Healthy Mind

Watch this short video to learn how stress affects your body…


STRESS. It is ubiquitous for all of us. In fact, if we were truly “stress-free”, we’d be dead! So the goal is learning to manage the daily stresses in our lives better, and not letting stress build up and overwhelm you to the point of having adverse effects on your health.

Some thoughts to begin the your “stress relief program”:

STRESS TIP #1: The power of HOPE  

Our role is to show you helpful tools and give you hope that you can feel better. We feel this hope is just as important as medicines we may prescribe.

Here’s what one of my professors had to say about that:

“…and in all (patients), some glimmer of hope, no matter how flickering, is essential to the vitality of their spirit…the principal function of a clinician is to give substance at all times to this universal reaching out for hope.”

Philip A. Tumulty, M.D. Commencement Address, May 26, 1978
The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

STRESS TIP #2: Your mental outlook

Your mental outlook is crucial to your well-being. Remember, one of our most important “freedoms” is the freedom to choose what we allow to “busy” our minds and how we view the world around us.

“You don’t get to choose how you’re going to die, or when. You can only decide how you’re going to live. Now!”

Joan Baez

“I keep the telephone of my mind open to peace, harmony, health, love and abundance. Then whenever doubt, anxiety, or fear try to call me, they keep getting a busy signal and soon, they’ll forget my number.”

Edith Armstrong

“Remember, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

STRESS TIP #3: Exercise Your MIND

Mental techniques can be used to help you rise above your current limits (physical and mental), instead of being “locked into position” out of fear and habit. I want to give you some ideas to begin now incorporating a little mental movement and stretching.

Some tools to practice using as you begin:

  • Relax — use humor, meditate, count to ten, take 5 deep breaths, pray go for a walk
  • Insulate—find your “hot buttons” and visualize yourself cutting off the current of energy to them, reduce the likelihood that someone else will control your “circuits”, put the power back in your hands
  • Reflect and Scan—look at as many possibilities, strategies, paths, solutions you can think of for a problem or situation you face; write them all down without judgement or comment; don’t constrict the flow, use your imagination and let the words flow without censure. You’ll be amazed at what you come up with
  • Empathize – imagine how other people see and feel things, spend a moment on their path walking in their footsteps in your mind’s eye
  • Solace- Give yourself a dose of nurturing and a pat on the back for how well you are dealing with your life’s challenges. Take one “solace” break instead of another pill. We all need encouragement, and you deserve it, so give yourself a gift of encouragement and recognition for all you have come through
  • Sit quietly—listen to your own heart beat, feel your chest breathe in and out, watch your blood vessels pulsate. That is your life force, your inner current of energy. Savor it, thank it, rejoice in it, take time to listen to what it is trying to communicate to you. Let it guide you.

STRESS TIP #4: Exercise Your BODY

Physical movement is one of the best stress-relievers there is, so go back and read what I have said about exercise, and MOVE THAT BODY! Practicing any type of yoga can help you release tension, feel centered and become more aware. Restorative yoga lets you reap those benefits through nurturing, well-supported positions that allow you to enter into a deeply restful, still state. Vive Life Center exercise physiologist recommends for Beginners: AM YOGA, PM YOGA – Both by Rodney Yee. 

STRESS TIP #5: Healthy Eating

When you have a lot of stress hitting you, one of the most common human responses is to eat more “comfort” foods – you know the ones I mean: ice cream, sweets, lots of carbs, chocolate, more “easy to fix” processed foods, high fat foods, maybe alcohol to calm down… BUT. Poor nutrition depletes your body of nutrients it needs to cope effectively with stress, so take the time to eat well, and eat healthy! You’ll be better able to deal with the “slings and arrows”, and hassles, of a busy daily life.

STRESS TIP #6: Keep a journal

I encourage patients to do “journaling” for a number of reasons. It helps you focus more specifically on what is happening to you, your thoughts, reactions, anticipations, fears, worries, and your positive moments. Try to record events, such as times pain is worse, time of eating, time of exercising, any stressors, and when you experience symptoms, and of course what those symptoms are. Also record when you are feeling more well and in less pain. What are the life circumstances, foods, weather, and other variables associated with feeling better? It is very helpful for you and your physician to see any patterns that may develop.

It is important to do it at the time of the event or symptom, or at regular intervals during the day, on a consistent basis. To wait until bedtime is not a good idea, as those events, the cause and effect of the symptoms, may well be forgotten. You will probably be tired, and that is not the time of day to try to recall your problems with the pain. In writing things down you become aware of emerging relationships between symptoms and events of the day. This is not a diary in so much as it is a recording of how you feel, what you feel, and how events of the day may have had an effect on your symptoms. It probably won’t be published anywhere so do not overlook things which might at first glance seem trivial. And above all, the most important thing about journaling, be honest.

 STRESS TIP #7: Learn to LAUGH, take time to PLAY!

Laughter. All the way from a giggle to a belly laugh, the ability to laugh, stirs up your insides, provides “internal jogging” as Norman Cousins called it.

Laughter improves body chemistry. One of the possible explanations is that the level of endorphins and enkephalins in the brain ar increased, acting as I have noted as a natural opiate. In research situations, persons who customarily use humor as a coping method have higher concentrations of IgA antibodies. There are changes in levels of stress hormones, epinephrine and norepinephrine. Beta-endorphins also seem to be stimulated. A good healthy laugh also stimulates respiratory and muscular activity, oxygen exchange and heart rate. These changes may last for several hours.

Advantages: Requires no specific training, no special equipment. It diverts us from thinking about ourselves, our worries, and helps give us a positive outlook.

Disadvantages: May disturb those around you if you insist on reading them jokes, or picking a video of W.C.Fields when they like The Three Stooges.

How to Get Started: Rent several humorous videos. Watch one a day and see if you can find your funny bone.

A patient sent this quote to me. We have it hung at the office: “Good Morning, this is GOD. I will be handling all of your problems today. I will not need your help – So, have a good day!”

STRESS TIP #8: Relaxation training techniques

 Autogenic conditioning, Meditation, Guided Imagery, Hypnosis, Biofeedback. All of these techniques have in common the use of mental techniques to influence, control and rebalance various physiological functions of the body. Each of us have the ability to develop our innate skill to elicit this “relaxation response” and slow down breathing rate, slow heart rate, lower blood pressure, improve breathing and diminish our awareness of pain. Think about these techniques this way: if you are fearful, your heart and breathing rates speed up, even if you are only imaging a fearful situation. The opposite response can be seen if you think of a pleasant soothing place you enjoy – your breathing slows, your heart rate slows, and you are distracted from bodily sensations due to the focus on something you enjoy.

Multiple pathways are involved, and the end result is toning down the “fight or flight” response to achieve muscle relaxation, increases in oxygen delivery to the tissues of the body, improving the balance of serotonin to norepinephrine (“adrenalin”) and enhancing production of the body’s pain-relieving endorphins. All of these effects end up reducing the “fight-or-flight” response. Most of these techniques use soothing words, phrases, or images to help you achieve the relaxation response. Biofeedback devices work by putting small monitors on the body to track objective measures, such as skin temperature, heart rate, breathing rate, muscle tension, brain wave activity or electrical activity in the skin. These monitors then give you “feedback”, in the form of visual or auditory cues, about your biological responses so you can achieve the desired, relaxed state. The sound or visual cues are designed to train you to stay in the relaxed state and warn you when your “biology” is over-reacting and getting more tense and ready to “fight”.

Except for biofeedback, which requires special equipment and training by an experienced professional, these techniques are done under your control, and direction, and can be done anywhere you are, without special equipment or having a therapist be present. Low cost, low tech, and very effective without any apparent side effects.

Ask your primary care physician to recommend suitable practitioners in these various modalities. Have an experienced therapist teach you the techniques and monitor your progress at appropriate intervals, and then commit yourself to daily practice! 

STRESS TIP #9: Meditation

As Hippocrates said a few thousand years ago:

“Meditation is for a man’s spirit what walking is for the body”

Meditation is humanity’s oldest spiritual discipline. We all know the inner peace, and the relief of body tension, that comes from staring into a pool, a flower or at a sunrise, or quietly watching the clouds drifting by, or the shadows playing over the mountains. Such moments give us a glimpse of joy, peace and oneness with the universe. Such moments are the “satori” of Zen, the “samadhi” of the Yoga, and the “peace that passeth understanding” as St. Paul described it. We know how to reach this peaceful state briefly and spontaneously. Meditation is the practice of reaching this peaceful state with intent.

Meditation reduces tension, enhances awareness of life, increases joy and adds to self-discipline and self-knowledge. Some call meditation an altered state of consciousness, but it is a way of calming down the body’s “fight-or-flight” response. It allows us to see the simple things in our lives we may overlook in our hectic busyness. Meditation and action are complementary aspects of life: meditation leads to action, and action is matured in meditation. Action inspired and prepared in meditation has a very different quality from action arising from our breathless, frenetic daily activities.

There are many forms available for meditation: prayer, star-gazing, deep breathing, chanting, trance, or just staring at the sky, or slowing down. Whichever method you choose: Stop now to sense the rhythm within you. Take a deep breath, connect for a moment with all life. A minute a day for peace. The peace behind the stress; it is your choice whether to let the stress cover your peace. Focusing on creating more peace in your life.

STRESS TIP #10: Reflect on this poem, and practice what it says!

Be patient toward all that
is unsolved in your heart.
Try to love the questions themselves.

Do not now seek the answers
which cannot be given

because you would not be able to live them
and the point is to live everything

Live the questions now, and
perhaps you will then

gradually, without noticing it,
live along some distant day into the answers

Ranier Marie Rilke