The SuperStress Solution

Nursing Book Club

The SuperStress Solution

Feeling exhausted, frazzled and defeated? This book is for you.

By Roberta Lee, MD (Random House, 2010)
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Reviewed By Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN

Stress is a catchword for all types of complaints. Sometimes it means "worried," sometimes it means "depressed," and sometimes it means "exhilarated," because even good events can bring stress. Everyone succumbs occasionally, and this intermittent tension is not all bad. Studies show it can help our immune system recognize threats and improve our memories. It can even increase the skin’s ability to ward off infection.

SuperStress Solution, book, nurses, Roberta LeeDr. Roberta Lee, of the Department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center, however, writes of a different kind of stress. Her concern is “super stress,” which leaves a person exhausted, frazzled and defeated. It is a modern phenomenon that takes its toll on the body and the mind. Many victims don’t recognize it or won’t admit that they are living lives that cause super stress because they have lived with this modern plague for so long, it no longer registers. Some sufferers even think that because they never fully relax, they are handling everything that comes their way — they are thriving.

No so. It turns out that being revved up all the time comes at a big cost. Our bodies cannot take the nonstop onslaught of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that this constant state of alertness triggers. Bad effects inevitably start to show themselves, and auto-immune diseases, heart disease and other sequelae aren’t far behind.

Lee makes a special effort to help the reader recognize the signs of super stress, even when they might be hidden. For some, that is half the battle. We won’t be able to eliminate stress, but we can keep it within manageable limits. The key is to return to a normal state of relaxation between the storms. This period of recovery is vital to continued good health.

Having identified super stress as a killer, Lee’s program shows how to conquer it. Relaxation breathing, exercise, proper eating, adequate sleep and a judicious supplementing of depleted vitamins and minerals. She adds one more factor that she admits is not intuitive: Even while under a strain, it is important to reach out and help someone else. We’ve all seen patients who, although sick themselves, reach out to help a roommate, or we can recall stories of disaster victims who, though they have lost everything, mobilize their own little sphere of neighborhood and thus triumph over adversity.

Perhaps the most valuable admonition in the book is one that we as nurses are not likely to acknowledge: We do have choices. The stressors may come at us from every direction, but we can choose how to handle them. We can use our usual coping mechanisms of losing sleep, overeating, smoking, you name it; or we can take control by letting go, recognizing we can’t do it all and ask for help. Take one minute and do the four-five breath exercise (you can do this while standing at the med cart); risk missing a message and turn off the phone when you get home, at least during dinner; or reach out to someone else, allowing yourself to decompress in person, not by email or text message. There’s a ton of good advice here from Lee. Now just take the time to read it and heed it. 

Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN is a freelance writer with extensive hospital and community-based nursing experience.

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