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Give Stress A Vacation

By Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Staff

If you're packing the car for your summer vacation and are tempted to put in your laptop so you can check e-mails while you're away, think again.

"Summer vacation is a great time to slow down and sort of hit the reset button by letting go of some of the stresses of daily life," says Dr. Aditi Nerurkar, Medical Director of the Cheng-Tsui Integrated Health Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center who specializes in treating stress. "We really benefit from that break to help us recharge our physical and mental health."

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She says it's far too easy for us to bring our daily work habits with us on vacation. We're so used to checking our phones for texts and emails that most times we don't get a chance to unwind.

"Give yourself permission to leave the technology at home or at least in the hotel room," she says. "Embrace that free time."

Dr. Nerurkar says a little stress is healthy. It helps keep us productive and engaged in life. But, she cautions, too much stress can lead to excessive worrying, overeating and relationship problems. Stress has been linked chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes and depression, and other physical ailments like migraines and insomnia.

"I often hear from my patients that they just feel exhausted. They might even connect that feeling to stress, but they don't know what to do about it," says Nerurkar. "The long days of summer are a great time to reflect and start to develop a mindfulness practice that can be used on vacation, as well as when you come back and reenter your busy life."

Nerurkar works with patients to tackle stress by addressing diet, sleep, social support and exercise.

"Use that vacation time to reconnect with your family. Spend some time outside in the fresh air and really maximize your physical activity. That alone can go a long way toward helping you get better sleep and reducing stress."

Dr. Nerurkar also teaches her patients to meditate. She recommends starting with five minutes, twice a day.

"Sometimes meditation can be used alongside or instead of medication to help get stress in check," she says. "There's a growing body of evidence showing that the brains of people who meditate are changed. People who meditate regularly report feeling less reactive and more at peace. The theory is that meditation and those brain changes help make meditators more resilient."

Even if you haven't yet developed a formal meditation practice, you can use your vacation time to start by sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing while enjoying a sunset or the ocean.

"Take five minutes and imagine your thoughts are like waves in the ocean that you let go of with each crash on beach while simply bringing your attention to your breath," says Nerurkar. "That's meditation!"

Vacation can also provide the opportunity to try something out of your comfort zone.

"You might use this time away to get your toes wet so to speak and sign up for a yoga or tai chi class," says Nerurkar. "That's a great way to jump start a practice you can continue when you get home."

So whether vacation involves a trip to a far away destination or time at home with family and friends, it's a great opportunity to relax and reflect. It won't make the stress disappear, but it can help us start to manage it better.

"Stress is almost epidemic in our lives," says Nerurkar. "And anything we can do to step back and begin to address that is going to benefit our health and well-being now and in the years to come."

Some signs that it's time to take a stress break include:

• Not sleeping well
• Always feeling tired and lacking energy
• Inability to relax
• Feeling uptight or pent up
• Headaches and muscle tension
• Stomach discomfort
• Gastrointestinal upsets such as diarrhea and/or heartburn
• Feeling jittery or anxious
• Not eating well — grabbing fast food and getting indigestion from eating too quickly
• Lacking enthusiasm to do anything
• Mood changes like feeling melancholy

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted July 2015

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