Stress is a part of life. If stress is not managed properly, it can affect our overall health. Understanding how stress impacts the mind and body and building resilience to combat it are keys to living longer and healthier, according to experts.
(Video: The Baptist Health South Florida News Team hears from renowned psychiatrist and expert in mind-body medicine, Gregory Fricchione, M.D., about the brain’s reaction to stress and how to build resilience. Video by Steve Pipho.)
Gregory Fricchione, M.D., professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, spoke at the 7th installment of the Baptist Health Al & Janie Nahmad Speaker Series: Thought Leaders in Medicine. An expert in psychosomatic medicine, Dr. Fricchione highlighted the ways stress affects the mind and body, and ways to reduce its negative impact on overall health.
“Stress means you’re alive, and it’s not always a bad thing,” Dr. Fricchione said. “The harm comes when stress turns from acute to chronic, making the body vulnerable to disease.”
Stress is what the brain does to itself and the rest of the body when facing a perceived threat, a challenge or even an opportunity, explained Dr. Fricchione. In other words, stress arises when the brain detects a fear of separation, he said.
When the body senses stress, it sets off certain biological changes in the brain. These changes activate certain biological actions in the body, such as moving blood to help heal an injury or activating white blood cells in response to an infection. When the body runs out of energy to create healthy responses, it becomes vulnerable to disease – mostly chronic non-communicable disease – such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Stress manifests itself with physical changes to the body, as well as changes in mood and behavior. Some common body changes that are reactions to stress include muscle aches, headaches and sleep disturbances. Changes in mood can include being anxious, irritable and having a lack of motivation. Behavioral symptoms of stress can cause a person to be angry, aggressive or withdraw socially.
To combat stress and reduce the chances of developing a chronic non-communicable disease, a person can lower stress and enhance their resilience.
Resilience, Dr. Fricchione says, is the body’s way of finding solutions to threats of separation. Making lifestyle changes is the most effective way to build resilience, he said. Practicing proper nutrition, sleep hygiene, relaxation, exercise, mindfulness and spirituality are some of the ways to keep the body and brain healthy enough to build resilience.
Prioritizing self-care, paying attention to core values, reducing job pressures and seeking out and maintaining social connections are also keys to lowering stress.
The Baptist Health News Team was there to capture Dr. Fricchione’s presentation. Watch the video now.