Last week the American Psychological Association (APA) published it's report Stress in AmericaTM:Paying With Our Health. This annual report polls adults in the U.S. on questions related to stress. From the title, you can imagine that the findings were sobering. Here are a few of them:
- Three-quarters of U.S. adults (75%) report experiencing at least one symptom of stress in the past month.
- Most adults report that their stress levels have stayed the same (53%) or increased (29%) in the past year.
- 42% of adults say they are not doing enough or aren't sure they are doing enough to manage their stress. One in five of them (20%) say they never engage in activities to relieve or manage stress.
- A number of Americans report engaging in unhealthy behaviors because of stress including lying awake a night (42%), eating too much or eating unhealthy foods (33%) and avoiding exercise (29%).
To many of us, this may come as no surprise. In fact, we may expect stress as a necessary by-product of our American way of life. What's the big deal?
There are several reasons not to be complacent about stress. While it is true that stress is common and can actually be useful in an urgent or emergent situation, chronic stress is linked with major chronic health problems.
When we have chronic psychological stress, our bodies' stress response is continually activated. Scientists believe that continual exposure to stress hormones like cortisol can affect the body's ability to regulate the inflammatory response — an essential part of our immune system. In layman's terms, the body becomes "numb" to cortisol (which normally reduces inflammation) and then can become chronically inflamed. We know that chronic inflammation is linked to a number of serious health problems, so finding ways to prevent it is a key strategy to optimizing your well-being and avoiding preventable disease.
Like many things, when it comes to stress, the best defense is a good offense. While we can't always control the stressors in our lives, we can control our reactions and implement strong self-care practices that will boost our resistance and resiliency. Here are 10 self-care practices that can help you soothe the stress in your life:
- Activate your relaxation response regularly - The body knows how to relax, but sometimes needs prompting. The relaxation response, a state of deep rest described by Dr. Herbert Benson, can be activated using a number of relaxation techniques. Making relaxation a regular part of your self-care routine helps to counter the daily stressors that you encounter.
- Nourish Yourself Well — Research suggests that some foods stress the body while other foods can improve your reaction to stress. Choose wisely!
- Move your Body — We've all heard about the stress-busting effects of physical activity. Recent research suggests that exercise may actually help prevent stress-related depression by helping rid the body of substances that are harmful to the brain.
- Rest your Body — Stress can hamper sleep, and poor sleep can aggravate stress. Getting more rest when you're stressed is a way to prevent a downward spiral.
- Manage your Self-Talk - Stress is worsened by negative attitudes and self-talk. When you notice yourself indulging your inner critic or stuck in a negative mindset, that is the first step to making a change. Affirmations and cognitive restructuring are two ways to change your internal conversation.
- Take a Break - When you're in the middle of a stressful situation, you can interrupt your reaction by shifting your attention to something else. Taking some deep breaths, going for a walk or listening to music are all ways to shift your mental energy away from the stressful event.
- Have a Good Laugh — We've all heard that laughter is the best medicine. There's a reason for that! Laughter has a number of beneficial effects that help combat stress. Why not make a playlist of some of your favorite funny videos or recordings to use when needed?
- Try Tapping - Tapping, also known as Emotional Freedom Technique and Psychological Acupuncture, has been used effectively in a variety of situations to address emotional, physical, and performance concerns. To learn more about Tapping, check out our recent Nudge call with Mary Charles Blakebrough.
- Get Emotional Support - The APA's report found that people who reported strong emotional support from the people around them scored lower on stress-related items and were less likely to report negative outcomes from stress. Work on keeping your key relationships healthy.
- Get Professional Support - There are a host of interventions and practices that have been shown to help with stress, but some may requires some extra help to access. Find professionals for your wellness team who are trained to provide or teach proven approaches like massage, acupuncture, and yoga.
How about you? What are some of the ways that you address the stress in your life? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below!