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Published on June 09, 2020

Managing Stress Using Holistic Methods

woman stretching

Let's face it - we all feel stress from time to time.

But what's the best way to treat that stress?

Dr. Venuka Wickramaarachichi ("Dr. Wick") of EvergreenHealth Signature Care says everyone - every children - can manage stress using holistic methods.

By definition, what is stress?

Dr. Wick:  Stress is any uncomfortable emotional experience accompanied by biochemical, physiological and behavioral changes.

At times, small amounts of stress can actually be beneficial.

In small doses, it produces a boost that provides the drive and energy to help people get through situations like exams or work deadlines.

However, extreme amounts of stress or stress over an extended period of time which is called chronic stress can have health consequences.

Our bodies have very smart innate systems in place to heal itself. How does  chronic stress effect the efficiency of these systems, making our bodies more prone to disease?

Dr. Wick For an example, if our immune system is weakened by stress we  will have a hard time fighting the simplest infections.

What I often see in practice is when people are going through stressful periods, they are more prone to infections, they come and tell me “I’m always sick or everyone in my house had it and they are all fine but it’s taking me so long to recover.”

Chronic stress can also lead to poor sleep or insomnia, high blood pressure which can increase risk of heart disease, and mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, overeating and obesity.

Additionally, chronic stress and loneliness can shorten our telomeres, the end portion of our chromosomes that contain our DNA involved with longevity, which can result in stopping cellular division and ultimately shortening our lifespan.

What are a few methods of managing chronic stress?

Dr. Wick:   Like anything in life, there is no one simple way of managing stress, but it’s a combination of a few things.

Here are a few of the methods I find most helpful, but underutilized; these don’t require a ton of time, they are free and anyone can practice them. 

Mindfulness based stress relieving methods are easy to incorporate into our busy schedules.

Guided meditation or guided imagery is a form of focused relaxation that helps create harmony between the mind and body. It is a way of focusing your imagination to create calm, peaceful images in your mind, thereby providing a “mental escape” from stress.

There are a lot of free apps and podcasts online that you can listen to. There are ones that are specially made for stress.

Breathing exercises are another simple practice that can have a great impact on stress.

Breathing is special as it is the only function you can perform consciously as well as unconsciously, and it can be a completely voluntary act or a completely involuntary act, as it is controlled by two sets of nerves, one belonging to the voluntary nervous system, the other to the involuntary (autonomic) system. Breath is the bridge between these two systems.

When we are stressed or angry we breath fast, loud, irregular.

When we are calm we breath deep and regularly.

You cannot always center yourself emotionally by an act of will, but you can use your voluntary nerves to make your breathing slow, deep, quiet and regular, and the rest will follow.

4-7-8 breathing technique is a technique that I teach my patients. This a technique made popular by Dr. Andrew Weil, who is considered the pioneer in integrative medicine. Videos of him explaining the benefits of this technique can be found online. It literally takes 2 minutes twice a day to practice this technique.

Forest bathing (Shinrin-Yoku) was developed in Japan during the 1980s and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. It is taking time to unwind and connect with nature to improve your health.

Simply put, forest bathing is retreating to nature to immerse in the forest atmosphere. There is an abundance of nature in the Pacific Northwest and it’s a shame not to reap the health benefits of this gift of nature.

Good nutrition is also a very important for stress management. Our food fuels our body and it’s very important to chose the best possible fuel to nourish us.

  • Aim to have a colorful plate
  • Eat a diet full of fiber-rich food such as vegetables, nuts, grains and lean proteins, healthy fats
  • Add spices to your diet; it not only makes food taste better, but also adds additional health benefits

Good nutrition is not only important to fuel our bodily functions, but what we need to know if that we are not only eating to satisfy our selves, but also to satisfy and harness our microbiome which consists of trillions of microbes.

If our microbiome is not happy or stressed lacking the food they need, it will influence how you feel. Animal studies show that mice who have a healthy microbiome have lower levels of stress hormones than mice who didn’t. So, it’s very important to incorporate whole, unprocessed food into your meals.

Regular exercise is also another important component of stress relief.

Thirty minutes of exercise at least five days a week is the recommendation.

Exercise can act as a stress reliever in almost any form. Being active can boost your feel-good endorphins and distract you from daily worries.

Practices such as running, yoga and tai chi also provide meditation in motion.

Healthy relationships are healing. Unfortunately, despite living in the “most technologically connected age in human development,” people in this country are isolated and alone, which contributes to an increase in stress. About 40 percent of Americans report feeling lonely—this number has doubled in only one generation.

I encourage my patients to try to build meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships amongst family, friends, co-workers, and even strangers, because when we are stressed we need a support system.

I encourage, especially my younger patients, to take a break from social media and take time to talk to friends/family.

Another very important relationship to build is one with your physician. 33% of Americans despite experiencing chronic stress will never talk about it with their physician. Our health and longevity is greatly influenced by how we deal with chronic stress, so build that relationship with your health care provider and talk about it.

Take time to de-stress. Identify your de-stressor. It may be a hobby, taking a warm bath or watching a movie.

Massage and acupuncture are therapeutic methods you may find helpful to de-stress.

Whatever it is for you, fit those into your lifestyle regularly.

Who should practice these de-stressing methods?

Dr. Wick:  The stress in our society will always be a constant, but how we deal with it will dictate our health and longevity.

As parents, we should encourage our children to recognize their stress and practice methods of stress reduction. Today’s youth are growing up in a high-stress society, and we must give them the tools to manage their stress early so they are prepared to address it as they grow up.

It is never too early to introduce children to methods of stress relief.

My 4-year-old daughter practices loving kindness meditation, which uses words, images and feelings to evoke a loving kindness and friendliness toward oneself and others.

Learning to love yourself and be kind to yourself at a tender age will help protect children from future stress that can be related to bullying, social media stress etc. Also they will grow up to be kind and loving children sensitive to others’ feelings.

Finally, I always tell my patients not to wait till you start experiencing stress to start practicing these methods of relief, as they will help make you resistant to chronic stress and protect you against negative effects of stress.

If you are already experiencing chronic stress, don’t end your day without incorporating at least one of the things we discussed in to your day.

Venuka Wickramaarachichi Meet the Expert

Venuka Wickramaarachichi, MD

Dr. Venuka Wickramaarachchi ("Dr. Wick") is a primary care physician at EvergreenHealth Signature Care. She is also a fellow at the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine.

Read Dr. Wick's full profile

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