The Epidemic of Stress and How to Manage It: Mind, Body, Spirit and Soul
Brooklyn’s “Go Red for Women” Luncheon took place at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott this year; a desirable commute for Dr. Rob and Julie Graham and Dr. Rudy Gehrman from Physio Logic, it was just a hop, skip and physical-therapist-approved jump away. The event supports the American Heart Association in its efforts to “empower women to take charge of their heart health.” The cause is potent, considering heart disease is the number one killer of women.
Waiting at the crown of the escalator at the hotel were check-in booths, and beyond those, interactive tables. Some seized the opportunity to refresh CPR skills, others capitalized on the mobile (and complimentary) nail salon; there are two types of people! On a more emotional chord, attendees shared why they Go Red on small notes and collectively stuck them on display.
After a few minutes, the crowd filed into the adjacent room, where panelists settled into their seats. Julie Graham, Dr. Robert Graham, Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, Bob Roth and Pamela Miles faced a bright-eyed crowd, prepared to discuss “The Epidemic of Stress and How to Manage It: Mind, Body, Spirit and Soul.”
Dr. Steinbaum moderated, while each panelist spoke on his or her expertise. Since stress is a key contributor to heart health, the discussion orbited one major focal point: stress management. Though each greed on the fundamental importance of mindfulness and a holistic approach, each of the panelists proposed slightly different strategies.
Bob Roth began by likening the mind to the ocean. Thirty-foot waves swell into turbulent, terrifying crescendos in the open waters. That’s our “Gotta Gotta Gotta” mind. As he put it: We gotta do this and we gotta do that and we gotta make a list and we gotta try not to lose that list and now we gotta make a new list. But the important thing to remember, Bob said, was that beneath ocean waves, a deep calm stretches for a mile or more. Transcendental Meditation (TM) is his stress-management strategy of choice, because it allows anyone to access the calm seas within their turbulent brain with only minimal training.
And Transcendental Meditation is for anyone and everyone, Bob insisted, because we all experience stress. When he worked with Ellen Degeneres, he asked her why she was interested in TM. She said something like, “I want to maintain permanent connection with the intelligent forces of the universe…” and paused. “And I can’t sleep!” Can't we all relate?
Next, Reiki Master Pamela Miles spoke about the curious benefits of the Japanese healing practice. Reiki is a spiritual practice which encourages balance in the body by the transfer of energy through touch, and though that may sound a skeptic’s alarms, Pamela challenges her clients to “Put aside rational explanations for the moment, have an experience and then deconstruct it.” Without question, reiki evokes the relaxation response, and that alone warrants great celebration. When we can dial into that relaxed channel, Pamela said, “A challenge comes at us and it’s exciting. When we’re stressed, a challenge comes at us and it’s like an invitation for failure.”
At this, Suzanne agreed; when a challenge comes at us, it can be exciting. “Not having stress is not necessarily good,” she said. “It’s okay to thrive under situations that are stressful.” She urged us to cultivate the self-awareness which can enable us to define and differentiate between detrimental and beneficial stress. Suzanne being the Director of Women’s Heart Health of Northwell Lenox Hill Hospital, we all agreed to try.
Suzanne then directed the following questions at co-Founder of FRESH Med NYC Robert Graham, MD, MPH, ABOIM. He discussed his role as an Integrative Physician, where his patients benefit from the conventional techniques he learned in medical school, in tandem with “complementary therapies,” like meditation, reiki, chiropractic care, acupuncture.
“Ask yourself,” he told the audience, “When was the last time your doctor asked you: Do you think stress is a component in how you are feeling? Do you think it has a role in your disease? Do you think it’s important to your well-being?”
The fortunate souls who raised their hands were few and far between (and seemed suspiciously like they might know one of the doctors on the panel!) and the rest of us sat in the same old boat. Rob went on to discuss the prevalence of stress as a correlative component in diagnoses of inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS) and deadly heart disease.
“I will take out my prescription pad and I will write: Yoga two times per week, for six weeks. With an ICD-9, which is a diagnosis code, of palpitations, insomnia. It’s the same thing we do for meditation.” What would it feel like to have our stress validated and cared for, to have yoga and mediation prescribed?
Julie Graham is a Certified Health Coach, Registered Yoga Teacher, Positive Psychology Practitioner and co-Founder of FRESH Med NYC, and she’s the specialist who would show you how that felt. Bob’s Gotta Gotta Gotta mind is the future-focused sibling of what Julie calls the Shoulda Shoulda Shoulda. She likes the phrase: “Stop should-ing all over yourself,” and suggested that yoga and mediation are our means.
“Yoga is a moving meditation,” she said. “When you’re focusing on a pose, your monkey mind can’t be swinging from tree to tree.” Besides yoga, Julie cited the repetitive motions of activities like knitting as a meditative activity, because concentration leads to meditation. When we’re knitting, for example, we enter our personal flow, the sweet spot between skill and challenge. Julie also discussed the benefits of aromatherapy and Positive Psychology in our journeys to reduce negative stress.
To wrap up the event, Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum asked Julie to lead attendees in a brief yoga session. Drawing from the first yoga class she ever taught for medical residents (who weren't about to change or relocate to a studio in order to calm their monkey minds) she led us through exercises for which we didn’t even have to leave our seats. It may sound like a very simple form of stress management - and that’s because it is! But simple does not mean ineffective; in fact, Julie had the “Go Red for Women” crowd captivated within five minutes. When Suzanne asked if anyone was feeling better, she received a unified “YES” in response.