How Significantly is Stress Impacting Your Health?
Last week, the American Psychological Association released the findings of its annual survey, Stress in America. The study has been done annually since 2007 offering the APA unique insight in understanding exactly how stress is affecting America and how it has done so for the last seven years. Stress continues to be a problem for many adults, while high stress and ineffective coping mechanisms remain ingrained in American culture. Forty-two percent of adults report that their stress level has increased and 36 percent say their stress level has stayed the same over the past five years. Adults’ average reported stress level is a 5.1 on a 10-point scale, far higher than the level of stress they believe is healthy (3.6). Even though the majority of adults say that stress management is important to them, few set aside the time they need to manage stress. Some adults do not take any action at all to help manage their stress — 1 in 10 adults (10 percent) say they do not engage in any stress management activities. More than one-third (36 percent) of adults say stress affects their overall happiness a great deal or a lot and 43 percent of adults who exercise to relieve stress have actually skipped exercise due to stress in the past month. What is striking about this year’s study, is that teens are reporting feeling the same amount of stress as adults.
What many don’t realize is the very real and direct affect that stress has on one’s health. Headaches, insomnia, the urge to over indulge in alcohol or tobacco use? It could be related to stress. The Mayo Clinic has published the following graph illustrating the various ways stress can affect different aspects of our lives.
Ironically, when one is stressed, that person tends to neglect the very things that can promote its relief. Diet, sleep and exercise are some of the first things that a stressed individual may start to lose focus on. But what about when these three things aren’t enough to alleviate stress down to a healthy level?
There are many stress-reduction techniques that can help. Here are a few the Mayo Clinic recommends:
- Autogenic relaxation. Autogenic means something that comes from within you. In this technique, both visual imagery and body awareness are used to reduce stres. One repeats words and/or suggestions in the mind which relaxes and reduces muscle tension. For example, you may imagine a peaceful setting then focus on controlled, relaxed breathing, slowing your heart rate or feeling different physical sensations.
- Progressive muscle relaxation. In this technique, focus is placed on muscles groups, tensing and relaxing each one. The emphasis is placed on observing the differences between tension and relaxation. It is important to remember to tense the muscles for at least five seconds, then relax for 30. Then repeat.
- Visualization. In this technique, you form mental images to take a visual journey to a peaceful, calming place or situation. This technique works best the more real it seems. Try and use all the senses possible. If you visualize taking a walk in the mountains, focus on the sounds around you, the smell of the pines and the way the ground may feel under your feet.
Other common relaxation techniques include:
- Tai chi
When your patients need some help alleviating their stress, Health Concerns has a number of formulas that can help. Click each product name to view its monograph.