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St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center

St. Joseph's Health Connections

Oct 11 2013
Become More Mindful of Stress

A 58 year old woman comes to the office and tells me that for the past six months she has not been feeling well. She has gained weight, is unable to get a good night’s sleep and constantly feels like her heart is racing and has been having chest pain off and on. I do a whole work up and her blood work, stress test and monitor -- all look absolutely normal. On her next visit I give her the good news, but she is still having symptoms. So I dig deeper and try to find out what's really going on. She tells me that she has been taking care of her elderly mother for the past two years, got divorced one year back and her 30-year-old son just lost his job and has moved in with her. I ask her what she has been doing for stress relief and she tells me she has no time for that.

In my last blog I had discussed the seven basic tenets of staying heart healthy. The first one was staying spiritually active, being mindful and reducing stress. I think this has been the toughest one for me to explain to patients and is sometimes the most important since the emotional dimensions of health go hand in hand with our physical well being. 

Spirituality is defined as a sense of connection with something greater than oneself such as family, friends, community, and religion. Being spiritually active helps bring meaning to life and provides opportunities to reach out to others. Finding time to meditate, pray, or attend a place of worship all help and are ways to disconnect from our busy lives. Other ways to cope with stress include having a positive attitude and knowing your limits, spending time with friends and family (especially ones that can make you laugh), engaging with your community in some way, adopting and spending time with a pet, find hobbies that you enjoy such as gardening, reading, baking, playing music or playing a sport.

I saw this patient six months later and I was happy to see that she was doing a lot better. Her palpitations had resolved and she was no longer having chest pain. She had lost 10 pounds and was exercising three to four days a week. She told me that after years she had connected with some old friends and was now going to church.  Not all stress is bad, but when it gets overwhelming, physical ailments start to appear. One way to address these ailments is to become more mindful.

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