According to a 2012 report by the American Psychological Association, 35 percent of Americans say their stress increased in the past year. Stress puts people at risk for health complications, and many people use unhealthy behaviors to cope.
According to the report, 36 percent of people overeat or eat unhealthy foods, and 42 percent have trouble sleeping. Others engage in sedentary behaviors: 48 percent listen to music, 40 percent read, and 34 percent watch TV or movies for more than two hours per day. On the bright side, 52 percent said they exercise when pressure mounts — a 5 percent increase from the APA’s 2011 survey results.
But the aforementioned unhealthy behaviors can be risk factors for chronic illness. So it’s all a vicious cycle and enough to really stress someone out.
Dr. Edward Rogers, medical director for WellSpan’s Center for Mind/Body Health, recently met with participants of Aligning Forces for Quality – South Central PA’s I Can! Challenge program, according to a news release to discuss stress-relief techniques. The I Can! Challenge works with people who have chronic illness during a 12-week course. Reducing stress can have both direct and indirect benefits for chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
Rogers offered the following tips to help you reduce your stress and its impact on your health.
1. Take grandma’s advice: Before reacting to a stressful situation, email or phone call, pause and take three deep breaths. Similar to counting to three like you did as a child, taking deep breaths before taking action helps to relieve stress and tension.
2. Move: Exercising can have negative connotations or seem intimidating. Instead, select an active activity that you enjoy, such as gardening or dancing at home, which will motivate you to get up and get moving!
3. Be mindful of your drive: Thinking beyond “road rage,” driving can cause anxiety with a sneakier stressor – the radio. Many times we can become subconsciously stressed by updates of economic downturn and loud music on the radio. It is important to be informed, but try enjoying a quieter car ride a few times a week.
4. Consider bedroom activities: Strictly speaking, there are only two things we should do in bed – and one of them isn’t work. Keeping your bedroom as a safe haven for relaxation can help to alleviate feelings of stress when it’s time to sleep.
5. Repeat after me: Repeating a comforting word or phrase aloud for just 10 minutes at a time can help to slow heart rate, lower blood pressure and put you in a more relaxed state. Be sure to say the phrase in present tense form too, such as “I am calm,” as it makes the meditation more powerful than saying, “I will be calm.”