Get treated for your stress

More physicians incorporating stress management into their practices


For Leah Grossman, living in a new town is stressful.

"I was feeling like I was being strangled and drowning," she said.

To get back above water, Grossman went to see a physician that specializes in stress management.

"She did some meditation with me in the office the first visit. She suggested I attend a Tai Chi class," said Grossman.

Forty-two percent of adults say their stress level has gone up in the past five years, and doctors are taking notice.

"Stress is implicated, and can exacerbate a number of medical conditions all the way from a common cold to a heart attack," explained Dr. Aditi Nerurkar who has a stress management practive at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Nerurkar has a goal when she sees an ailing patient.

"Take a step back and zoom out and look at the patient as a whole and address their stress as it affects their entire being, rather than a particular body system," she explained.

Duke Integrative Medicine Executive Director Dr. Adam Perlman,  also works with people to reduce the pressures they feel in everyday life.  Necia Gooch came to Perlman with headaches and back and stomach pain.

"There was a good focus on the details that fill my life and, and what stresses are there," said Gooch.

Perlman says the practice of looking at the whole picture is catching on.

"Stress in our current society is really an epidemic if you think about it.  So, more doctors do seem to be incorporating stress management into their practices," Perlman explained. "There is a growing demand also from patients."

So, why the push to bring stress reduction to primary care?  

"It can raise blood pressure, it can certainly raise your heart rate, it can give you stomach problems.  The challenge of stress is it impacts everything.  It truly is a primary care issue on the front lines for our patients," explained  Dr. Reid Blackwelder, American Academy of Family Physicians President.

Doctors agree there is no one anti-stress solution for all patients. And when you see a doctor for stress, of course they treat your body as well as your mind.

"My approach in managing stress is that it's a piece of the larger puzzle of someone's medical condition," said Nerurkar. So while I teach meditation I do not think that meditation can replace medication."

Nerurkar gives each patient she sees a stress score.  When Grossman first came in, hers was 22.  Now, she's down to 15.  

"I feel more grounded, I feel more in charge," said Grossman. "I feel like I'm back on the road to being myself." 

Nerurkar says the five elements of stress reduction she addresses with patients are:

  • Sleep
  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Social support
  • Meditation  

But, Nerurkar points out having some stress in your life, at healthy levels, can be a good thing. It can motivate you to be productive and take on challenges.