Alternative Methods for Stress Management

By Bill Reddy, L.Ac., Dipl.Ac.

A significant number of my patients suffer from stress-related health conditions such as chronic headaches and gastrointestinal distress. As an alternative medical practitioner, it's important for me to not only identify the root of a patient's problem, but also to provide guidance to ameliorate the cause. I'd like to begin by identifying a few of the general symptoms of stress: Fatigue, insomnia, poor memory, indecisiveness, muscle aches/stiffness, heart palpitations, chest pains, anxiety, depression, anger, frustration, irritability, impatience, and short temper. The causes of stress can be loosely grouped into two categories: internal and external. Both can be dealt with effectively. Internal stressors include pessimistic thinking, caffeine, not enough sleep, unrealistic expectations, perfectionist, workaholic, and an overloaded schedule. External stressor would be noise, job layoff, promotion, rudeness, regulations, losing things, and deadlines. A person's first step is to identify the stressors in their life and ask themselves which ones they have any control over. The next step is to put stress into the perspective that 10% is what happens to you and 90% is how you respond to it. Many times people can thwart the stress of rush hour traffic by listening to classical music. In terms of practical application, the five most important items to reduce stress in any person's life is to decrease or eliminate caffeine and alcohol intake, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, create a balance between work and leisure, and practice some form of meditation or Qi Gong. These will go far to improve a person's quality of life. I make a deal with my patients that if they completely eliminate stimulants (caffeine for instance) from their diet for 3 weeks, and their sense of well-being doesn't improve dramatically, then they can go back to caffeine. I've had a nearly 100% success rate. Most Americans are chronically sleep deprived. Lack of sleep leads to operating less efficiently and becoming more irritable and less productive. My patients who increase the amount of sleep they get report that they feel better and are more resilient and adaptable in dealing with the common crises of everyday life. Aerobic exercise is excellent at restoring our bodies to a state of calm after sustained arousal brought on by adrenal overloads. It also aids in sleeping more soundly. Many Europeans consider Americans "workoholics." In our never-ending quest for wealth, we miss the opportunity for good solid rest and relaxation. Ask yourself what brings you joy… Make sure that you reward yourself with that activity after you've worked hard. Finally, the ancient art of Qi Gong can be an excellent way to recharge your batteries while reducing stress. Begin by sitting up comfortably with your eyes closed. Place the tip of your tongue on your hard palate behind your front teeth and breathe through your nose smoothly and quietly. Visualize water that is the perfect temperature starting at the top of your head and washing down your body with every exhale. Consider stress and tension in your muscles as dirt, and watch a bit of the dirt wash off your body with every wash of water, releasing the tension and stress. When a thought rises up, acknowledge it and go back to your breathing. This is a very healing and relaxing practice. The more you practice, the better you'll become at consciously controlling your body's stress response.

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