The toll that stress takes on our nation’s health and finances is daunting. Surveys by the National Institute of Mental Health and other groups reveal that
• Stress contributes to fully half of all illnesses in the US.
• At least 70% of all visits to the doctor
At least 70% of all visits to the doctor are for stress-related or stress-induced illness. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are simple steps you can take to relieve and prevent stress
• Laugh more
Laughter is considered one of the best cures to stress. When we laugh, blood flow toward the brain improved, endorphins (hormones that give a sense of well-being) are released and levels of stress hormones drop dramatically.
Research at Loma Linda University showed that watching filmed comedy shows lowered blood pressure and reduced the risk of other cardiovascular problems.
The late author Norman Cousins put this research into practice to fight a crippling and irreversible form of arthritis. He rented funny movies each day, and laughed as much as possible. Result: His disease went into remission and he outlived all medical expectations.
• Be sociable
When we’re under pressure, our characters tell us to pull out from the action and separate ourselves. Nothing could be inferior, according to stress specialists.
Reason: Isolation allows us to concentrate more on our own problems, and perpetuates negative thinking intensifying stress, rather than resolving it.
Research shows a clear link between isolation and failure to cope adequately with stress, along with a heightened vulnerability to illness.
When you feel stressed, respond by calling friends, or being around young children they have a way of making you forget your worries.
Doing volunteer work is also a good stress buster. A 10-year University of Michigan study found that men who did not do volunteer work had twice the death rate of men who volunteered once a week.
• Be more decisive
Indecision prevents you from taking action reducing your sense of being in control, and thus intensifying stress
How to overcome indecisiveness
First, write down the problem and a list of your options. Include the option of doing nothing. Next, try lateral thinking in which you consider unusual alternatives and their pros and cons.
Helpful: Be ready to compromise. There’s hardly any decision that can’t be modified at a later point.
• Learn to be more assertive
Many people incorrectly associate assertiveness with hostility or aggression. But assertiveness simply means expressing your feelings, letting others know your beliefs and opinions and acting on your own behalf.
Psychologist James Mills, PhD, author of Coping with Stress (Wiley), suggests these ways to become more assertive
- Speak up when you feel it’s warranted.
- Initiate conversations with others.
- Concentrate on making your wishes and needs known to others.
- Make an effort to seek out and initiate friendships.
- Don’t be afraid to disagree with others.
- Give out and accept compliments.
- Ask for information.
- Tell someone else about yourself.
• Break the stress-sleeplessness cycle
On average, an adult needs between seven and eight hours of sleep a night. Lack of adequate sleep can make a person moody, angry and more vulnerable to illness and stress. To beat sleeplessness
• Develop a regular bedtime routine
Develop a regular bedtime routine, which will signal your mind that it’s time to sleep.
• Avoid Tobacco, alcohol and caffeine
Stay away from caffeine, alcohol as well as tobacco all of which have undesirable effects on sleep.
• Do calming activities before going to bed
And avoid doing things that may have an agitating effect. For example, don’t watch a violent movie too soon before going to bed.
• Don’t use your bedroom for anything but sleeping and sex.
• Before retiring
Before retiring, allot some extra time just to relax.
• Give yourself pep talks
If you’re inclined to blame yourself for your problems, you may be guilty of negative self-talk, which causes stress.
Better: Talk positively to yourself. Tell yourself, “Good job” or “You handled that tough situation well.” Practice in front of a mirror, if necessary. Eventually this positive talk will become an automatic response.
• Reward yourself
Rewards are a critical component of stress management. Those who reward themselves after completing a task by purposely engaging in something pleasurable, realize a boost in their immune systems that can last for several days.
Simple stress management technique
Schedule at least one pleasurable activity every day to reward yourself.
• Write down pent-up emotions
If you’re under emotional stress, simply recording your feelings in a journal or diary can help relieve the problem even when it involves marital or job difficulties.
This is especially true if you have trouble talking about worries or emotional issues, or if you have no readily available person to listen. The key may be the simple act of disclosure.
• Slow down
Try moving, talking and be¬ having in a more relaxed manner. You’ll probably feel some of your stress start to ebb away. Stephan Rechtschaffen, MD, cofounder and chairman of the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, also offers these tips on slowing down
- Drive 10 miles per hour slower than you usually do.
- Pause at the table before you start eating. When you eat, chew your food more slowly than usual.
- When you get home in your car, wait five minutes or so in your driveway before going inside. Listen to the radio, or just relax and ease into the transition.
- Take a shower when you get home from work. It will help relax you, and also signals a change from your work environment.
- Let the phone ring a few times before you answer it. Racing across the room to grab the phone triggers more stress.