RISMEDIA, January 18, 2010—(MCT)—If daily pressures or job worries have left you clenching your teeth, relaxation may be just what the doctor ordered. It’s important to try various stress-management strategies to avoid feeling out of control because chronic stress can be detrimental to your health.
“There’s one kind of stress where you’re just busy, but you have a road map to get through it,” said Dr. Joseph Stubbs, president of the American College of Physicians and an internist in Albany, Ga. “There’s the other stress where you feel you’re in the well and can’t get out. That’s the kind of stress that can trigger more adrenaline and inflammation in your body and cause blood pressure to go up, pulse to go up and potentially create cardiovascular problems.”
[[Calls to ESI Employee Assistance Group, an employee-assistance program, typically jump 22 percent in January because of issues related to workplace, relationship, family or financial stress, said Kathleen Jahnke, vice president of counseling services for the Wellsville, N.Y.-based company.
“The holidays can be a very sad and stressful time for people, and being with our families can bring back issues that are 10, 20, 30 years old, or that happened last week,” Jahnke said.
Of course, dealing with a temporary bout of tension is much different than suffering from severe or long-term problems such as anxiety disorders, substance abuse or depression. Dreading the prospect of getting out of bed in the morning, losing interest in doing things you used to enjoy or having thoughts about harming yourself or others are red flags that you need to see a doctor for help, Stubbs said.
For many people, though, all that’s needed are opportunities to recharge their batteries. Here are a few stress-busting strategies:
1. Simplify your lifestyle and set realistic expectations. That can mean resolving to downsize next year’s holiday festivities or deciding to check out two job leads a day instead of setting an arbitrary deadline for landing a new job that you may not be able to meet. Setting small, incremental goals can raise your chances of success and prevent you from feeling like you’re not good enough, which can increase stress. “By being able to set reasonable goals in a short period, it reinforces your ego, your sense of pride and enables you to set more challenging goals over time,” said Stubbs.
2. Get moving. “It doesn’t have to be a marathon to be able to get good benefits,” Stubbs said. Starting an exercise program can be as simple as a daily walk with a friend and the social aspect holds you accountable, said Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise in San Diego.
“By exercising, you’re helping your body learn how to accommodate stress,” he said. “If we’re introduced to stress and we’re not prepared for it, that’s when it can fatigue us, wear us down and sap us of energy.”
Whether it’s yoga, swimming, basketball or skiing, find a physical activity that you enjoy and try to develop consistency. McCall recommends starting small—two times a week for a minimum of 20 to 25 minutes—and aiming to work your way up to about an hour a day for long-term health benefits. Even electronic “exergames,” such as Nintendo’s Wii Sports and Wii Fit, can raise the heart rate. “A little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing,” he said.
Working out doesn’t have to drain your budget either. Low-cost applications for smart phones can give users access to fitness and calorie trackers, and pedometers provide inexpensive inspiration. Cable-TV subscribers often can purchase fitness how-to videos on demand for a small fee. The key is to pace yourself and avoid doing too much too soon. “That’s a great way to get injured,” McCall said.
3. Record your thoughts. “Writing can be very relaxing for people,” Stubbs said. He suggests a journal, diary or blog. People averse to writing thoughts on paper or on a computer may find speaking into a digital voice or video recorder a more appealing option.
4. Get a massage. Give yourself a pat on the back, especially after achieving a goal. “It’s important to reward yourself,” Stubbs said. Some massage-therapy schools offer lower-cost massages by students. Use of massage therapy has remained steady over the past two years despite the tough economy, according to a recent survey from the American Massage Therapy Association.
5. Tap your employer. Many companies offer an employee-assistance program, or EAP, wellness program or a health plan that offers resources for combating stress. Use of an EAP is confidential and can help you personalize a plan to overcome stress, said ESI’s Jahnke, a licensed mental-health counselor. While ESI encourages clients to discuss any physical symptoms with their doctor, recommended relaxation techniques can include breathing exercises, meditation or identifying ways to work exercise, social activity or both into what seems like an already overcrowded schedule.
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