Nearly half of women report a rise in stress levels over the past five years. And while women and men tend to cope with stress differently, we know that chronic stress contributes to a range of health problems in both sexes, including mental health disorders, heart disease and obesity.
Integrative treatments like meditation and acupuncture can help reduce stress and related problems. These techniques are gaining mainstream acceptance as research demonstrates their positive health effects.
Linda Lee, M.D. , gives her top recommendations on integrative treatments for stress, focusing on techniques that treat the mind as well as the body. “I truly believe it’s important not just to manage health from a physical perspective, but that we also manage the brain and how it contributes to symptoms,” she says. Meditation and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) are therapies proven to help manage anxiety and depression.
1. Meditation and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.
Meditation is an ancient practice that helps you reach a relaxed state by focusing on breathing and awareness of the body in the present.
MBSR is a program that draws on the principles of meditation to help people become more aware of how negative thoughts impact physical feelings. Research has shown that benefits of MBSR include:
Reduced stress and worrying
Improved memory and focus
Fewer emotional ups and downs, and greater resilience
Improved relationships “There’s a lot of great evidence that meditation and mindfulness-based stress reduction are very helpful for managing mood disorders,” says Lee. “I definitely recommend it.”
2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy focused on pinpointing and questioning negative, often mistaken thoughts that can lead to behavioral and mental health problems, such as anxiety .
Research shows that people who receive CBT have a greater reduction in mental health symptoms as compared to people who use medication alone.
“There is great evidence that all of these therapies are effective,” Lee says of CBT, meditation and MBSR.
All of these techniques are safe and have no side effects. “They’re something that a motivated person can start on their own and continue even when they’re not working with a doctor,” says Lee. Of course, integrative medicine may add to traditional medications rather than replace them, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about your symptoms.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice involving the use of tiny needles to stimulate the nervous and immune systems. During the procedure, a licensed acupuncturist inserts hair-thin needles into the skin at specific points on the body. Acupuncture is painless, and research shows it helps support conventional treatment for a range of problems that include stress, chronic pain and digestive disorders.
“Acupuncture is another integrative treatment I recommend, particularly for people who have insomnia,” Lee says.
While many of us think of massage as a rare, indulgent treat, studies indicate massage helps treat a variety of stress-related disorders, including anxiety and insomnia.
“Many people find massage therapy very helpful for reducing anxiety, especially when done in a series,” says Lee.
It’s important to talk to your doctor about whether massage is right for you. It may not be appropriate for people with certain conditions, such as bleeding disorders or osteoporosis.