By: Pamela Egan, FNP-C CDE
Stess management: Learning to control stress leads to better health
What are some methods for reducing stress?
The process of learning to control stress is life-long project and will contribute to better health and a greater ability to succeed.
The idea of relaxation can feel threatening to some who fear letting down one’s guard.
Many people are afraid of being perceived as selfish if they engage in stress reducing activities that benefit only themselves. The truth is that the person who is making the sacrifice may be unhappy, angry or physically unwell.
Cognitive-behavioral methods are the most effective ways to reduce stress. They include identifying sources of stress, restructuring priorities, changing one’s response to stress and finding methods for managing and reducing stress.
Identifying sources of stress. It is useful to keep a notebook outlining an informal inventory of daily events and activities. The first step is to note activities that put a strain on energy and time, trigger anger or anxiety or precipitate a negative physical response. Also note positive experiences, such as those that are mentally or physically refreshing. Restructure priorities and add stress reducing activities. Some examples include: Take long weekends or, vacations. If the source of stress is in the home, plan times away, even if it is only an hour or two a week. Replace unnecessary time-consuming chores with pleasurable or interesting activities. Make time for recreation. Discuss feelings.
Exercise in combination with stress management techniques is extremely important. Exercise is an effective distraction from stressful events. Those with an active lifestyle need fewer sick and disability days than sedentary workers. Sign up for aerobics classes at a gym or take a brisk walk. Swimming is an ideal exercise. Yoga or Tai Chi can be very effective, combining many of the benefits of breathing, muscle relaxation and meditation while toning and stretching.
Story continued below…
A mental health professional should be consulted for unmanageable acute stress or for severe anxiety or depression.
There are a myriad of relaxation techniques. Relaxation lowers the blood pressure, respiration and pulse rates, including deep breathing exercises.
During stress, breathing becomes shallow and rapid. Taking a deep breath throughout the day can help to maintain a relaxed state during the day. Muscle relaxation techniques, often combined with deep breathing, are simple to learn and very useful for getting to sleep.
Meditation is now widely accepted in this country as a relaxation technique. The goal is to quiet the mind. With practice, meditation reduces stress hormone levels and elevates mood. Some examples of meditation include transcendental meditation and mini-meditation.During biofeedback, electric leads are taped to a subject’s head.
Massage therapy appears to slow down the heart and relax the body. Rather than causing drowsiness, however, massage actually increases alertness. There are different types of massage therapy, such as Swedish massage, which includes muscle manipulation. It is the standard massage technique and is widely available. Shiatsu applies to intense pressure to parts of the body. Reflexology manipulates acupuncture points in the hands and feet.
Perhaps the best general approach for stress management can be found in the passage by Reinhold Niebuhr, “Grant me the courage to change the things I can change, the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
This article was originally published July 28, 2003 in The St. Tammany News.