6 Ways To Manage Stress
Stress is a normal part of life. But how you handle that stress has major implications for your long-term health. Turns out dwelling on daily stressors can double your risk of chronic health problems, according to a study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.
Researchers interviewed 435 people, asking them about the daily stresses they experienced, their mood, and the physical health symptoms they had. The interviews were conducted between 1995 and 1996 and then again 10 years later. The authors also analyzed participants' levels of the stress hormone cortisol from saliva samples. They found that participants who dwelled on the small stressors, rather than letting the problems roll off their backs, were twice as likely to report an increase in chronic health problems 10 years later. The most common conditions reported: Pain (like arthritis and fibromyalgia), cardiovascular disease, and gastrointestinal problems. (Feeling stressed? Hit the grocery store and pick up the 17 Best Foods to Eat in Tricky Life Situations.)
How Stress Impacts the Body
It's not news that stress can negatively impact your health. In the short term, people who experience stress are more likely to report headaches, stomach problems, anxiety, and decreased productivity. Stress can also affect memory and cognitive performance: You're more likely to forget things and perform worse on cognitive tasks, as if you had the brain of someone about 6 years older, says study author David Almeida, Ph.D., professor of human development and family studies at Penn State University.
Almeida's study is one of the first to look at the long-term effects of stress, however. As for why stress can leave lasting damage over a decade, Almeida has two theories. The first: "When we get upset in the face of stressors, we have increases in cortisol, or disruptions to our daily physiology. Over time, this could place the body at risk [for health problems]." For example, spikes in cortisol cause heart rate to increase, which make your cardiovascular system work harder.
His other theory is purely behavioral: When people are experiencing stress, they're less likely to engage in the types of things that improve health, like exercising and eating well. (For some anxiety-busting workout moves, try The Best Exercises for Every Part of Your Body.)
How to Manage Stress in a Healthy Way
Almeida maintains that stress in and of itself isn't bad. "In the end, it's healthy to have stressors in our lives--that means we have challenge in our lives," Almeida says. "But we have to be aware of how we respond to these challenges."
"If you're carrying it with you when you go to sleep or if it disrupts your going to sleep then you're certainly dwelling."
Try these tips for managing frustration and improving your mood:
1. Break a Sweat
If at all possible, find an outlet for physical activity and exercise, Almeida says. It's only natural. "We've evolved to mobilize energy in the face of a stressor," he says. Heart rate goes up and glucose is sent to all parts of our bodies, but "our modern-day response to that is to sit and work out the challenge mentally when our bodies are saying 'go out and do something.'" If you know in advance that a certain day is going to be stressful, schedule a workout for that morning. If, instead, you've been blindsided by tension, make a point to hit the gym in the evening or work out at home. (Or you can chill out with this Relaxing Yoga Routine.)
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