Ask Dr. J: Get S.O.M.E.

There aren’t many occasions that are flooded with such a variety of emotions as this, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

Whether it be the joy of gathering with your loved ones, or the grief of intolerable in- laws, the horror of realizing all of those perfect gifts that you meant to be buying are sold-out (and rain checks from Santa usually don’t instill merriment), or the travel, there is one thing that stands certain during the holidays: Yes, Virginia, there is Seasonal Stress.

While we tend to use the word “stress” to connote mental or emotional ill-being, the term didn’t surface until 1936, when Nobel-prize-winning scientist, Hans Selye, defined it as the “non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.” In addition to mental stress, Selye was also referring to chemical and physical stress, which I like to call Trauma, Toxins, and Thoughts (or the “Three T’s”). Selye concluded that the majority illnesses as human beings—hypertension, strokes, heart attacks, ulcers etc.—are actually due to stress, both real and perceived.

Stress, as a concept, caught on and remains one of the most troubling issues that we deal with (or, more specifically, don’t deal well with) in medicine today. The American Psychological Association reports that 75 to 90 percent of all physician office visits each year are related to stress. Stress is linked to the six leading causes of death, including heart disease, lung ailments, cancer, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide.

And the stress epidemic is an extremely costly one. The direct medical expenses alone are estimated to be well over $1 billion annually in the United States, and stress is estimated to cost over $150 billion in increased insurance outlays, burnout, absenteeism, reduced productivity, accidents, turnover and substance abuse.

What we all need is a simple plan that we can implement anywhere that will have a direct effect on lowering stress—especially during the holidays. First and foremost, remember to control what you can and to leave the rest to the other powers that be. Many times we get so wrapped up in trying to control every single aspect of our (and others’) lives—and so worried when we can’t—that we lose perspective of what is important.

I recommend the following to each of my patients: 20 minutes, each and every day—without exception—of S.O.M.E. stress reduction. S.O.M.E. stands for Sunlight; Orgasm/ Sex; Meditation/ Mindfulness/ Deep Breathing/ Prayer/ Journaling/ Yoga; and Exercise. Each of these tools has been shown in the literature to reduce stress as well as drug therapy in mild to moderate cases of stress, anxiety and depression.

Ideally, we could get 20 minutes of each one daily, but any 20-minute combination is effective. Couple that with a clean diet and ample hydration, and we have a comprehensive plan to address the Three T’s and reduce our seasonal stress. So, this month’s prescription: S.O.M.E. And, as always, until next time, be well!

When Dr. Jason Bradley isn’t power de-stressing by combing every aspect of S.O.M.E. into a three-minute-per-day routine, he can be found practicing Metabolic and Nutritional Medicine at Washington Street Wellness Center in Iowa City, Iowa.