Stress Management

Will reducing stress reduce my risk of heart disease?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm under a lot of stress in my life. Of course, I don't like that, but what really worries me is that it will affect my heart. Heart disease runs in my family. If stress can lead to heart disease, does reducing stress reduce heart disease risk?

DEAR READER: We often think of the heart and brain as separate from each other, yet these organs are intimately connected. And when your emotions adversely affect your brain, your heart is affected as well.

Could stress be contributing to my high blood pressure?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Could stress be causing my high blood pressure?

DEAR READER: You bet it could. It surely contributed to my high blood pressure. Most of us experience a lot of stress. I'm not sure today's world is more stressful than the world of our parents or grandparents. We may have different stressors than they did, but life has always been full of stress.

Can mindfulness be used for more than stress reduction?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I can't turn around without hearing about mindfulness these days. Is it just for stress reduction, or is there more to it?

DEAR READER: Mindfulness may have started out as a meditation technique. But now it is being used for everything from boosting happiness to treating high blood pressure. It's been shown to help treat depression and anxiety and improve sleep quality. And it's being studied as a complementary therapy for cancer, stroke, multiple sclerosis and pain.

What is the Alexander Technique?

DEAR DOCTOR K: A friend mentioned something called the Alexander Technique, which is supposed to help relieve tension. Can you tell me more about it?

DEAR READER: I didn't know much about the Alexander Technique until I received your question. So I did some homework. I consulted with Dr. Eva Selhub, who is an internal medicine doctor and clinical associate at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine.

How can I fight the urge to eat when I’m stressed out?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I eat whenever I'm stressed out -- and I always reach for the sweet stuff. Why does stress have this effect on me? How can I fight the urge?

DEAR READER: You're not alone. Ongoing stress, the hormones it unleashes, and the effects of high-fat, sugary "comfort foods" push many people toward overeating.

Can yoga really help to relieve stress?

DEAR DOCTOR K: A friend is urging me to try yoga because I'm stressed out. I am suspicious of all these "touchy-feely" practices. Does yoga have scientifically proven benefits?

DEAR READER: Yes, many studies have found that yoga can improve strength, flexibility and balance. It also is effective in relieving stress and anxiety. It has minimal side effects, although there are a few precautions I should mention.

Does breath focus help to relieve stress?

DEAR DOCTOR K: A friend recommended a technique called "breath focus" to help me deal with stress. Does this help?

DEAR READER: Breath focus is a simple yet powerful technique that can elicit the "relaxation response," a state of profound peace and rest. The relaxation response was popularized by my colleague at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Herbert Benson. It has given all of us a weapon against stress.

What is the relaxation response?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm under a lot of stress, and I'd like to learn more about the "relaxation response." What is it? How can I achieve it?

DEAR READER: At Harvard Medical School, we do a lot of traditional "Western" scientific research. But we also have a long history of studying "Eastern" concepts of how the body works, disease and treatment. In the late 1970s, Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson conducted research into the health hazards of stress -- and the body's potential to heal itself. One antidote to stress that Dr. Benson studied was the relaxation response.

Does stress make us age faster?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I recently heard that studies are showing that stress makes us age faster. Is there anything to that?

DEAR READER: I'll bet you are referring to studies about the effects of ongoing stress on our cells. Each of us is a collection of 13 trillion cells. Anything that causes our cells to age causes us to age. And chronic stress does cause our cells to age faster.