Monday, March 30, 2015

Cutting Down on Stress to Improve Health

The cat’s out of the bag (even more so than before):  Stress is bad for you! Earlier this month, the American Psychiatric Association released their annual "Stress in America" Survey, which assesses the attitudes and perceptions of stress and identifies its primary causes among the general public. The survey revealed that the primary cause of stress among Americans is money, followed by work, the economy, family responsibilities and personal health concerns.
Although stress is rarely the root cause of disease, it often interacts with our genetics and bodies in ways that can accelerate disease. Because of this, stress is significantly associated with virtually all the major areas of disease. It has been well documented that stress can cause sleep problems, headaches and raise the risks of depression. But increasingly, researchers are uncovering even more ways in which stress can harm our health: 

  • Heart health: Stress can lead to increased behaviors such as unhealthy eating, smoking and drinking alcohol, all of which can lead to heart disease. It has also been shown that stress can reduce blood flow to the heart (particularly in women), and has been associated with an increased risk of heart attack in general.
  • Diabetes: Stress can cause an increase of the hormone cortisol, which can increase the amount of glucose in the blood. Additionally, with increased adoption of behaviors such as unhealthy eating, smoking and drinking alcohol can lead to decreased exercise, less attention to having glucose levels checked, and less time to plan out healthy meals.
  • Alzheimer’s disease: A study published in 2010 by Finnish researchers found that women who had either high blood pressure or higher cortisol levels - both symptoms of stress - were more than three times as likely to develop Alzheimer's, compared with patients who did not have these symptoms.
  • Fertility: In May 2014, Kaiser Foundation Study of the Environment and Reproduction reported on a study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility that found stress in men can lead to reduced sperm and semen quality, which may negatively affect fertility.

The battle against stress is a winnable, although not always easy, stress can be managed.  The first step is to recognize the symptoms of stress. Though these vary in each individual, they commonly include difficulty sleeping, fatigue, overeating or under-eating and feelings of depression, anger or irritability. It is also possible for people to turn to smoking or drinking more in an attempt to manage stress, and some people many even engage in drug abuse.

Managing stress is possible, here are some helpful tips:

  • Positive self-talk: Turn negative thoughts into positive ones. Instead of saying "I can't do this," say "I'll do the best I can." Negative self-talk increases stress levels;
  • Emergency stress stoppers: If you start to feel stressed, count to 10 before you talk, take a few deep breaths or go for a walk;
  • Finding pleasure: Engaging in activities you enjoy is a great way to stave off stress. Take up a hobby, watch a movie or have a meal with friends;
  • Daily relaxation: Engage in some relaxation techniques. Meditation, yoga and tai chi have all been shown to reduce stress levels.

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