Your Health Questions Answered: Part III

We asked you to share your health concerns, questions and thoughts with us in’s new “Ask the Doctor” column. Now our friends at ColumbiaDoctors Eastside give you the answers. Click here for previous answers.

Got a health question? Go to our “Ask the Doctor” page and ask whatever’s on your mind. We may not be able to get to every question, but we'll answer as many as we can. Check back in the coming weeks for responses. If you have a serious concern, however, you should contact your doctor or go to an emergency room immediately.

Here are some Q&A’s from this week:

Q: I have a really big stress problem. Whenever the littlest things go wrong, or aren't going the way I'd like them to, I freak out. When this happens I always get a huge headache, acne and a sick feeling in my stomach. Are there any techniques or things that I can do to relieve my stress or at least control it?

A: Many people experience anxiety, and times are particularly stressful now. It seems that when you get stressed, your body takes a hit. Symptoms like headaches, stomach problems and muscle tension are all forms of physiological anxiety. In order to ease these symptoms, you may want to try several things:

1) See if you can identify any irrational thoughts that you're having. You say that you freak out in response to even minor stressors. Part of the problem is that you're likely blowing things out of proportion, assuming the worst, what we call catastrophizing. You may also find yourself predicting future negative events. Both are cognitive distortions that increase anxiety. If you can identify these types of thoughts, you might begin to challenge their validity, examining evidence for and against your ideas.

2) Focus on what you can control in certain situations and try to distract your thoughts from what you cannot control.

3) Remind yourself of past experiences of coping with stress -- how you may have freaked out, but how inevitably the outcome wasn't as bad as you'd thought.

4) Engage in anxiety-reducing activities, such as exercise (including yoga) and rely on other self-soothing activities, such as watching television, reading a good book, or taking a bath. Activating your senses (cuddling up in a soft blanket or lighting a scented candle) can be particularly helpful with regard to decreasing anxiety.

5) Practice the art of relaxation. Try deep breathing and visualization exercises. Take slow, deep breaths all the way into the abdomen. Take a mental vacation by closing your eyes and picturing yourself in a relaxing locale (like the beach or the mountains).

6) Rely on support from family and friends. Sometimes talking out your stress can help reduce it.

If engaging in the above exercises fails to sufficiently decrease your stress levels, you may want to consult with a therapist or psychiatrist, as talk therapy and/or medication may be indicated.
--Stacey Rosenfeld, Ph.D, ColumbiaDoctors Eastside

Q: Sometimes after a strenuous workout, my right knee feels a little tense. Are there any stretches or techniques that I can do before or after to help alleviate this problem?

A: There are three stretches that would help with knee tightness, depending on it's location. Stretching the quadriceps by bending the knee behind you will help the front of the knee, hamstrings stretches are best if the tension is in the back and a side lying stretch for your iliotibial band would help for tension on the outside of the knee. While stretching before exercise is helpful and might help to prevent this, it is most beneficial to stretch after your workout. If this is a regular problem, you should review your workouts with a physical therapist to see if there is anything that could be causing the problem.
--Vincent Perez, Director of Sports Therapy at ColumbiaDoctors Eastside, PT; team therapist for the New York Yankees and rehabilitation consultant to the New York Knicks

Q: Sometimes when I get stressed out I get pains in the left side of my  chest. I've gone to the doctor and they've checked out my heart and they said that I'm fine but it just seems weird. Should I be  worried?

A: Chest pain or arm pain during emotional stress can be due to many things. A thorough cardiac workup is necessary as it may be due to blockages of the arteries of the heart, but also these symptoms may be due to reflux or muscle spasm/nerve root impingement from the disc in the neck. It is important that these symptoms be thoroughly evaluated.
--Marc Sabin Eisenberg, M.D., Cardiologist, ColumbiaDoctors Eastside 

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