Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Prescription that’s rarely written: Stress Reduction

How often have you gone to a medical provider and had them write a prescription? While many office visits do result in a medication being prescribed, few patients are ever given one for stress management. 

 A new study in the Nov. 19 Archives of Internal Medicine, reports that only three percent of primary care patients receive any type of stress management counseling, falling behind counseling for nutrition, exercise, weight loss, and smoking. As stress is thought to be a contributor to 60 to 80 percent of all visits to a primary care provider, you may want to ask yourself the next time you make a medical appointment, “is stress contributing to how you feel?”

According to the American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America Report,”  common effects of stress include: headache; muscle tension or pain; chest pain; fatigue; change in sex drive; stomach upset; sleep problems; anxiety; restlessness; lack of motivation or focus; irritability or anger; and sadness or depression. In trying to cope with stress, it is not uncommon for people to over or under eat, have angry outbursts; abuse alcohol, drugs and/or tobacco, or socially withdraw.

Year after year, the Stress in America survey paints a picture of a nation at a critical crossroads when it comes to stress and health. Overall, Americans appear to be caught in a vicious cycle where they manage stress in unhealthy ways, and seemingly insurmountable barriers prevent them from making the lifestyle or behavioral changes necessary for good health. Findings from the 2011 survey found that several groups of people in particular — caregivers and those living with chronic illness — are at heightened risk of experiencing serious consequences of stress that is too high and appears to be taking a toll on their emotional and physical health.

As medical providers are unlikely to “write a prescription” for stress reduction, and the incidence of stress is much higher for those with a chronic condition, consider the following ways to reduce the stress in your life:

• Identify what creates stress for you and how you respond to it. Keeping a “stress journal” can help you identify situations that cause stress, as well as different things you have tried to help cope with it. Keep in mind that while things like family, being a caregiver, and work are likely to be on many peoples’ stress list, recognize that it’s how you react to them that causes the stress. Remember the only thing you can change is yourself.

Consider the Four A’s of dealing with stressful situations:
-       Avoid the stressor: Learn to say no, limit time with people who are stressful for you, don’t get caught up in conversations on politics, religion etc.
-       Alter the situation: Reduce the “to do list;” compromise; be assertive not aggressive; practice time management
-       Adapt to the stressor: Look at the big picture; reframe how you think about the situation; look for the positive;
-       Accept the things you can’t change

The Serenity Prayer is a good reminder of incorporating the four A’s:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can.
And the wisdom to know the difference

Develop “on the spot” stress reducers. When you find yourself tensing and becoming anxious breathing techniques, quick meditations, walks, laughing and other activities can help to short circuit a stress reaction. For more information

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