SURGEON GENERAL’S RX FOR STRESS IN AMERICA

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has put itself firmly on record as being deeply concerned about our national epidemic of stress at the individual, organizational and societal levels. NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) broadcast on September 7th its annual Stephen E. Straus Distinguished Lecture in the Science of Complementary Therapies. The lecture was titled A Nation Under Pressure: The Public Health Consequences of Stress in America.

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PROMOTING RESILIENCE WITH OPTIMISM AND MINDFULNESS

The American Psychological Association (APA) recently documented a worrisome increase in stress in the U.S. population (Stress in America https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress). Uncontrolled stress can cause or worsen anxiety, depression, PTSD and a wide range of clinical conditions affecting every organ system. Medical students, residents and practicing physicians experience higher levels of stress than their age-matched counterparts at all levels of medical training....

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ALLOWING AWE IN MEDICINE

Of all the sciences, medicine uniquely combines all domains of the human condition-biological, cognitive, emotional, environmental, interpersonal and transpersonal. The more we learn about the benefits of the interpersonal and transpersonal dimensions of health, disease and medical practice, the more we seek to populate medical schools with well-rounded students and humanize medical training and the healthcare workplace.

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Defining resilience: The American Psychological Association (APA) describes resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress, such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.” APA further describes resilience as “ordinary, not extraordinary. People commonly demonstrate resilience. Being resilient does not mean that a person doesn’t experience difficulty or distress. In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress. Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.”


Resilience is one of the internal resources we draw upon to manage stress, prevent burnout and recover from compassion fatigue, emotional numbness, psycho-spiritual exhaustion and living our lives out of balance – disconnected from joy, meaning, purpose, values, belief and faith.


Optimism is considered by some to be the most important determinant of resilience. It is a critical survival skill for our current age of stress. Positive psychology research suggests that resilience can be modified by our personal explanatory style- how we explain events to ourselves- whether we are a ‘cup half full’ person or a ‘cup half empty’ person- whether we are optimistic or pessimistic. Our explanatory style involves the mental processing of life events, assigning meaning to them, and assessing

BY JOHN A. PATTERSON MD, MSPH, FAAFP

them as threats/dangers or challenges/opportunities. These words and images in our heads affect our stress levels. An optimistic explanatory style is related to far greater resilience and much less stress than a pessimistic explanatory style.


Optimists are more successful in school, at work, and in athletics. They are healthier and live longer. They are more satisfied with their marriages and less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. And rather than being a static trait you are born with, you can learn to grow optimism- increasing resilience, health, well being and fulfillment in relationships. One way to grow optimism is the practice of imaging your best possible future self.


Physicians and patients alike are all affected by our current age of stress. There are healthy, growth-promoting ways to manage that stress. Some surprisingly simple strategies can help us live healthy lives and teach our patients to do the same. Practicing your Best Possible Self exercise may be a useful tool for your self-care toolkit.

JOHN A. PATTERSON MD, MSPH, FAAFP

Dr Patterson chairs the Lexington Medical

Senator Alvarado earned his bachelor's degree in biology from Loma Linda University (California) in 1990, and then went on to receive his Doctorate in Medicine in 1994. He completed his medical residency in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at the University of Kentucky in 1998. Society's Physician Wellness Commission and is certified in Physician Coaching. He is on the family practice faculty UK College of Medicine and teaches nationally for Saybrook School of Integrative Medicine and Health Sciences (San Francisco) and the Center for Mind Body Medicine (Washington, DC). After 30 years in private family practice in Irvine KY, he now operates the Mind Body Studio in Lexington, where he offers integrative mind-body medicine consultations specializing in mindfulness-based approaches to stress-related chronic conditions and burnout prevention for helping professionals. He can be reached through his website at www.mindbodystudio.org