Looking for some stress relief?
No matter where you work, no doubt you encounter stressful situations on a daily basis. To uncover what can be done to reduce the effect of stress on our lives, we spoke with JoAnne Herman, RN, PhD, CSME, a certified stress management educator and an associate professor with the University of South Carolina College of Nursing.
Q. Why does there seem to be more stress now than ever before?
A. We are all living increasingly fast-paced and complex lives. Culture and society are changing much faster than our bodies are able to adapt and evolve. Therefore, past methods of coping with stress are not effective when managing new challenges. As a consequence, we are seeing a dramatic increase in diseases related to stress.
Q. If stress is due to our increasingly complex society, how can an individual do anything about it?
A. Stress is a perceptual event -- not an external one. Each of us perceives events, people, places and relationships in different ways, sometimes as stressful and sometimes not. The good news is that we have control over our own perceptions.
Q. Is there anything that can be done to protect against stress?
A. There are a number of stress inoculation behaviors that you can adopt. Eating a healthy diet, doing aerobic physical activity on a regular basis, getting adequate sleep and limiting caffeine intake will all help you be stress-resistant. Obviously, all these things done together are more powerful than any one alone.
Q. Are there any new or different ways to cope with stress today?
A. The ways to manage stress are probably familiar to most people. The difference is that we need to use the techniques in a deliberate and systematic way rather than allowing them to happen randomly.
Q. How can you control stress?
A. There are a lot of strategies you can use. I divide them into four categories: avoidance, perception change, life-style management and relaxation techniques.
Q. But how can you avoid stress?
A. The most effective way to handle stress is to avoid it. Most people can find at least one stressor that they can eliminate from their lives. This requires reflecting on your daily activities and interactions to determine which ones could be eliminated. Another way to avoid stress is to manage your worrying. I call this having a well-controlled "worry list." You can have as many things as you want on your worry list, but only worry about a few of them at a time. Isn't it true that most of the things you worry about never come true?
Q. How can you use perceptions to manage stress?
A. Since stress is a perceptual event, it is possible to change perceptions and eliminate the stress. This strategy is especially helpful when dealing with things you cannot control. Changing perceptions is much like learning any new skill. It takes practice. You identify the stressor and perceptions you have about it. Then, write a new healthier perception. Every time the event happens practice saying the new perception. Over time, the new perception will replace the old.
Q. Do you recommend the same stress relief techniques for retirees vs. baby boomers vs. 20-somethings?
A. Age and occupation are not as important as humanness. By that I mean each person has a unique way of experiencing stress as well as dealing with it. The important thing is that individuals find strategies that match their lifestyles and inclinations.
Q. What does recent research reveal about stress and the importance of stress management?
A. For many years, health care professionals have had anecdotal evidence that stress was one of the contributors to disease. Technological advances such as biofeedback instruments and monitoring devices have enabled researchers to measure the physiological response to stress. The development of psychoneuroimmunology knowledge has dramatically increased our understanding of the consequences of stress on the mind/body. The newest area of research is beginning to identify the physiological connection between stress and disease. For example, the hormone homocystine has been identified as the probable link between stress and coronary artery disease.
Q. Where can I find more information about stress management?
A. Any bookstore will have a large number of books about stress management along with relaxation tapes. Community colleges, universities and health care systems often offer stress management programs. The Web has extensive information on stress management. Also, most employers have human resources, employee health or health promotion departments that provide classes and interventions to help with stress.
Dr. Herman's top 10 tips for reducing stress:
- Make time everyday to do something you enjoy.
- Cultivate a social support network and use it when you feel stressed.
- Do an aerobic activity for 20-30 minutes at least four times a week.
- Listen to your body. Be aware of when you are stressed and do something about it.
- Learn new skills that might help you like basic communication, assertiveness training, conflict resolution, time management, or how to deal with difficult people.
- Learn a relaxation technique and use it regularly.
- Don't be responsible for everything and everyone.
- Be realistic about what you can do and only take on those activities most important to you.
- Adopt a positive attitude toward life.
- Find a person who handles stress well and ask for suggestions.
This article provided also provided to Monster.com's Health site.