De-Stress Your Environment


from the Healthy Living area

by Pamela M. Peeke, MD, MPH

It’s usually easy to tune out the minor irritants our work and home environments throw our way. Most irritants aren’t major health risks. But, watch out. When minor environmental irritants turn toxic, your surroundings can make you more vulnerable to chronic stress.

Take a minute now to look around the room you are sitting in. Use all your senses to detect any of these common environmental stressors:

  • Clutter
  • Too much noise
  • Unpleasant odors
  • Uncomfortable furniture
  • Bad lighting
  • Poor ventilation

How many have you identified?

Now, look around for things you easily can change and do so.

Many of us can’t make significant changes in our surroundings, particularly at work. So, we need to use our stress-solving skills to buffer ourselves against toxic environmental stress.

Try these problem-solving suggestions for the following environmental stressors:

Climate Control-Your Office or Theirs?
If you have a client or co-worker who loves extreme temperatures -either freezing or tropical — that interfere with your productivity or attention span, suggest that you have meetings in your office.

If someone in the office consistently comes to work bathed in the latest perfume, anonymously suggest to the office manager that you adopt a “scent free” office (we have this policy and it works well).

Clutter Control
You are sure to feel overwhelmed if your surroundings are cluttered. To combat clutter, keep only your current project materials in view. You will feel more confident and be better able to concentrate.

Re-Arrange Stress
Consider rearranging the furniture so that you face away from the line of sight, if you work in an office cubicle. With your desk turned around you have more control over when people can catch your eye. Your co-workers may be less likely to needlessly interrupt you.

Ear Protection, Please
Bring earplugs to work, if your office is noisy, or try to escape to an empty conference room for a temporary “noise break.”

When de-stressing your surroundings, you can’t address all the stressors at one time. Carry a notebook with you and write down environmental sources of stress when you notice them. Just having that list will empower you. You might even enlist significant others in your life to help trouble shoot solutions with you.

Here are more stress-busting ideas to use to de-stress your environment:

  • In the office, take breaks to look out the window. Don’t have one nearby? Take a break once an hour, find a window and look outside. Focusing your eyes at a distant view will cause your eye muscle to relax. Looking at nature also has a proven calming effect.
  • At home and work, use calming pictures and muted pastel colors to soothe you.
  • Play soft music in the background — whatever you like. It’s quite calming and can act as “white noise” to neutralize toxic noises in your environment.
  • Personalize your office space with family photos and pictures of pets and favorite vacation spots. Look at them often.
  • Combat clutter. At home, if you haven’t used something within the past year consider tossing, selling or giving it away.
  • At home, impose a TV-time limit on yourself (and others). TVs in the living room are the ultimate noise pollution. Try moving the TV to a new location where you don’t see (and turn it on) so readily. Definitely get the TV out of the bedroom – watching TV in bed can interfere with your sleep patterns and cause you to develop sleep-related problems.
  • Decorate with soothing objects to look at — things that give you pleasure to see every day. These things are important to have in your living and working space.

Choose low-end ways to de-stress your surroundings if high-priced solutions are out of reach. If that $500 ergonomically correct chair isn’t realistic, what about a beautiful $10 pillow to sit up against? Or, a small stool to support your feet and ease your lower back? Do you have a comforting screen-saver? A beach view or the universe works nicely.

Be creative! See if you can make your surroundings a bit less stressful today.

For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit the areas below.

Managing Stress:


Anxiety and Depression Center:

Mental Health Center:

© 2011 HealthyWomen All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (toll-free). On the Web at:


De-stress in 10 Minutes or Less


from HealthyWomen’s e-newsletter, HealthyWomen Take 10

When stress or anxiety has you feeling tied up in knots, jittery or unable to fall asleep, you can lower your mental tension by using a physical technique-progressive muscle relaxation.

This method enables you to lower your body’s stress response and calm your spirits by identifying and releasing tension in your muscles.

You can practice progressive muscle relaxation in any quiet space. Sit or lie down (on your back or side) in a comfortable position. But, be warned—if you do progressive muscle relaxation exercises in bed, you may fall asleep before finishing a full cycle!

Take off your shoes before beginning. Loosen tight clothing.

To use this technique, you will be tensing a muscle or group of muscles by tightening or squeezing them firmly. Hold that tension, then release quickly and relax. Notice the difference between how the muscles feel when they are tense and when they are relaxed.

  1. Begin either at the top of your body, with your eyebrows, or at the bottom, with the toes and foot on your left or right side.
  2. Inhale and focus on the individual muscle group as you tighten it. To tighten your foot, curl your toes in; for your hand, make a tight fist; for your eyebrows, raise them as high as they’ll go.
  3. Hold that squeeze for about five seconds.
  4. Release and relax for about 30 seconds. If you have time, you may want to repeat each tension/release twice.
  5. Wherever you began your exercise, continue from that point downward (or upward) so that your muscles are tensed and relaxed in order.
  6. Do one foot (or hand) at a time. After completing the entire leg (or arm), then switch to the other side.
  7. Continue with abdomen, chest, neck/shoulders and face.
  8. After you’ve finished, breathe slowly and deeply a few times. As you exhale, release any remaining tension. Enjoy the relaxed feeling for a minute or two before getting up.

For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit the areas below.

Managing Stress:

Anxiety and Depression Center:

Mental Health Center:

© 2010 HealthyWomen All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (toll-free). On the Web at:

Music for a Healthy Mind and Body


 From the National Women’s Health Resource Center’s e-newsletter  HealthyWomen Take 10.


 Patients having an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) test must lie very still for 30 to 60 minutes, often enclosed inside the machine’s tube. Because of that, the most valuable piece of equipment in MRI testing often isn’t the multimillion-dollar scanner. It’s something that costs far less—the headphones that many centers put on patients so they can listen to their favorite type of music while undergoing the test. That music makes time seem to pass more quickly and enjoyably. It also serves an important health function by lowering stress and reducing anxiety. Music can deliver psychological and physical benefits in a wide range of medical uses and health conditions. A study released in August 2009 looked at open-heart surgery patients who listened to music on the day after their surgery. Those patients experienced increased relaxation levels as well as higher levels of the neurotransmitter oxytocin, a hormone related to feelings of bonding and comfort. Listening to or performing instrumental music, as well as singing (individually or communally in a choir), can reduce blood pressure, lessen pain and anxiety, ease stress and may help keep cognition sharp—all at low cost and without adding medication. Singing was found to have such a positive effect on the depression that often follows knee surgery that one group of Italian researchers advocated music therapy over drug intervention for such patients. Whether you play an instrument or not, you can benefit from the power of music to help heal. Sing out loud by yourself at home or in a community group, take a music player along when you go for any medical test or procedure and remember to turn on your favorite tunes when stress intensifies. Just 30 minutes of what researchers call “music intervention” is often enough to reduce anxiety and increase relaxation. Your body and spirit will feel the difference.


Nilsson U. “Soothing Music Can Increase Oxytocin Levels During Bed Rest After Open-Heart Surgery: A Randomised Control Trial.” Journal of Clinical Nursing. 2009;18(15):2153-2161.

Sutoo D, Akiyama K. “Music Improves Dopaminergic Neurotransmission: Demonstration Based on the Effect of Music on Blood Pressure Regulation.” Brain Research. 2004;1016(2):255-262.

Nilsson U. “The Anxiety- and Pain-Reducing Effects of Music Interventions: A Systematic Review.” Association of periOperative Registered Nurses Journal. 2008;87(4):780-807.

Koelsch S. “A Neuroscientific Perspective on Music Therapy.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2009;1169:374-384.

Giaquinto S, Cacciato A, Minasi S, et al. “Effects of Music-Based Therapy on Distress Following Knee Arthroplasty.” British Journal of Nursing. 2006;15(10):576-579.

Lee OK, Chung YF, Chan MF, Chan WM. “Music and Its Effects on the Physiological Responses and Anxiety Levels of Patients Receiving Mechanical Ventilation: A Pilot Study.” Journal of Clinical Nursing. 2005;14(5):609-620.

© 2009 National Women’s Health Resource Center, Inc. (NWHRC) All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the NWHRC. 1-877-986-9472 (tollfree). On the Web at:

Anxiety Diagnosed in Women Instead of Heart Disease


Doctors are more likely to diagnose an anxiety disorder in women who are stressed out when they are demonstrating signs of possible heart problems.  Men are more likely to be diagnosed with heart problems even when they are presenting with stress and anxiety. Doctors in a recent study were given case studies to read: a 47 year old man or a 56 year old woman. The men and women both reported symptoms of chest pain, shortness of breath and irregular heart rhythms.  When it was stated that the patient appeared anxious and reported a high degree of stress the doctors were more likely to diagnose female patients with anxiety disorders but men were more likely to be diagnosed with heart problems. If the women had symptoms of chest pain and shortness of breath but did not report anxiety and stress then they were as likely as men to be diagnosed with heart problems. A gender bias was present. Only 15% of women received a diagnosis of heart problems versus 56% of men when stress symtpoms were present and only 30% of women versus 62% of men were referred to a cardiologist. When the symptoms were present without stress there was no difference in the diagnosis of possible heart problems. There was no difference observed in diagnoses and referral between male and female physicians.

We know that stress and anxiety are risk factors for heart disease. Healthcare providers need to fully evaluate both men and women who present with heart disease symptoms even in the presence of acute stressful events. Also women need to make sure that their symptoms are evaluated properly, be persistent. If you are experiencing possible heart related symptoms you need to make sure they are evaluated appropriately. Remember heart disease is the number one killer of women and more women die of heart disease every year than men. If you are having symptoms your body is telling you “something is not right” – get yourself checked out. If you are not satisfied with your diagnosis seek a second opinion.


“Take Charge: A Woman’s Guide to a Healthier Heart” helps women identify their risks for heart disease and develop a proactive plan to prevent heart attacks. For more info visit