Mental Health: Stress Reduction
* As Published in the Summer 2011 Edition of Inspire Magazine.
* As Published in the June 2007 Honor Cord; as published by Phi Theta Kappa; contact the article publisher for information on how to locate the archives).
By: Kurt D. LaRose
Stress is generally accepted as a fact of life by most people, however not all people experience similar events with identical responses. Even so, persistent stress levels can impact people in a universal way, both psychologically and physically (Oman, Hedberg, Thoresen, 2006). And regardless of the source for stress, not all stress is necessarily “bad.” Most people could benefit from some kind of stress reduction, particularly in the case of persistent stress. Finding ways to reduce persistent or recurring stress, the kind that leads to exhaustion, frustration, fatigue, or burnout for example, can improve psychological and physiological well being.
Stress is that which occurs when the mind and/or body demands a greater output than the mind/body has the resources to supply – which is not always unhealthy. The difference between healthy stress (the kind that serves to build or improve functioning) and unhealthy stress (the kind that serves to wear out or decrease functioning) is sometimes hard to identify. Mental and emotional stress is distinctly different from physical and biological stress, yet similarities also exist and a mind/body impact cannot be ignored (Smith, Richardson, Hoffman & Pilkington, 2005).
In a biological sense stress might be exemplified in the runner who has had enough rest, food, and water intake to exert sufficient amounts of energy to run for 30 minutes. There will be degrees and levels of stress during the 30 minute run, but generally the preparations (inputs of rest, food and water) will equal the exertions (outputs of running for a ½ an hour). If the runner decides to increase the distance to 45 minutes, there’s something that usually makes the 46th minute unlikely or impossible (dehydration, dizziness, shin splints, or maybe even chest pains).
From a psychological perspective stress might be exemplified in a person’s ability to experience a semblance of comfort, satisfaction, or emotional balance in the midst of difficult discussions, conversations, or decisions. An argument with a peer, spouse, or employer would not automatically indicate disaster (real or imagined) and even if intense feelings surfaced a sense of safety and security remains. Here stress manifests in the conflict however in the healthiest sense, the conflict is not inherently a matter to be avoided, but a matter to be addressed and resolved (see “Resolving Conflict,” Honor Cord, February, 2007). When difficult discussions, conversations, or decisions repetitively include early presumptions of ended relationships, disastrous consequences and unfounded doubts in safety and security, dysfunction likely exists --- that is to say an unhealthy level of stress becomes evident.
Stress reduction is important for multiple reasons, individually and collectively. Stress impacts physical and mental health (Smith, Allred, Morrison & Carlson, 1989), impacts employability (Harris & Arendt, 1998), is a source of mental illness diagnoses, addictions and relapse, (Goeders, 2004), and literally costs the U.S. billions of dollars per year due to resulting and secondary illnesses and death (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2004; Stinchcomb, 2004). So what are some ways to reduce and prevent stress?
· Gather information and ask questions. so that you are fully informed about events that are occurring that seem stressful. Information helps reduce stress by reducing the number of unknowns in any given situation –disseminating information has been shown to lower stress in those who distribute and in those who receive it (Kitamura, 2005).
· Exercise. (McEwen, 1998). Linking stressful events (real or perceived) to physical activity is one way to directly and positively combat what otherwise might be harmful levels of stress.
· Watch what you eat. Too much fat not only hits the waistline but it also impacts cognitive functioning and fat alters the level of neurotransmitters in the brain. If dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels drop, these key stress combatants are limited (Yehuda, Rabinovitz & Mostofsky, 2005). When pleasure decreases and depressed mood increases, what do you suppose happens with stress?
· Share responsibility. People often assume they are solely responsible for whatever happens. Remember that almost everything you do occurs in a larger system of other people, and under the direction of other policies and guidelines (Stouch, 2004). Nothing is ever singly your fault.
· Talk to those closest to you. Intimacy has many benefits. Practical support from those close to you can reduce fatigue and increase vigor (Shrout, Herman, Bolger, 2006).
· Find meaning & seek opportunity. Reducing stress requires hardiness, which occurs when situations provoke two key questions: how can I find meaning in this issue and where are the opportunities (Lambert, Lambert & Yamase, 2003).
· Utilize spiritual tools and practices. Mental recitation of inspirational passages, putting others first by helping them, reading inspirational literature, setting up priorities, and slowing down all help to reduce stress (Oman, Hedberg & Thoresen, 2006).
· Contact a therapist. Family violence, substance abuse, terminal illness, and other high impact issues often require combined treatment methods. Talk therapy assists in reducing stress even if a medical doctor (or other health care professional) seems like the only option (Smith, Richardson, Hoffman & Pilkington, 2005).
Whether stress is biological or psychological, the reduction of harmful stress is a common consideration in both realms of human functioning. Remembering that stress is not inherently bad and that it is both necessary and often unavoidable can help to see value in proactively addressing the inevitable. When stress leads to fatigue (tiredness with an inability to rest or recover), burnout (everything is going poorly, even on the seemingly good days), frustration (reasonable desires and goals are unattainable) and feelings of being overwhelmed (starting anything new is impossible due to insurmountable barriers or limitations) it’s a good bet that stress reduction should be the immediate focus.
NOTE: When talking with LaRose ask him to discuss/draw how Adrenaline, Cortisol and Epinephrine (stress hormones) are escalated AND de-escalated (how to de-stress)!
Goeders, N. E. (2004). Stress, motivation and drug addiction. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13(1), 33-35.
Harris, J. H. & Arendt, L. A. (1998). Stress reduction and the small business: Increasing employee and customer satisfaction. SAM Advanced Management Journal, 63(1), 27-34.
Kitamura, T. (2005). Stress reductive effects of information disclosure to medical and psychiatric patients. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 59, 627-633.
Lambert, V. A., Lambert, C. E. & Yamase, H. (2003). Psychological hardiness, workplace stress and related stress reduction strategies. Nursing and Health Sciences, 5, 181-184.
McEwen, B. S. (1998). Protective and damaging effects of stress mediators. The New England Journal of Medicine, 338(3), 171-179.
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. (2004). The seventh report of the joint national committee on prevention, detection, evaluation and treatment of high blood pressure. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health. NIH Publication No. 04-5230, August, 2004.
Oman, D., Hedberg, J. & Thoresen, C. E. (2006). Passage meditation reduces perceived stress in health professionals: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74(4), 714-719.
Shrout, P. E., Herman, C. M. & Bolger, N. (2006). The costs and benefits of practical and emotional support on adjustment: A daily diary study of couples experiencing acute stress. Personal Relationships, 13, 115-134.
Smith, T. W., Allred, K. D., Morrison, A. C. & Carlson, S. D. (1989). Cardiovascular reactivity and interpersonal influence: Active coping in a social context. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56(2), 209-218.
Smith, J., Richardson, J., Hoffman, C. & Pilkington, K. (2005). Mindfulness-based stress reduction as supportive therapy in cancer care: Systematic review. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 52(3), 315-237.
Stouch, J. B. (2004). Searching for stress in all the wrong places: Combating chronic organizational stressors in policing. Police Practice and Research, 5(3), 259-277.
Yehuda, S., Rabinovitz, S. & Mostofsky, D. I. (2005). Mediation of cognitive function by high fat diet following stress and inflammation. Nutritional Neuroscience, 8(5/6), 309-315., seek help.
The references used for this article come from peer-reviewed academic and professional literature.
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