5 Clinically Proven Ways to Reduce Stress
Entrepreneur in Residence and Internist Dr. Nancy Simpkins shares her science-backed tips.
Stress is simply a reaction to a stimulus that disturbs our physical or mental equilibrium. In other words, it's an omnipresent part of life. A stressful event can trigger the “fight-or-flight” response, causing hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to surge through the body. When adrenaline and cortisol surge, the body responds with elevated heart rate, elevated blood pressure and sweating. People can develop headaches, nausea and insomnia. So how do you know if its stress causing these symptoms or if it is a serious medical condition? First of all, as any good doctor will tell you, stress is our last explanation after we have proved that there is no organic cause of the new signs and symptoms. Let’s use headaches as an example. If you suddenly develop headaches daily when you have never had them before, see your doctor. She will take a complete history as to the frequency and duration of your headaches. If indicated, your doctor might order a test such as a CAT scan or MRI of your brain. When the results are negative and other causes such as menstrual headaches, sinus headaches, migraines, etc. have been ruled out, your doctor will tell you that you have “tension headaches” due to stress. The scenario can be the same for chest pain or palpitations (rapid heart beat), but be sure to see your doctor before assuming it’s due to stress. Many medical conditions, such as true heart disease, can mimic stress and vice versa. Your doctor needs to rule out all medical causes of your signs and symptoms. Remember, when you have palpitations it certainly can be due to stress but it also can be due to a heart attack. Never assume that it is only stress! Once it is determined that your condition is due to stress, what do you do? Your doctor might recommend a low dose anti-anxiety pill to break the cycle. Staying on pills for anxiety is not the best answer though, as they all have side effects. So how do we reduce our stress without medication? Stress management is all about taking charge of your lifestyle, thoughts, emotions and the way you deal with problems. No matter how stressful your life seems, there are steps you can take to relieve the pressure and regain control.
1. Identify the sources of your stress
It could be work, your marriage, your kids, your boss—whatever it is, do some digging to find a potential root cause. Identifying the trigger for your stress will help you deal more effectively. For example, maybe you need some time to yourself at home to relax or to ask your spouse or a family member to take your kids for an hour of personal relaxing time?
2. Exercise daily
It’s the key to stress reduction. I run five miles every morning to start my day with high endorphins and low stress. If running is not for you, try walking one or two miles in the morning to lower your cortisol levels and start your day with low stress.
3. Try yoga and meditation
They have both been shown to reduce stress also. There are many introductory videos online to teach you how to meditate, as well as beginner yoga classes designed for stress release.
4. Spend time with friends and family
It can be a perfect stress release. It’s important to share your stress with loved ones; it helps to release your burdens. In addition to verbally sharing your stress, write a stress journal. Put down your thoughts and feelings in a book, and then let them go.
5. Go for natural remedies
What is not healthy is to turn to alcohol and pills that seem like a good idea but actually only numb the stress temporarily. They can, ultimately, make things worse. For healthy alternative, try a massage or a warm bath with bath salts (lavender is a good choice). If your schedule doesn’t allow for a massage, grab a warm towel with lavender or eucalyptus oil on it, place it around your head and neck and breathe deeply and slowly. Stress is inevitable. None of us can avoid it, but we can train our brains to handle it more efficiently with a few simple techniques. So slow down, breathe deeply, focus on the present and, most of all, move your body in a healthy fashion. Stress is no match for a healthy, happy body!
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