How to combat stress in your life

November 18, 2016

I am sure we are all familiar with stress because I do not think you can become an OD without dealing with a large amount of it. In case you are not aware, stress is good in short doses. But large daily doses over years is bad.

The views expressed here belong to the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of Optometry Times or UBM Medica.

I am sure we are all familiar with stress because I do not think you can become an OD without dealing with a large amount of it.

But in case you were not familiar or are the most ridiculously type B person on the planet, let’s define stress.

Stress is anything in your life that causes you to lose focus, get cranky, yell at someone (most likely your spouse or coworker), throw things, gain weight, lose weight, eat less, eat more, get sick, and develop idiopathic central serous chorioretinopathy (ICSC) and coronary artery disease.

Are you a stress thriver?

We all have stress but some have more than others. Some thrive on it while others avoid it.

I am a thriver.

Personality testing has proven that I am a counsul, a person who supports others, often at the expense of myself.

I have learned that I take on too much in an effort to be everything to everyone. My friends need help, I gain validation from helping them. But this comes are a price.

Previously from Dr. Swartz: Top 10 qualities of engineer patients


Let’s see if I can list my stressors in 150 words or less:

• Have a husband, a son, and twin girls

• Ran a referral center and was on call 24-7 for nearly five years

• Nanny problems

• Dog got sick

• Daughter got sick

• Dog went into remission

• Daughter remained sick

• Got new part time job and now had to clean my own house

• Dog died

• Get two new dogs

• Soccer is hard on my son’s lower body and ortho appointments take half a day

• Daughter is still sick

• Blew out my knee and need a hysterectomy

• Daughter (still sick) develops unrelated knee disorder and can’t walk for six months

• Second dog dies

• I find out I am BRACA 2 positive and have my ovaries (which I left during my hysterectomy six months ago) removed

• Husband moves into solo practice

• While planning my mastectomy, I am now covering for two doctors out on medical leave from my now full-time practice

• Finally figure out what is wrong with my daughter

• My son gets sick

(Hmm, 160 words. See, I am too stressed.)

Related: The best and worst parts of holidays as an OD mom


How stress affects your body

In case you are not aware, stress is good in short doses.

But large daily doses over years is bad.

How does stress affect the body? According to the American Psychological Association, the effects are many.1

• Musculoskeletal: Stress causes us to tense our muscles, resulting in migraines and headaches, chronically painful musculoskeletal disorders, and injury

• Respiratory: Increased respiration or breathing harder can trigger asthma and panic attacks

• Cardiovascular: Acute stress elevates adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol, and prolonged stress increases risk of hypertension, heart attack, and stroke. The insidious connection is that chronic stress leads to inflammation of the circulatory system, particularly within the coronary arteries and may increase cholesterol levels. This is particularly true for post-menopausal women who no longer have the protection of estrogen

• Endocrine: Under stress, the hypothalamus signals the secretion of epinephrine and cortisol, so the liver produces more glucose. This is dangerous for those vulnerable to diabetes

• Gastrointestinal: Stress can increase heartburn and acid reflux, cause ulcers or stomach pain, and increase irritable bowel syndrome

• Nervous system: Long-term stress can result in long term energy loss, memory loss, and reduction in immune system strength.2

• I won’t belabor how stress affects the reproductive system; it is to upsetting for me to include.

Based upon this list, I should now be suffering from migraines, GERD, and IBS, crippled, hypertensive, highly asthmatic, fat, and diabetic.

Related: Why patient education is bit like fortune telling


How does stress do all this damage? Stress increases cortisol. Elevated cortisol levels result in glucocorticoid receptor resistance which causes a failure to down-regulate the body’s inflammatory response.3

Chronic inflammation causes that list of problems.

Reduce your cortisol

Reducing cortisol levels takes effort but can be done.

Certain foods can reduce cortisol, including: wild-caught salmon

• Dark chocolate

• Garlic

• Berries

• Olive oil

• Turmeric

• Green and chamomile tea

Whole, unprocessed foods are beneficial to reduction of cortisol as well.

Reduce sugar and caffeine, which increase cortisol.

Supplements may help, especially those considered “adaptogens.” These return the body to a more balanced state and include:

• Arctic root

• Aashwagandha

• Bacopa

• Ginkgo

• Schisandra

These are all common items in health food stores, and thankfully,

Related: Why it’s OK to be bossy


Avoid the effects of stress

Ways to avoid the effects of stress include identifying the stressor and learning how you respond to stress so you can know when to take a belly breath. Apparently taking several breathing sessions of as little as five minutes is beneficial. It is important to remember that the world will not explode if you take a breath.

Better yet, add aromatherapy. Lavender has been found to significantly reduce cortisol levels in the blood.4

Reduce the unhealthy behaviors you use to cope, and make healthier choices. Put down the wine, and go for a walk with the dog. Stress-reducing activities such as yoga and regular exercise will help. Extremely strenuous exercise may actually increase cortisol levels, so don’t over exercise.

Sleeping eight hours every night-and naps-are beneficial. Power naps count.

Ask for help if you need it. For consuls like me, that is a hard one, and I would rather give up Diet Coke than ask for help.

Let’s face it, everyone needs a shrink on speed dial. Thankfully, I am married to mine.

My favorite way to reduce stress is to get crafty.

Buy Sharpies and a coloring book, turn on some relaxing music, and remember to breathe.

Related: 7 tips from a Yankee OD living in the South


1. American Psychological Association. Stress effects on the body. Available at: Accessed 9/18/16.

2. Randall M. The Physiology of Stress: Cortisol and the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis. Available at: Accessed 9/18/16.

3. Cohen S, Janicki-Deverts D, Doyle WJ, Miller GE, Frank E, Rabin BS, Turner RB. Chronic stress, glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Apr 17;109(16):5995-5999.

4. Hosseini S, Heydari A, Vakili M, Moghadam S, Tazyky S. Effect of lavender essence inhalation on the level of anxiety and blood cortisol in candidates for open-heart surgery. Iran J Nurs Midwifery 

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