Mental Health

Two Dozen Ways to De-Stress, and Why You Should Bother with Them (Part II)

August 31, 2011

The word “stress” is used in many contexts. Emotionally speaking, we can be “under stress” and we can “stress out”. Physically speaking, we can stress structures or devices to determine how they will hold up, and we can stress parts of our body to achieve strength or flexibility. In the world of mental health, stress is defined as a normal physical response to events that make you feel threatened or upset your balance in some way. Our bodies carry something called a “stress response” – meaning, we have an involuntarily defensive reaction to a stressful event. This response helps us to remain extra alert and focused, and it can produce a sudden burst of energy. One of the most common examples of a stress response would be slamming on the brakes of the car when someone suddenly cuts in front of you in order to avoid an accident. The stress response also can sharpen your concentration and keep you on your toes, enabling you to perform more productively in a particular task.

Last week we discussed the negative effects which stress has on us, both physically and psychologically. While we concluded that some stress simply cannot be avoided, and that a small amount of stress is beneficial and can even provide the motivation for better performance on the job or in a particular situation, our main goal should be to reduce the overall amount of stress in our lives.

Recent research as well as emerging science conclusively links stress to pain of all types, heart disease, digestive disorders, sleep disorders, depression, obesity, autoimmune diseases and skin conditions such as eczema. And while the secretion of the stress hormone cortisol can have a positive effect on us in small amounts – enhancing our memory, immune systems and helping to produce a greater threshold for pain, the downside is that having too much cortisol in our system impairs our cognitive functions, causes blood sugar imbalances, muscle loss and fat gain, higher blood pressure and weakens our immune system.

As a means of learning to control our stress as opposed to our stress controlling us, we presented eight tips from Don R. Powell, Ph.D. of the American Institute for Preventive Medicine. For the benefit of those who missed that column, we will reprint the first eight, and round things out with the remaining eight.

• Maintain a regular program of healthy eating, good health habits and adequate sleep.

• Exercise regularly. This promotes physical fitness as well as emotional well-being.

• Balance work and play. All work and no play can make you feel stressed. Plan some time for hobbies and recreation. These activities relax your mind and are a good respite from life’s worries.

• 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. This will soothe and calm your nerves, and relax your muscles.

• Have a good cry. Tears of sadness, joy or grief can help cleanse the body of substances that accumulate under stress, and will also release a natural pain-relieving substance from the brain.

• Laugh a lot. When events seem too overwhelming, keep a sense of humor. Laughter makes our muscles go limp and releases tension. It’s difficult to feel stress in the middle of a belly laugh. Learn to laugh as a relaxation technique.

• Learn acceptance. Sometimes a difficult problem is out of your control. When this happens, accept it until changes can be made. This is better than worrying and getting nowhere.

• Talk out troubles. It sometimes helps to talk with a friend, relative or member of the clergy. Another person can help you see a problem from a different point of view.

• Escape for a little while. When you feel you are getting nowhere with a problem, a temporary diversion can help. Reading a book, visiting a museum or taking a drive can help you get out of a rut. Temporarily leaving a difficult situation can help you develop new attitudes.

• Reward yourself. Starting today, reward yourself with little things that make you feel good. Treat yourself to a bubble bath, buy the hard cover edition of a book, call an old friend long distance, buy a flower, picnic in the park during lunch time, try a new perfume or cologne or give yourself some “me” time.

• Do relaxation exercises daily. Good ones include visualization (imagining a soothing, restful scene), deep muscle relaxation (tensing and relaxing muscle fibers), meditation and deep breathing.

• Budget your time. Make a “To Do” list. Rank in priority your daily tasks. Avoid committing yourself to doing too much.

• Develop and maintain a positive attitude. View changes as positive challenges, opportunities or blessings.

• Rehearse for stressful events. Imagine yourself feeling calm and confident in an anticipated stressful situation. You will be able to relax more easily when the situation arises.

• Modify your environment to get rid of or manage your exposure to things that cause stress.

While these tips may seem a bit daunting and/or unrealistic at first, read them several times until you’ve internalized them. Start with small steps, gradually applying them to yourself and your daily life. Over time, keeping your stress under control will hopefully become second nature. But even if it doesn’t, and you need to work on it constantly, the benefits of learning to de-stress now will iy”H yield great results down the road – not only for you personally, but for your family and friends as well. And it’s definitely another way to “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”

For more information on programs and events, or content related to health, family, and community please visit: OU Community Services.

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ALAN FREISHTAT is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a LIFESTYLE FITNESS COACH. He and Linda Holtz M.Sc are the Directors of the Jerusalem-based Weight Loss and Stress Management center Lose It! Alan and Linda can be reached on their U.S. Line 516-568-5027 In Israel call 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at alan@loseit.co.il or linda@loseit.co.il.

The Lose It! Center for Weight Loss and Stress Management is a fully integrated Weight Loss program which combines a healthy and balanced eating plan, a supervised and professional exercise program and cognitive behavioral therapy to achieve behavior modification. The emphasis of the program is for long term, sustainable weight loss. Lose it! has programs available to assist people with Stress Management, and overcoming Depression and Anxiety Disorders. The program is done both at their Jerusalem offices and throughout the world online and by telephone.

You can see the Lose It! video and gain much information by visiting our website www.loseit.co.il For more information about Lose It!, email us at info@loseit.co.il or call 516-568-5027. In Israel, contact us at 02-654-0728