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Eliminate Stress for a Healthier Life

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Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the deadline to file taxes happens in the same month that, since 1992, has been designated Stress Awareness

Month in the U.S. It’s almost impossible to find anyone these days who doesn’t report being under some kind of stress.

Stress comes from so many different sources. Relationship issues seem to fuel a very large amount of the stress we experience. Whether it’s an

elderly grandparent with Alzheimer’s disease, an adolescent child with a drug addiction, a spouse with a mid-life crisis or any of thousands of

other issues, the people we care about most can contribute stress to our lives.

Financial issues can be major stressors; so can illnesses and other health problems—which in turn can make the condition you’re experiencing

even worse. Chronic diseases, in particular, can create stress because you know they’ll likely be with you for the rest of your life. If you

have appendicitis, you can soldier through and get better. But living with a disease like colitis, asthma or diabetes requires lifestyle changes

that, in turn, can result in stress—physical, financial, relational and so forth.

As a family medicine physician in Simi Valley, I see patients for a wide variety of health complaints. I estimate that 30 to 50 percent of the

time, stress is a factor in whatever problem my patient is experiencing. This is because stress can manifest itself in every system of the body,

creating such issues as hair loss; headache; pain in the jaw, neck, back and/or chest; heart palpitations; high blood pressure; nausea,

cramping, diarrhea and other stomach and intestinal problems; erectile dysfunction; hives, dermatitis and other skin problems; restless legs;

and much more.

Stress is so insidious because it not only creates health problems, but it also often interferes with a person’s ability and/or desire to work

toward addressing their health problems. For example, I see patients who are dealing with diabetes, high blood pressure and excessive weight who

are not exercising or eating as they should. They know what they need to do, but something is keeping them from making lifestyle changes. As I

explore the issue with them, stress often comes up as the culprit—or at least a complication in the issue.

For that reason, I believe it’s very important to find out why lifestyle changes—which can help to control or minimize the effects of chronic

disease—are not happening, instead of just throwing another prescription at the problem. Addressing stress and making lifestyle changes can

often have a more profound effect on disease than adding another medication, and it’s a lot less expensive. A 20-pound weight loss for a

diabetic patient, for example, can help so much more than a newly released, $300-a-month injection.

So the big question is “How do I get rid of the stress that is bothering me?” This is a difficult and complex issue. My suggestion is to start

by working on the lifestyle change that is going to make the most difference for you.

For example, if lack of sleep is stressing you out, look at the factors that may be contributing to your sleep deprivation. If you’re drinking a

couple of beers right before bed, try cutting them out. You may find that you’ll sleep better—and you’ll be eliminating 500 empty calories every

day, which may help you lose weight.

Speaking of which, adding some exercise into your life can have a tremendously positive impact on your stress level. Our bodies were designed to

be in motion, not to sit in a chair all day. Exercise releases stress-busting endorphins, strengthens the heart and even helps with digestive

problems.

Keep in mind, however, that there are certainly many physical ailments that can’t be resolved just with a lifestyle change. If your health issue

doesn’t improve after you implement a healthier lifestyle or if your symptoms are severe, you should always talk with your doctor sooner rather

than later.

Changing your lifestyle isn’t easy; if it was, we’d all be at an ideal weight and in great shape. But it’s a goal worth striving for—and, in the

process, you might just reap the added benefit of less stress.

Jonathan Kurohara, MD, is a family medicine physician in Simi Valley and a member of the Simi Valley Hospital medical staff.