Reduce Stress to Reduce Inflammation

by: Christopher Gaffney, Ph.D. 

People with inflammatory arthritis can often benefit by taking steps to reduce stress in their life.  This is likely due to the finding that the body responds to emotional stress in much the same way it does physical stress/pain – by releasing proteins that cause inflammation.  

Contrary to what you may have heard from various media outlets – there is no universally accepted formula for reducing emotional stress and anxiety.  Rather, the best approach is simply by trying a few different approaches and finding those that work the best for you.  For example, while one person may relax by learning to play the piano, others may find such an endeavor far too demanding thereby causing more stress than it solved.

Why Reduce Stress?  Moreover … How?!
A great place to begin deciphering the answer to this age-old question is … What has helped you relax in the past? 

Many patients have told me that long showers with lots of steam help to relax the muscles and clear the mind.  However, in July, that is usually not the ideal approach. 

Below are a few other ideas just to get you started:

  1. Try Meditation:  It doesn’t have to be a huge process or involve anything more than being in a quiet atmosphere where you can process your thoughts and re-connect with your sense of well-being.  I’d suggest starting with 3-5 minutes per day.  Feel free to work up from there if you’d like … but give it a try for at least 10 days.  You’ll be surprised how you come to like that little piece of your day.
  2. Don’t like meditating? Take 2 small breaks per day (just 1-2 minutes has been shown to improve well-being).  In those 2 minutes, take 30 seconds and do absolutely nothing, clear your mind, and take 10 deep breaths.
  3. Share your feelings about problems and concerns with at least one trusted friend, family member, or psychologist/psychiatrist. Being able to share your worries with someone who listens and can empathize with what you’re going through can be a big stress reliever.
  4. Eat a salad. A healthy diet full of dark leafy greens can improve your mood and your health.  Start by having a salad twice a week for lunch. 
  5. Practice Sleep Hygiene. Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Do yourself a favor – if you have an iPhone, enable the settings so that only emergency calls will come through or alert you. A cool, dark, sleeping environment is best.  Try to get every light, switch, and device to turn off (Hint = simply say “Alexa – screen off” to your Amazon device and it will comply). 
  6. Exercise:  I know what you’re thinking … but it doesn’t have to be a chore.  Start by just taking a brisk walk around your block.  Simple, small changes in your habits and routine can make a world of difference!
  7. Take up a hobby. Whether it’s gardening, playing music, bird-watching or crafting, a hobby can help take your mind off the outside world AND has the added benefit of interacting with new people and offering a sense of accomplishment!
  8. Grab a book. Spend some quiet time reading a good book for 20 minutes each day. Reading will almost certainly be more relaxing than checking your social media accounts or trying to improve your online gaming skills.
  9. Borrow a pet. Petting or walking a dog can boost your mood and help you recharge. Don’t want to commit to a pet? Volunteer to walk dogs or play with the cats at your local pet shelter.

Remember … Simple, small (but consistent) changes really make the difference in the long term.  Invest in your well-being … there’s only one of you in this world. 

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