Tips for Taming Killer Stress: Advice from Dr. Minerva Santos, Yorktown Heights, NY Physician.
Apr 30, 2012 07:57PM
● By Dr. Minerva Santos, MD
In the early 20th century, Walter Cannon found that people exposed to various stressful events, both mental and physical, secreted large amounts of the hormone epinephrine, which prepared their body for “fight or flight.” It turns out that when humans are exposed to any perceived stress—whether it’s the good stress that goes along with a wedding or new job, or the bad stress that’s a byproduct of divorce or financial hardship—a cascade of hormones and their interactions lead to increased blood flow to muscles, increased heart rate and higher blood pressure.
The hormone cortisol plays a significant role in this cascade. It distributes energy, in the form of glucose, to areas that need it most: brain, muscles or digestive system. Cortisone increases our hunger and our cravings for carbohydrates, and it suppresses our immune function. While short-term spikes in cortisol do not present a health issue, the effects of long-term stress, with its relentlessly high cortisol levels, can be devastating.
In today’s world, many of us walk around in a state of chronic stress; we rush about in the morning to get to our jobs, where we rush until it’s time to go home … and very often, the stress does not end there. Everywhere you look there are books, lectures, even Dr. Oz discussing the effects of this chronic adrenal stimulation. “Adrenal fatigue,” “adrenal burnout”—call it what you like, but its effects are ruinous to our health. In fact, one of the largest global cardiology studies, INTERHEART, found that psychosocial factors put people at significant risk for heart attacks—less than smoking, but similar to hypertension and abdominal obesity. This risk was the same for people regardless of sex, age or geographical area.
Learning to control your body’s response to stress, therefore, is critical to good health. Various techniques facilitate what is known as the “relaxation response,” which is the opposite of “fight or flight”: your breathing slows, your heart rate decreases, even your brain waves change.
To fight the onset of acute stress, first stop the cascade of hormones with a deep breath—a breath deep enough to make your belly pop out! I teach a class in stress reduction through breathing, which is a particularly helpful technique because it requires no special tools, so you can “take” it anywhere.
For chronic stress, the best remedy is regular exercise, whether it is tai chi, yoga or Qi Gong. Meditation promotes the relaxation response, as do journaling, progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery. Ignathia and argentium are two homeopathic remedies that help relieve anxiety, and I often recommend valerian tea as well as lavender in the form of aromatherapy.
When it comes to managing stress, one size does not fit all. So it’s important that you recognize your stressors and try several techniques to learn what works for you.
The office of Dr. Minerva Santos is located at 48 Rt. 6 and Mahopac Ave., Yorktown Heights, NY. Contact Dr. Santos at 914.248.5556, or for more info, visit MinervaSantosMD.com.