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National Stress Awareness Month: Quit stressing! It’s bad for your health

Friday, April 1, 2022

By: Femi Cole

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April is Stress Awareness Month


Quit stressing! That’s advice from three specialists with BayCare Clinic and Aurora BayCare Medical Center in Green Bay.


Stress is the emotional or physical tension a person feels when experiencing a particular situation or event. Everyone feels stress from time to time. It’s a normal part of life.


Left unchecked, though, stress can become harmful. It can cause or exacerbate serious health issues such as cardiovascular disease, menstrual problems, gastrointestinal disorders, mental health complications and more.


That’s why it’s important to know how to manage stress, says Dr. William Witmer, a cardiologist with Aurora BayCare Cardiology.


“Emotional events in our lives and worry can trigger the fight or flight response when we have no physical need for it. This causes stress,” he says. "This type of stress can take a toll on our health by increasing pulse and blood pressure and promoting inflammation which increases our risk for diseases such as infection, heart attacks, strokes and cancer.”


Witmer practices deep breathing, yoga, meditates regularly, follows a healthy diet and incorporates humor into his day, all of which help to manage his stress levels.


“Another proven stress reliever that also has been shown to improve mental health and reduce the risk of dementia is getting out in nature,” he says. “Take a walk in the woods and take time to observe and appreciate the flora and fauna and how amazingly wonderful they are.”


Symptoms of stress can be emotional or physical. Emotional symptoms include agitation and frustration, feeling overwhelmed and low self-esteem, among others. Physical symptoms include headache, chest pain and rapid heartbeat, nervousness, tense muscles and more.


Stress symptoms also can be cognitive – racing thoughts, constant worrying and an inability to focus, to name a few.


Dr. Peter Johnson knows about stress. He’s a gynecologic oncologist with Aurora BayCare Gynecologic Oncology.


In 2020, Johnson embarked on a two-month spiritual sabbatical to the Kopan Monastery, a formal Tibetan Buddhist retreat in Kathmandu, Nepal. There, he practiced meditation, daily reflections and abided by Buddhist teachings.


The experience helped Johnson better transform his thoughts and actions and focus on being less stressed, which has directly benefitted his patients and their families.


“Taking care of the self, particularly our mind, is as important, if not more important than taking care of our body,” he says. “One quick way to deal with stress is to get centered, to find our solid self, via deep controlled breathing. Here and now. Breathe and relax.”


Dr. Kerry Ahrens makes stress management a priority. She’s an emergency medicine physician with BayCare Clinic.


Physical activity plays a key role in Ahrens’ efforts to manage her stress. She’s a runner with plans to run a marathon in each state in the U.S. (she’s done 15 so far).


“So, to relax I like to exercise as motion is a lotion for emotion,” she says. “I walk my dogs, jog and bike. I also love to read mystery novels and enjoy hanging out with my family. Each of these activities helps me to reduce my stress levels.”


All three providers say it’s important to recognize when to seek help with managing stress.


“Prolonged stress can also lead to the development of unhealthy habits done in an attempt to relieve it, such as smoking, excessive drinking and other addictions,” Witmer says. “Recognize this and instead seek assistance from your primary care provider or from a qualified mental health professional.


“You can reduce your stress in healthy ways,” he says.

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