehand and angry and mean after we left. Then I realized that they were never going to change, and I was allowing them to control me. So instead, I chose to take them as a life challenge. I can't say that they became easy to deal with, but I was able to like myself again, and I've now been married for over 35 years. Sometimes I even looked forward to a visit!"—Kathleen Hall, Ph.D.
"It's really important to understand that your stress levels are affected by your hormones. Especially as you get closer to menopause, cortisol and adrenaline can spike, which sets off your fight-or-flight response and increases anxiety levels. This is why friends of mine in their 30s and 40s often tell me they feel like they're going nuts from stress. I always urge them to get their hormones checked for deficiencies. You may also want to take nutritional supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids or B complex vitamins, or simply add a multivitamin to make up for nutrients your doctor thinks you aren't getting enough of. Most important, remind yourself that you're not going crazy. Lots of women experience these kinds of hormonal shifts, and they—and you—can get through it."—Jennifer R. Berman, M.D., sexual health expert and cohost of CBS'sThe Doctors
"Ruminating and worrying can be very toxic when it comes to getting a good night's rest: They keep your mind active, like a train running down the tracks. What a lot of people don't know is that it takes as little as two nights of poor sleep to make you feel really awful—physically and mentally—for the rest of the week. Exercise is an excellent remedy. It's so effective at reducing sleep disruption that we have given out pedometers at our stress center to get people moving. We encourage them to take 7,000 steps a day, and ideally you'd also be working out vigorously somewhere between three to five times a week. If you try exercise and you're still up in the middle of the night, don't be shy about telling your doctor. You may benefit from meds or talking out your feelings with a psychiatrist, and your doc can help."—Gretchen Hermes, M.D., Ph.D., psychiatrist at the Yale Stress Center in New Haven, CT
"I tell my friends, 'Your body is a chemical soup; anything you put into it changes it.' So many fresh fruits and vegetables provide an array of vitamins and minerals for reducing stress. I recommend eating blueberries—which help release dopamine, a powerful calming chemical in the body—and oranges, because vitamin C is known to lower blood pressure and cortisol. On the veggie side, the magnesium that's packed into spinach can also help regulate cortisol levels. Other calming foods to try? Think about turkey, which contains tryptophan and therefore promotes relaxation, and oatmeal, which helps you build serotonin. Or have a cup of chamomile tea: Studies have shown that it can reduce anxiety."—Kathleen Hall, Ph.D.
"Chilling out is an art form; I encourage all my friends to start by listening to reggae music. Reggae works best for calming you down because it contains about 60 beats per minute—which mimics the same speed as a slow-beating heart. Start listening to it today, and I swear you'll see it has a very relaxing effect."—Frank Lipman, M.D.
"Even though my job involves studying wellness, I'm not immune from feeling stress myself: There was a time in my life when I was totally spent and taking on way too much. So I decided to take the same advice I give my friends: Get lazy, and don't feel guilty about it. Do what you love, whether it's taking a week off to surf, an afternoon to window-shop, or simply an hour to lie on your lawn staring at the blue sky, watching the clouds change. The key is to totally disengage—no calling in, no checking your phone. You have to remember that periodicallynottending to your responsibilities is completely essential so you can stay happy and productive in the long run. It relaxed me, and I recommend that everyone do it!"—Lilian Cheung, doctor of science and lecturer, department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health
"At dinner parties, I get cornered by friends who wail, 'I'm stressed-out by everything!' I tell each of them to keep a 'stress ledger.' It's like balancing a checkbook: Grab a pen and paper, draw a line down the middle of the sheet, and label one half 'debit' and one half 'credit.' Under 'debit,' write down the top five most stressful things you're dealing with right now: that bill that's due, your mom's mysterious cough, whatever's worrying you. On the 'credit' side, write down five relaxing things you love to do: taking a hot bath, knitting, running, or anything that makes you feel calm. If you're like most women, you're probably not doing these things nearly often enough, so schedule in some deposits: Literally, put them in your calendar and block out the time to do them. Next, look at the stressful things you've identified, and prioritize one—even a small one—to tackle. Maybe knowing you're overdue to change the oil in your car is starting to drive you crazy, so start there. It'll get the ball rolling, and you can tackle a tougher stressor next.
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