To say that we are going through unprecedented tough times might be an understatement. And this time, the whole world is keeping us company. Yes, we are all stressed to some degree or another. But how we handle our stress can have a big influence on how we get through the current crises and stay healthy.
Stress damages our health and well-being
I see it with my clients, and I see it with my friends. Whether your stress is because of the current Corona outbreak and the resulting shutdown of societal norms, or your stress originates in the workplace or a family relationship, one thing is certain – long-term activation of the stress response system cause many health disruptions. Prolonged stress can disrupt almost all of the body’s processes and increase the risk of numerous health problems. Exercise, diet, and sleep are major factors in controlling our stress.
Certain kinds of stress are needed. If we had no stress at all, we wouldn’t get things done and deadlines would mean nothing to us. But when the reaction goes beyond the this, not only can it be debilitating, it can be dangerous. If your stress response is turned on too much of the time, and certainly ALL the time, it will almost always lead to serious issues – both psychological and physiological.
Even before Corona, the latest facts and figures on stress out of the United States are frightening. In a survey of 3,000 adults over the age of 18, 75% reported feeling stressed about money at some point. Some respondents said they sacrificed health care because of financial stress. Job-related stress sits at the top of the list. 80% of workers say they feel stress on the job, and nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage their stress. 42% noticed their co-workers need help with stress.
Workplace stress causes healthcare expenditures of roughly $150 billion per year. That is about 7% of all health care expenditures per year!
Effect on health
Stress has been linked to a long list of sickness, including heart disease, depression, insomnia, and anxiety. If we take the research of Dr. Kenneth Pallatier’s (Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine), 85-90% of all illness is stress induced or stress exacerbated. In fact, we now have evidence that chronically elevated stress shrinks the brain.
One of the biggest negative effects of stress is that it almost always causes sleep deprivation. This in turn intensifies stress levels and leads to a terrible cycle where one gets more and more stressed and less and less sleep.
How do we deal stress and improve our wellness?
Imagine a very heavy chain around your neck—too heavy to take off by pulling over your head. The only way to take that chain off is to remove one link at a time. It might take some time, but ultimately after enough of those links are taken off, the chain is light enough to deal with. And so it is with our stresses. We might be overwhelmed with our problems and issues, but it is only with tackling them one at a time that we can find a solution.
Here are some positive actions you can take to help with your stress:
- Keep healthy. Maintain a program of healthy eating, exercise, and adequate sleep. The exercise piece is really important.
- Balance work and play. All work and no play can make you feel stressed. Plan some time for hobbies and recreation.
- Help others! We concentrate on ourselves when we’re distressed. Sometimes helping others is the perfect remedy for whatever is troubling us.
- Take a warm shower or bath.
- Learn acceptance. Difficult problems can be out of your control. When this happens, accept it until changes can be made.
- Talk out your troubles. It sometimes helps to talk with a friend, relative, or mentor. Another person can help you see a problem from a different point of view.
- Daily relaxation exercises. Deep muscle relaxation (tensing and relaxing muscle fibers), meditation and deep breathing all help.
- Budget your time. Make a “To Do” Prioritize your daily tasks. Avoid committing yourself to doing too much.
- As difficult as it might be right now, develop and maintain a positive attitude.
Nutrition plays a part
The following foods may reduce the negative health effects that are highly associated with chronic stress, including depression, anxiety, insomnia and cardiovascular disease.
Soy and pumpkin seeds:
These contain high amounts of the amino acid tryptophan, which is associated with a boost in the “happiness hormone” serotonin.
Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and asparagus:
Loaded with folic acid, a vitamin associated with serotonin production
Sunshine and other sources of vitamin D:
Boost serotonin levels through an increase in the enzyme that converts tryptophan to serotonin
Oatmeal and other complex carbohydrates:
These stimulate the brain to produce serotonin. (This means whole foods, not refined carbs.)
Oranges, grapefruits, red and green peppers, and many other fruits and vegetables:
Rich in vitamin C, which can aid in lowering blood levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline and ease the subjective feeling of being stressed.
Crunchy sensation of veggies like carrots and celery sticks:
These don’t possess any special nutritional boost, but eating them provides mechanical stress relief!
Know when to get help
Implementing any or all of these tips can make a big difference in your stress level. However, please keep in mind that sometimes help is needed from a professional psychologist, therapist, or coach who deals with stress management.
Last but very important, we must work on our Emunah and Bitachon to remind ourselves that Hashem is in control.
One thing is for sure—DON’T ignore your stresses; deal with them. Exercise, deal with one problem at a time, treat yourself to some down time, and when you need help, seek it out. Keeping our stress under control will “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”