Tiramisu, chocolate mousse, red velvet cake, freshly baked cookies, and warm brownies topped with ice cream. These are some of my favorite desserts and the things I start thinking about when I am under intense stress. I often gaze at the bakery section at the grocery store just to take a look when I feel overwhelmed with stress at work or home. It is the classic description of what we call comfort food. The good thing is that I can’t remember the last time I bought any of these things other than for a celebration, although I have most definitely thought about it.
As 2020 has arrived, a quick look around can show you how much there is to worry about. Whatever profession you’re in, there are things at play that are not under our control. Stress comes from every angle, sometimes making us feel like hamsters running in a wheel. We worry about what we see in the news, our families, and about our patients.
We worry about affordability of care for our patients, availability of care, and even small things such as not being late for work when you get a few too many red lights. Stress. 2020 is a time of stress, and we need to face the challenges that it causes for us mentally and physically to provide the best care and support for our patients or loved ones. No matter what profession we are in, stress is universal.
What universally holds true is that stress affects our health.
Hormone levels fluctuate, blood pressure rises, and our tendency as human beings is to indulge in comfort eating or unhealthy behaviors, which leads to weight gain, cloudy minds, and a feeling of being unwell.
Stressed is desserts spelled backward (I wonder if this was a clever joke when creating the English language?), but there are things we can do about it.
Be conscious of your stress; seek help if you need it. Be mindful. In this day and age, there are so many resources available. Behavioral health services are offered through most jobs, and through insurance, you can easily be connected to a therapist. Talk to a friend, have weekly get-togethers, go kickboxing, start exercise challenges within your workplace. Everyone is different, find what works for you, but pay attention to yourself and your needs. Be wary of the desserts. They tend to sneak up on you.
Start to exercise; it is such a simple and effective tool. Personally speaking, I have had to deal with a lot of stress in my life, whether it was with family, work, and everything in between.
When I chose to focus on managing my stress in positive ways, it made such a positive impact on my life. Going to the gym three times a week can change so much more than you would think. I have not been doing it for many years, at this point about five years consistently, but I can vouch for the impact it makes on managing stress, mood, energy levels, and overall feelings of satisfaction. Residency was a mental and physical challenge filled with constant exhaustion until I was able to challenge the stress, and prioritize my health by exercising and making healthier choices.
You feel good when you treat yourself well, and you take care of yourself. You take better care of patients, family, and friends.
I do love fast food every now and then, but when it is a regular occurrence, it causes more harm to your body than you think.
There is meaning to the phrase “you are what you eat,” and the importance of healthy eating means so much to maintain both a healthy mind and body.
There are so many chemicals and preservatives in the foods around us that can add to the feeling of being unwell.
Although often much more work, it is important to be conscious of what we are eating, especially during stressful times when it is the hardest to do but also the most important time to do it right. Have a strategy to cope with stress, so you don’t turn to bad habits. Have a go-to healthy snack that also gives you some satisfaction, listen to music, exercise. Substitute something negative with something positive, and plan for it ahead of time. You will see what a difference it makes.
To whoever is reading this article, let 2020 be the year where you really take care of yourself, your body and your mind. No matter what profession you are in, no matter where you live, where you were born, and what plans you have for your future, stress will affect you in some way, but don’t let it do you harm.
Stress is a tricky thing. It can sneak up on you. It can crawl into your life, sometimes without you realizing it. Channel it to help you become better and take care of yourself.
Someone once told me that the mind and body are different but dependent on each other. The mind benefits from stillness, and the body benefits from movement. If the body is healthy, it is one less thing for the mind to worry about. A healthy body is just as important as a healthy mind. It goes both ways, and stress affects both.
Make 2020 about making healthy decisions and supporting others with their own. Be the positive change and encouragement that you need for someone else. Pay attention, and be mindful; we owe it to ourselves.
Of course, if you have found any helpful tips or tricks you have learned over the years to manage stress, please feel free to share with us below because it is truly a challenge to overcome. I would like for all of us to work together towards being a little healthier, happier, and a little less stressed each day.
Jasmine Toor is an internal medicine physician.
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