When the road to success leads to stress

Shot of a young woman suffering from stress while using a computer at her work desk

In light of April’s Stress Awareness Month, a local doctor shares a few easy strategies to lower your everyday stress.

By Dr. Duane J. Difranco

Stress. Everyone deals with it for various reasons, but most aren’t aware of the impact of chronic stress on overall health. According to the American Psychological Association, 33 percent of Americans feel they’re dealing with extreme levels of stress. While it’s a common human response to both positive and negative change, stress often manifests cognitively and physiologically, and it can result in violent mood swings, lack of concentration, skin blemishes and even hair loss. However, managing everyday stress is possible with a few, simple lifestyle changes.

Good Sleep: An adequate amount of rest each night allows the body and mind to recharge, which helps in the fight against stress. One of every three adults in America get less sleep than what the body requires to function at an optimum level, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sleep experts recommend adults ages 18-60 get at least seven hours of sleep each night. The benefits of adequate rest include muscle repair, improved memory and heightened focus.

Healthy Diet: Some foods have been shown to lower stress by decreasing blood pressure and boosting mood. A few examples include avocado, blueberries, dark chocolate, milk, nuts, seeds and salmon.

Regular, Moderate Exercise: This one is a no-brainer. Considering the mind and body work together, it should come as no surprise that physical activity is beneficial in managing stress. The endorphins released during and after physical activity work to boost energy, endorse positive thinking and improve overall cognitive function.

Relaxation Training: Taking short breaks throughout the day from stressors such as work or school can restore emotional well-being, boost critical thinking and reduce the production of stress hormones. Simple methods include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery.

Cognitive Restructuring: In stressful situations, positive thinking can be difficult, but it’s important to train the brain to focus on uplifting thoughts in these moments. Being cognizant of negative thoughts and actively replacing them with more realistic and positive ones can modify the habit over time and lead to shorter and less-intense periods of stress.

Positive Psychology: To challenge everyday stressors, work on spreading positivity in everyday life. Happiness researcher and best-selling author Shawn Achor suggests trying the following exercises over a three-week period to improve levels of stress:

  • Three Gratitudes: Write down three new things you are grateful for each day.
  • The Doubler: Spend five minutes journaling about a meaningful experience from the past 24 hours.
  • Conscious Act of Kindness: Dedicate two minutes to write an e-mail or thank a person in your social support network.

Dr. Duane J. DiFranco is a senior medical director at Blue Care Network. For more health and stress management tips, visit AHealthierMichigan.org.

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