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Network Matters
News and Information for the
Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Network

July 2013

Recognizing Stress in the Primary Care Setting 


As you and your patients know, stress comes in many forms: an argument with your teen, a deadline looming at work, a job loss, an illness. While you can’t eliminate all the sources of stress in a patient’s life, you can inform them about the health consequences of continued stress and help them better manage their responses to stressors. And Harvard Pilgrim can help; we offer a variety of stress management tools and resources for you and our members.

Negative Health Effects
Improving stress management skills can translate into better health and well-being. While stress is natural and inevitable, when stress hits too frequently, it can shift the body’s fight or flight system into overdrive. When the fight or flight response is activated, it triggers the release of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, that prompt a variety of reactions throughout the body, from faster heart rate, increased sweating, and higher blood pressure to lower sensitivity to pain. 

Over time, however, ongoing exposure to high levels of stress hormones can put an individual at risk for a variety of health problems, including decreased immune system activity, headaches, digestive problems, sleep problems, obesity, depression or anxiety, and a heightened risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.

Mind the Moment Program
By identifying stressors and symptoms of stress and developing useful coping mechanisms, patients can counteract the body’s stress response, preventing these negative long-term effects of stress. Techniques such as meditation, guided imagery, body scans, yoga, and breath focus are quite effective when done regularly. Making these lifestyle changes can also help: exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, limiting caffeine and alcohol, and quitting smoking.

Harvard Pilgrim offers a free, online-based relaxation program for members called Mind the Moment. The web site features:

  • A short video introduction to mindfulness
  • A 6-week e-learning series, where members can watch a video to learn about a particular mindfulness practice
  • MP3s of guided meditations and body scans, ranging from quick three-minute techniques to 20-minute sessions
  • A sitting meditation
  • Links to helpful books, websites, and research on mindfulness and relaxation techniques

Mind the Moment also hosts events for members at their workplace. In addition to this program, Harvard Pilgrim’s partnership with Optum/United Behavioral Health (UBH) can serve as a resource, aiding members who need help managing stress.

How Optum/UBH can help your patients—For complex clinical situations, Optum/UBH is available to provide consultative assistance. Practitioners can call the Optum/UBH Physicians Consultation Service at
(800) 292-2922. To refer a patient for behavioral health services and to facilitate the coordination of care, call Optum/UBH at (888) 777-4742.

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