Dealing with Stress

David B. Baron, MD

I’m having a particularly stressful week. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to focus on one of the top three reasons people come to see a doctor: stress. If you’re reading this article, then you know stress is simply a part of reality. But what’s the cause? It may be the increasingly rapid pace at which we live, a lost sense of connectedness to those we care about, or a lack of control we feel over everything from traffic to computers to the gridlock in our government. That’s aside from the individual trials and tribulations we must face when we lose a loved one, graduate from school or change jobs, partners or homes or live in the time of a pandemic!  The end result is the same: It all affects our peace of mind, and ultimately, our health.

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Everything from back pain to high blood pressure, insomnia to depression, headaches, asthma, diabetes, and stomach ulcers may be caused by and/or aggravated by stress.

I cannot tell you how to eliminate stress in your life. Nor should that necessarily be the goal, since what challenges us often offers us opportunities to grow, innovate and evolve as individuals, and as a society. To paraphrase an old expression: Whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, if you cope with the stress adaptively, that is.

I all too often see people doing exactly the opposite of what a reasonable, intelligent person might suggest to a friend who is struggling with an abundance of stress in life.

What I recommend is to eat regular meals and a nutritionally balanced diet, do some vigorous exercise most days of the week, get enough sleep, avoid alcohol, smoking, and drugs, try meditation, yoga, journaling, or therapy. And consider seeking help from a doctor or therapist if you need it. Instead, many people seem to quit going to the gym, eat more fast food and junk, drink more, smoke more, sleep less, dabble in drugs, hide problems from loved ones, stop going to their houses of worship, and refuse to see a therapist or try something new that might give them peace and quiet contemplation, or just plain fun and release. That’s what I call “maladaptive coping.”

Whether or not it’s “human nature” to wallow in the misery, lick your wounds, drown your sorrows, stuff your feelings, or sweep it under the rug and hope they’ll go away, the results of these types of maladaptive coping are pretty predictably unpleasant and unproductive. So, think about whether the habits you have and the choices you make are actually contributing to your stress. There are many ways to keep you more balanced, resilient, healthy, and growing, even in the face of this unpredictable world in which we’re all struggling to get by. It often takes only small changes practiced consistently to protect and improve your health in a hurry that shouldn’t stress you out too much.

At Primary Caring of Malibu, we have returned to old-fashioned style family medicine to bring our patients the personal care and attention they deserve. It’s not a new idea — it’s just an old concept brought up to date, with modern methods and technology making it even better.

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