Ask Ali

Dr. Alice Domar, a national leader in mind/body health, answers your questions on stress and women’s health

How do I know if I am stressed?

I get asked this question all the time! In general, most people know when they are on overload. Our bodies and minds are not shy when it comes to telling us that we need to slow down. There are physical symptoms, such as insomnia, headaches, back or neck pain, fatigue, and gastrointestinal problems. Psychologically, when we are stressed we are more prone to irritability, tearfulness, anger, or sadness. And our behaviors can change as well-we might drink more alcohol, exercise less, eat more sweet or salty food, or chew more gum. If you have noticed any (or all!) of these symptoms, it probably means that you need to learn some strategies to improve your physical and psychological health, such as relaxation techniques and/or cognitive approaches.

Is it bad to be stressed?

Another good question. A little bit of stress is actually good. We are more productive and even happier when we are a bit revved up. But we need to recognize our own limits- we all have a threshold, basically a tolerance for stress. So as our stress level increases, we do better, but only up to a point. As our stress level continues to increase, our health begins to suffer.

What are the most effective strategies to decrease stress?

There is no one right answer here. There are lots of practitioners who believe that one strategy or approach is best but I have learned, the hard way, that one has to approach this on an individual basis. What works for me might well not work for you. And what works for you probably won’t be as effective for your friends. The strategies which tend to work for most people are relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation or meditation, stress management strategies such as cognitive restructuring (challenging automatic recurrent negative thoughts) or journaling, lifestyle modifications, and social support.  I am a big believer in trying out different techniques to find the ones which work for you. Basically, think of it as a mind/body buffet. Once you find approaches which work for you, if you implement them into your life, you will be amazed how much better you feel both physically and psychologically