Did you know that April is National Stress Awareness Month?
Most of us know that too much stress causes health problems like diabetes, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and likely some forms of cancer. People are like a rubber band, we can’t function without some stress but too much stress will cause it to break.
It turns out for most stressors the problem is how we cope with the stress, not the stress itself. This approach helps: “its bad enough all this is happening, why be miserable too.” Learning to cope better with counseling and reading books can be of great help. Getting out of a stressful job can make a big difference with health. “What Color is Your Parachute” by Richard Bolles is an excellent book for those looking to change their job or career.
Exercise is one of the best options for dealing with stress. As little as a 30 minute walk daily will help you deal with stress better and likely keep diabetes away. Aerobic exercise helps more than mild exercise but its not mandatory.
Meditation is a very effective stress reliever. TM (transcendental meditation) has a lot of scientific data behind it including improved attention and mood, improvement in learning, and higher success levels. To meditate you sit comfortably and say a nonsense sound over and over while trying to avoid thinking. Its called a mantra. “Ohm” is commonly used and roughly translates to “thank you God.” 20 minutes twice daily has significant health and stress benefits.
Humor is a great way of dealing with stress. Hearing or reading funny stories and jokes improves happiness and ability to deal with stress. Learn some jokes you can tell. There are a lot of joke books available.
Medications can be used to reduce the perception of stress. Some people are extremely anxious all the time. Their “fight or flight” is on all the time, so they perceive stress all the time. BuSpar (buspirone) can turn off the worry gene and reduce anxiety and stress perception for these individuals. For many an antidepressant can be of great help as well. During periods of profound stress antipsychotic medication can help including Zyprexa (olanzapine) and Abilify (aripiprazole).
For those suffering greatly from anxiety, tranquilizers are available including the highly addicting benzodiazepines like Xanax (alprazolam), Ativan (lorazepam), and Klonopin (clonazepam). These medications are also used as sleep medication. These medications will impair you, especially with driving and operating heavy machinery. If you take a benzodiazepine for sleep, it won’t work if you take the medication during the daytime as well. If you are taking opioids for pain you shouldn’t take a benzodiazepine because of sedation risks. Many patients find Vistaril (hydroxyzine) helps with anxiety and is not addicting.
Sleep is critical for coping with stress. You should get 7-9 hours sleep nightly. Sleep deprivation will make the perception of stress worse. Many, especially during stressful times, need medication to help them sleep. Lunesta (eszopiclone) is the only medication approved for long term sleep problems. It causes a bad taste. Ambien (zolpidem) causes a lot of weird behaviors like trashing one’s kitchen. For some a benzodiazepine is necessary for sleep, we have to balance potential benefits with potential harm.