Q&A: Stress Expert Dr. Aditi Nerurkar
How much stress is too much?
Stress is a big deal. A study published in the Journal of American Medical Association Internal Medicine revealed that 60 to 80 percent of primary care visits involve stress, yet only 3 percent of primary care doctors offer some form of stress management as a solution.
Dr. Aditi Nerurkar, a physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and lead author of the above study, saw this gap as an opportunity to start including stress management techniques in her patients’ visits. Nerurkar is certified in internal medicine and also integrative medicine, which uses unconventional methods of treatment like yoga and meditation. We caught up with her to ask how we can manage our daily stress in order to avoid more trips to the doctor.
Do you think stress management is undervalued in our society?
In an urban city like Boston, stress is almost like a badge of honor. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. I know it seems impossible to work 40 hours a week and still go to bed at 11 p.m., but I think it’s a myth to say that you have to be stressed to be high functioning. That being said, it’s also a myth that you can live a life without any stress.
Do you think we are all more stressed then we used to be?
I think our reliance on technology has increased our stress over the past few years. When we used to stand at the T stop, it was our time to just let our minds wander. Now everyone is on their phones while they wait, so we are constantly stimulated and our brains don’t have enough time to unwind.
Isn’t some amount of stress healthy though?
Stress is a healthy, adaptive, and normal response, and a little bit of it keeps us productive and engaged in life. Stress becomes a problem when it starts manifesting itself in unhealthy ways like consistent thoughts of worry, emotional eating, physical ailments, relationship problems, etc.
How can we manage our stress on a day-to-day basis?
Stress management is a lifestyle, and if we can make little tweaks and changes to our daily life it will impact our health in the short and long term. When a patient comes to me, I examine five main components that are really important in managing their stress. Those are diet, sleep, social support, exercise, and meditation.
What do you mean by social support as part of stress-managment?
Health is not just a serious business, it can be fun, too. Spending time with your friends and family is a great health promoting activity, and that goes the same with exercise. It’s the best way to get out of your head and into your body, and, contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t have to be so painful. Whether its dance, yoga, or running, the important part is that you get your body moving.
What if I’m too busy to meditate?
Anyone can make time to meditate at least five minutes a day, twice a day. The same way I prescribe medication is the same way I prescribe meditation; I start with small doses and gradually increase.
What can a person do in the moment they feel stressed?
It sounds simple, but breath is probably the most powerful, effective, and immediate tool to help your stress in the moment. When you are anxious your body goes into fight or flight mode, so your breathing becomes rapid and shallow and your blood rushes to your muscles and away from your vital organs. What I recommend is belly breathing. To do this, put your hands on your belly and close your eyes. Then take a few deep breaths and let your belly relax and expand. This action slows down your breathing and that brings you back into equilibrium.
What are your favorite methods of unconventional stress treatments?
Well besides meditation, I also like to recommend yoga and massage therapy. Another good one, that happens to be newer as a mainstream technique is Tai Chi, which is ironic because it’s been around for centuries.