2016-03-03 / Health & Wellness

Take a minute, breathe deep, and put your anxiety on hold

COMMENTARY /// Stress relief
By Dr. Leena Shankar Nathan
Special to The Acorn

Do you ever wish you could stop the world and take a few minutes to escape the constant chatter of what needs to be done?

I have.

We all have.

The human experience is stressful. Stress can be due to dire issues such as illness, death, divorce, financial woes, workplace friction or family issues. We also often feel stressed about simpler issues such as juggling children, a career, a household, friendships and so much more.

It is imperative that we recognize the effects stress has on the human body and how to manage stress in order to live a more peaceful and healthier life.

Stress causes adrenaline and cortisol to be released into the bloodstream causing a multitude of real effects. Heart rate and blood pressure increase, breathing quickens and muscles tense all for the purpose of surviving an immediate threat. While these biological responses helped us escape the saber-toothed tiger hundreds of years ago, in our modern times, even sitting in traffic or arguing with a loved one can cause the same response.

Unfortunately, chronic stress causes many damaging effects such as high blood pressure, anxiety and depression, dysfunctional gastrointestinal issues, headaches, insomnia, body aches, weight gain, skin rashes, hair loss and even cancer. When stressed, the immune system is not as strong resulting in more colds and illnesses. Pregnant women who are under stress give birth to smaller babies who may have more health issues in childhood and adulthood.

We must relieve stress and avoid these harmful effects on our bodies. Most stressors are out of our control but we can learn techniques to control our reaction to stress.

Many studies have demonstrated that exercise is great for stress relief whether it be taking a yoga class or going for a run. Calming music is known to slow heart rate and lower blood pressure. Laughter is also a proven remedy for stress. Perhaps a good conversation with a funny friend or a comedy show or film is the cure for that headache or trouble sleeping. Being out in nature even if just a walk around the block can lower stress also.

Aromatherapy has become popular as a treatment for various ailments including stress and anxiety. There is some truth to the hype, in fact, research has demonstrated that lavender essential oils can lower cortisol levels thereby mitigating the effects of stress on the body.

Mindful meditation is another great way to feel more relaxed despite the chaos and troubles of life. The techniques can be learned through free on line videos or apps for the smartphone. Local communities may have classes at low cost. Therapists will often teach mindful meditation to their clients or in groups. UCLA has a Mindful Awareness Research Center which offers free drop-in meditation, free podcasts and online classes: http:// marc.ucla.edu.

So, we may not need to stop the world. We just need to spend a few minutes each day to relieve stress. By doing so, we can lead healthier lives with fewer ailments and medications.

Dr. Nathan, born at Los Robles Hospital and raised in Thousand Oaks, is a family medicine physician and an OB/GYN. A doctor with UCLA Health, Nathan volunteers regularly at Conejo Free Clinics.

Return to top