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Knowing When It's Stress-Where Stress Comes From and How to Get a Handle on It

“Life without stress would be useless.” The statement at first blush may seem hard to accept, but it’s undeniable wisdom played out in the anecdotes, advice and techniques described by Craig Kimmel, MD, at the fifth annual Explorations in Integrative Medicine symposium, presented by the Lourdes Wellness Center and Lourdes Health System in March 2009.

“Without stress, we have no challenge,” added Kimmel. “Not that it’s ever really possible to eliminate stress, so we aim our therapies at stress reduction,” explained the Director of the Primary-Care Sports Medicine at Lourdes Health System.

In his clinical duties, Dr. Kimmel observes stress as it plays out in athletics and in physical pastimes and conditioning. His service, which takes advantage of integrative medicine, cares for athletes and individuals at all levels of activity, with the goal of helping patients take part in sports and physical aspects of daily living more comfortably, effectively and enjoyably.

Where Is the Stress Really Coming From?

“Stress plays a major role in sports, as it does in life,” Dr. Kimmel reminded the audience of some 150 healthcare professionals and community members attending the event sponsored by Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center. With money, pride and the expectations of themselves and others at stake, athletes are under pressure to maintain their performance and focus at all times. The role creates tension and strain-both physical and mental-against which no kind of equipment, drug or other intervention can protect them fully, according to Dr. Kimmel.

Even those who exercise casually may have stress in other segments of their lives that spill over into symptoms of the body or psyche in connection to physical activity. Kimmel described treating patients for orthopedic conditions, while, in fact, advising them more importantly on lifestyle interventions to reduce stress.

“Stressors are also highly personal and individualized. What is stressful for one person is enjoyable for another, and visa versa,” said the sports-medicine specialist, who served as one of a panel of experts addressing this year’s conference theme, “Integrative Approaches to Managing Stress.”

Stress Requires Active Management in Today’s World

In his presentation, “I Think It’s Stress,” Dr. Kimmel reviewed a variety of simple steps for avoiding, for dissipating and for dealing with stress-and for improving all types of performance and well-being as a result. He made special note of these points:

  • Sugar and caffeine are common forms of self-medication for energy or mood, especially during demanding times, but an “energy crash” inevitably follows at some point after their use.
  • Realistic time management in our over-committed, over-stimulated world is critically under-estimated factor in life. Such time management must be respectful to one’s self and not just of external goals. One tip: When facing a list of taxing duties, start with the least pleasant task so that you will create a “momentum of manageability” as you move forward.
  • Down time is as important as scheduled time. Taking mental breaks is very important, and many companies, including white-collar, service companies have begun scheduling breaks for employees.
  • The more positive things we notice in our surroundings, in our day, in the wider world around us, the more positively we will be able to maintain our own state of mind.
  • Exercise is indispensable. “A half-hour of even moderate exercise daily works as well as a standard dose of antidepressant,” says Dr. Kimmel.
  • Paying attention to ergonomics is important. A comfortable, sustainable physical environment helps to prevent stress.
  • Constructive and creative communication are proven to reduce stress. “We turn down the volume of our perception of pain or emotional discomfort, and decrease stress hormones, when we can express ourselves freely, openly and safely,” Dr. Kimmel states.

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