This Stress Expert Has Simple Tips For Resetting Your Stress in the New Year


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It’s not common for doctors to share their own experiences with their patients, let alone the world. But for Aditi Nerurkar, MD, a Harvard physician and stress expert, her personal story is what drove her to develop strategies to manage her own stress, then her patients’, and now readers’ everywhere.

She opens up about her journey from stressed patient to stress expert in her new book, “The 5 Resets,” in which she outlines five “small but mighty” mindset shifts, as well as 15 science-backed strategies to overcome stress and burnout for good. After experiencing a frustrating bout of stress as a medical resident — and no real solutions from her own doctor — Dr. Nerurkar sought answers for herself. Following years of research and clinical practice, she eventually became the doctor that she had needed in that difficult time.

“I wanted stress to be managed, like blood pressure, in that we can treat it, very easily manage it, and decrease any taboo or stigma around it.”

“Stress isn’t something that doctors can diagnose or treat or manage, because they see it as this vague thing that’s immeasurable, hard to compartmentalize, and hard to quantify,” Dr. Nerurkar tells POPSUGAR. “My work was really to quantify it. I wanted stress to be managed, like blood pressure, in that we can treat it, very easily manage it, and decrease any taboo or stigma around it.”

As many look toward resetting their health in the new year, we spoke with Dr. Nerurkar about the inspiration behind her book, why stress is not the enemy, and how you can start tackling your own stress. Released on Jan. 16, “The 5 Resets: Rewire Your Brain and Body For Less Stress and More Resilience” ($26), is currently available for purchase.

POPSUGAR: What inspired you to write this book?
Aditi Nerurkar: Before I became a doctor with an expertise in stress, I was a stressed patient and used many of these strategies myself. Then, I learned the deeper scientific underpinnings of these strategies and taught them to my patients. For many years, I had a clinical practice devoted solely to managing stress. Sixty to 80 percent of all doctors’ visits nationwide have a stress-related component; yet in my research, I found that only three percent of doctors actually count full patients for stress. That was a wide gap that I wanted to close through my work. And because I can’t see every patient around the country, I wrote this book.

PS: How did your own experience with stress lead you to become a stress expert and ultimately develop the five resets?
AN: I was a medical resident working 80 hours a week, in a city billed the most dangerous city in America, seeing death and illness on a daily basis. At the time, no one was talking about burnout. I did not focus on my own health because I was taking care of everyone else’s health. My meals were erratic and I wasn’t sleeping well from working overnight shifts. My day-to-day life was intense and stressed. Finally, one day, I was in the cardiac ICU at the hospital I was working at, and I suddenly developed this sensation of a stampede of wild horses across my chest. It knocked the wind out of me.

Those wild horses followed me at night. After long days, those palpitations would come back. They would last anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, eventually pass, and then I would fall asleep. But it happened night after frustrating night. Finally, after two weeks, I thought something was happening to my heart. I went to my primary care doctor, and she did all of the blood work and tested me for anemia, thyroid, electrolytes, and every single test came back normal. She told me with a smile and very reassuringly, “Everything’s great, everything’s normal. It’s probably just stress. Just try to relax.”

I followed her advice. I did all of the things I thought were relaxing, but the palpitations continued and I got fed up. So I put on my scientist hat. I started digging into the research and read every study under the sun about how stress impacts everything on the body. That is when I really got deep into the science of the mind-body connection, and how various therapies impact the brain and the body. I started using all of those techniques in my daily life, and over time, after two to three months, I started my foray into this world.

“I wanted to become the doctor that I needed during that difficult time.”

PS: Once you learned to manage your own stress, what made you want to bring these discoveries to your patients?
AN: When I found my way out and had a little distance in perspective, I said, “OK, what just happened to me? Why did this happen to me?” I wanted to become the doctor that I needed during that difficult time. When patients would come to me saying, “Hey, I’m stressed,” I could be the doctor that helped them versus saying, “Hey, just try to relax.”

PS: You mentioned you changed how your body responded to stress by tapping into the mind-body connection. What is the mind-body connection exactly, and how does that impact stress?
AN: The mind-body connection is the basic understanding that your brain and body are in constant communication and inextricably linked. What’s good for your body is good for your brain and vice versa. It’s working even when you’re not aware of it. For example, you’re presenting at work and you’re nervous, so your heart starts beating fast. Or, you’re hanging out with a bunch of people and you say something embarrassing, and your face gets red and hot. Once you’re aware of the mind-body connection, you can actually tap into and influence it to help decrease your stress and burnout.

PS: You emphasize in your book that stress is not the enemy or a sign of weakness. In fact, you argue that a healthy amount of stress is positive. Why is it important to have good stress?
AN: Not all stress is created equal — there’s good stress and bad stress. Everything in your life was created because of a little bit of healthy stress, the good kind. It’s what helped you graduate, make your best friend, move into your new home, get promoted. A life with zero stress is biologically impossible because you need a little bit of stress to get up out of bed in the morning and get on with your day. When stress gets out of hand, it becomes unhealthy stress. This is the kind that gives you anxiety and keeps you up at night. It makes you feel irritable, anxious, and hypervigilant. The goal with “The 5 Resets” is not to live a life with no stress; it’s to live a life with healthy, manageable stress, where stress can serve you rather than hurt you.

PS: What’s the first thing you would recommend for someone hoping to reset their stress?
AN: Get the book in your hands or listen to the book. Start with the first reset, figure out your why, and start small. I talk about this thing called the rule of two, which is how your brain responds to change. Even positive change is a stress to your brain, so instead of trying to make 10 different changes in your life, aim to make two small changes and do those. It takes about eight weeks to build the habit. And then after that, add two more. As you start small, give yourself compassion and lots of grace as you move through this journey. Because making change is possible, but you have to be gentle with yourself.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Image Source: Courtesy of Celestina Ando / Amazon

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