Most of us consider stress a normal side effect of living a busy life, but does it have to be? This doctor says that you can take control of your stress, and urges you to make smarter lifestyle choices such as proper sleep, nutrition, and exercise to avoid serious health complications and possible premature mortality. In fact, the American Institute of Stress reports that 120,000 deaths every year are a result of work-related stress. Doctor Loretta Friedman, an expert on stress and pain and founder of Synergy Health Associates in NYC, explains how stress starts, what it does to the body, and how to avoid it with 6 helpful tips everyone can do.

Doctor Friedman is not your traditional chiropractor: You won’t catch her popping, cracking, or twisting ligaments to relieve pain, but instead, will find her speaking with patients on a deeper level to find the root cause of their stress and physical problems. Friedman pointed out that most pains or aches in the body are not related to the musculoskeletal system, but instead, are caused by unhealthy lifestyle habits: Stress, nutritional deficiencies, or interrupted sleep.

Doctor Friedman’s practice is a unique blend of integrated medicine techniques, and patients come from all over the country to visit her New Yor office since she is one of just a handful of doctors who addresses the physical and emotional or mental sources of pain. Dr. Loretta, as she asks patients to call her, works the muscular-skeletal system, as chiropractors do, but also focuses on the surrounding soft tissue, with techniques like lymphatic drainage and metabolic detoxification, depending on the patient. Another big part of her practice is helping clients and patients get to the bottom of their stress and how it is manifesting physically, whether it's causing back pain, hip or other joint pain, which can be triggered by the tension caused by stress.

Muscle aches and pains are related to a patient's state of health and not the specific area where they feel the pain, she notes, so when the patient is constantly stressed, and also deficient in nutrients, and chronically inflamed, they often mistake it with an injury.

For example, she explains that an ache or pain in the upper back may be caused by the digestive tract when the pancreas, gallbladder, and stomach fail to break down nutrients and digest appropriately. “This causes discomfort since the organs are working overtime and recruiting the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and discs to support this extra effort,” she says. . “But once we figure out the problems and treat them, patients feel amazingly different, and they feel a tremendous relief,” she adds. Most of the problems that she sees are all related to stress in one form or another.

Here are 6 tips on how to live a happier, healthier life by Doctor Friedman

Diet: To avoid chronic aches and pains, Doctor Friedman recommends her patients follow an anti-inflammatory diet, which means avoiding white foods such as bleached flour, refined sugar, all dairy, baked potatoes, white rice (and even brown rice), with one exception: cauliflower. "All grains are inflammatory, except for a very few like quinoa,” Friedman notes. “All wheat is inflammatory because it's often the pesticides on the wheat that our bodies react to, and the chemicals they use for processing the product," she added.

Sleep:  She suggests people get at least eight hours of sleep a night to avoid their body and mind from feeling exhausted which can cause stress and lead to other health problems.

Water: “Water intake is very, very important,” says Friedman. Drinking enough water keeps your muscles from spasms and keeps your body hydrated. She wants people to know that if you feel thirty reading this, you’re already dehydrated.

Exercise: “People need to exercise, whether it's just walking up and down the stairs in their house or apartment building,” says Friedman. “You don't have to go to a formal gym and make it a big deal, but you have to move and you have to move with intention,” she added. For easy workouts that get the job done in just five minutes, sign up for The Beet's Free Workout of the Day Plan.

Wellbeing: As another form of peaceful exercise to reduce stress, Friedman suggests trying deliberate breathing exercises, yoga, or meditating to lower cortisol levels in the body.

Have Fun: “People need to have more fun,” says Dr. Loretta. She explained that a lot of people think about work and they feel guilty if they ever take any time away. “Going out, playing and just enjoying yourself, is very important. You need to laugh, you need to have a good time, you need to be with friends and family," said Friedman.

Stress causes aches and pains when the body is inflamed

One patient, 29, came in to see  Dr. Friedman experiencing a limp. He had undergone surgery a year and a half prior, and still had pockets or what felt like lumps of swelling in his back and abdomen. Friedman conducted a cell test with him which showed that he was low in omega-3 so she recommended a supplement and adrenal support. He was stressed out and a week later he called her to let her know he was feeling much better, more balanced, and had more energy. Plus the swelling had gone down.

She believed that his stress levels were creating more inflammation in his body and says, “When the adrenal stress rises, cortisol levels go up in the body and it causes an inflammatory response. That inflammatory response can cause the breakdown of connective tissue, which can lead to injuries of the ligaments, tendons, and a slipped disc because that's a cortisol target.” Friedman also points out that people who are stressed are often very achy, don’t feel quite right, and aren’t the happiest people because of these feelings.

Stress causes weight gain as cortisol levels rise

“Stress can create weight gain because you eat when your glucose levels start to drop,” says Friedman. When we feel hungry, it may be our levels of leptin [the satiety hormone] are dropping with stress, and when that happens, our cortisol levels rise and insulin becomes less effective in the body. Therefore, the body makes more insulin, and those higher levels of insulin cause fat storage, padding out the middle of your stomach where it can be accessed most easily when needed. Fat around the belly and waist contains more inflammatory compounds, she says, because it's being created via signals from two inflammatory hormones, cortisol, and insulin.

What causes stress and how is it killing us?

According to doctor Friedman, there are two types of stress: Constant stress and long-term chronic stress, which affect people differently. People who experience stress on a regular basis experience constant stress, which may lead to adrenal burnout. This kind of stress can cause problems in your digestive tract and can cause you to age more rapidly.“People at highest risk for adrenal burnout include young parents, university students, college students, primary caregivers, nurses, and doctors or even family members who give care to relatives or for patients,” says Friedman.

On the other hand, long-term chronic stress is just as bad, if not, worse. This kind of stress leads to adrenal fatigue and potentially more dangerous problems with health like the weathering away of cells, according to Friedman.

The inflammatory state caused by stress is more dangerous since it can harden the arteries and ultimately heart disease. “We used to think that back before World War I, it was believed that atherosclerosis was an old person's disease. Except then, 18 and 19-year-old boys came home in body bags, and autopsies showed some of these soldiers had atherosclerosis. Their arities were hardened with plaque, at that young age, so we now know that hardening of the arteries starts in childhood. This is why childhood obesity is out of control–because all these kids running around with all this extra weight on them is causing irreparable damage to their blood vessels,” says Friedman.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic pill to treat chronic stress except for working on your health, with whole food plant-based nutrition, better sleep, and to find joy, and stay calm with a meditative practice of some nature. “I tell my patient's stress kills because atherosclerosis is what blocks the heart. This is why people all of a sudden drop dead of a heart attack at 50 years old or younger because they had these incredibly stressful jobs. They worked 20 hours a day–and it caught up with them.”

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