Stress Prevention and Reduction: An 8-part Series

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Part 1: An Overview:

          Key Stress Triggers for Minority/Multicultural Populations

 Part 2:  Common Physical, Emotional and Behavioral Symptoms of Stress

           12 Common Negative Stressors (causes of Distress)

 Part 3: 14 Approaches to Stress Prevention and Reduction

 Part 4:  Walking and Other Exercises, and Eating Healthy

 Part 5:  Deep Breathing and Progressive Muscular Relaxation

 Part 6:  Yoga, Tai Chi, Massage

 Part 7:  Meditation, Spirituality and Adequate Sleep

 Part 8:  Aromatherapy, Visualization, Laughing and Herbs

Stress is our internal physical, mental and emotional responses to outside pressures and demands. Dr. Hans Selye, widely considered the “father of stress research”, pointed out that stress is associated with positive experiences as well as negative experiences. He called favorable producers of stress, like getting married or buying a new home, eustress, and he called negative producers of stress, like the death of a loved one, or a divorce, distress.

Continuous or repeat exposure to distressing experiences – like school related stress, domestic violence, and on-the-job stress – can damage a person’s physical and emotional health. Approaches to stress reduction include walking, exercise, meditation, deep breathing, and yoga. These and other approaches to stress prevention and reduction are discussed below in the Section on Approaches to Stress Reduction.

Key Stress Triggers for Multicultural/Minority Populations

In many multicultural or minority communities and population groups, there is a greater likelihood of stress because of such situations as:

  • More unemployment and underemployment
  • Lack of health insurance or inadequate health insurance in spite of a greater burden from racial and ethnic health disparities
  • Decreased health literacy, although it is greatly needed to decrease racial and ethnic health disparities
  • Decreased access to opportunities for stress prevention and reduction
  • Greater exposure to classism because of a greater likelihood of economic disadvantage including poverty
  • Greater exposure to racism, with its multiple stress-producing results.

Stress can often lead to unhealthy lifestyles and practices, and these patterns can cause more stress. Furthermore, poor choices made under stress, like the following, can eventually lead to more stress and illness:

  • Smoking
  • Excess intake of alcoholic beverages
  • Eating too much fast food
  • Becoming a couch potato
  • Participating in, or accepting, violent behavior

It is therefore very important that multicultural or minority populations understand the symptoms of stress, and adopt techniques to prevent and reduce the possibility of their experiencing negative distress, or distress, and the many diseases that are directly or indirectly associated with stress.

Common Physical, Emotional and Behavioral Symptoms of Stress

Physical Symptoms of Stress

repeat headaches neck pains
backaches skin problems
dry mouth or throat overeating
loss of appetite nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
fatigue (excess tiredness) muscle aches
excess sweating twitching eyelid
insomnia (difficulty sleeping) excess sleeping
heartburn heart palpitations (fast/irregular heartbeats)
rapid breathing

Emotional Symptoms of Stress

irritability anger
moodiness loss of concentration
restlessness nightmare
feelings of helplessness anxiety or eagerness
depression racing thoughts

Behavioral Symptoms of Stress

grinding teeth wrinkling forehead
foot or finger tapping increased alcohol intake
nail biting pacing the floor
hair pulling/twirling loss of interest in physical appearance
sudden change in social habits high pitched nervous laugh
putting things off (procrastination)

12 Common Negative Stressors (Causes of Distress): 

  • financial problems
  • personal illness and the illness of a loved one
  • being a single parent
  • on-the-job stress including burnout
  • loss of a loved one (usually through separation, divorce or death)
  • long-term care-giving
  • troubled relationship with spouse or partner
  • difficult parent-child relationship
  • menopause
  • sexual difficulties
  • undesired change in physical appearance
  • relocation

There are, of course, many other stressors. It should be remembered that the experiences that produce good stress (or eustress), like marriages, birthday celebrations and other special events, generally cause the same symptoms of stress as the stressors that cause distress.

13 Approaches to Stress Prevention & Reduction

Following is a list of key approaches for reducing or eliminating stress. Since prolonged stress can have damaging effects on both one’s physical and emotional health, the list of possible stress reducing approaches below includes several related to healthy living.

The stress reduction activities and technique listed below have proven very helpful for many.  A description of each of them follows the list.

 Many of these approaches have two great benefits:  

(1) cost-free, plus
(2) have additional health benefits.  They are are listed below, and a description of each approach follows the list:

Walking & Other Exercises Eating Healthy
Deep Breathing Progressive Muscular Relaxation
Yoga Adequate Sleep
Tai Chi Aromatherapy
Massage Laughing
Meditation Visualization
Herbs

Walking & Other Exercises – Regular exercise is one of the best stress-reduction techniques available. It improves health, and reduces stress caused by lack of physical fitness. It also relaxes tense muscles and improves sleep.

Other positive benefits of exercise include:

  • Improving blood flow to the brain, which brings additional oxygen and other nutrients; and
  • Causing the release of chemicals called endorphins into the blood stream. The endorphins give a feeling of happiness and have an overall positive sense of well-being.

There is also good evidence that physically fit people are more able to handle the long-term effects of stress, without developing ill health or burnout. Individuals who have not been physically active should talk with their doctor or another appropriate health professional before starting an exercise program. Health Power’s Fitness Tip Sheets and other items in its Food and Fitness Channel provides a wide variety of additional information on walking, exercise and fitness. See also Aerobic Exercise in our Glossary. The Health PowerSection on Overweight and Obesity also provides information on burning calories for weight control.

Eating Healthy – Having a healthy relationship with food is important to stress prevention and control. Spending a lot of time thinking about diets, weight and body image can be very stressful. This may contribute to the fact that overweight and obesity are more common in multicultural or minority populations. Furthermore, when we’re under stress, we are more likely to make poor food choices. Unfortunately, these food choices can create more stress in the long run, as well as other problems. Following are a few examples of poor eating choices:

  • Eating Fast foods often
  • Eating Foods high in fat, sugar and salt
  • Snacking without thinking
  • Skipping Meals
  • Drinking Too Much Coffee
  • Not drinking enough water
  • Drinking too much alcohol

The Food Branch of Health Power’s Food and Fitness Channel provides a wide variety of information for eating healthy, including delicious recipes and Healthy Eating Tip Sheets.

Deep Breathing

Deep Breathing is a technique to improve relaxation regarding both physical and mental states. As a result, it relieves stress. Deep breathing is a stress management tool which is sometimes combined with another relaxation technique calledProgressive Muscular Relaxation. Deep breathing is also an important component of Yoga, Tai Chi and Meditation.

Progressive Muscular Relaxation

Progressive Muscular Relaxation (PMR) is a technique to improve relaxation, both the physical and mental states and so relieve stress. PMR is the tensing or tightening of specific groups of muscles for short periods of time, which is then followed by relaxing that same group of muscles. The process is then repeated a number of times. This technique is sometimes practiced in combination with Deep Breathing, and it helps with stress prevention and control. Additional information on Progressive Muscular Relaxation is provided in this section.

Yoga

The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word (Ancient Indian Language) yuj which means to unite or integrate. Yoga, then, is about the union of a person’s own consciousness and the universal consciousness. There are multiple branches of Yoga related to such concepts as Posture, Devotion, Self-Control, Mind, Service, and rituals. In Yoga, students gain breathing control as they slowly increase their breathing. By focusing on their breathing, they prepare their minds for meditation (a quiet Mind). Information on six (6) types of Yoga and the benefits of Yoga is also provided in this section.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art, is often practiced to promote health and longevity. Its training forms are well known as the slow motion routines that groups of people practice together every morning in parks around the world, especially in China. Medical studies of tai chi support its effectiveness as an alternative exercise and a form of martial arts therapy. Tai chi chuan is considered a soft style martial art — an art applied with internal power to distinguish its theory and application from that of hard martial arts. There are many different styles of tai chi. Click here for additional information on Tai Chi.

Massage

Means the treatment and practice of manipulating or handling and shaping the soft body tissues of the body for physical, medical and in some cases, emotional purposes. During a massage, a therapist uses pressure and/or vibration to target certain parts of the body. Massage can be applied with the hands, fingers, elbows, forearm, fists and feet. Massage can be performed by such health professionals as physical therapists, occupational therapists, and massage therapists. The following things generally happen when one has a massage:

– Answer a few questions about the reason for the massage, and about the person’s physical condition.

That’s because although massage is usually safe, there can be a risk of injury with some conditions;

–  Remove one’s clothing and use a robe or towel instead. With a chair massage, the clothing is usually not removed;

–  Lie down comfortably, often with background music playing;

–  Have oils and/or lotions put on the body; and

–  Experience the relaxation. There should be no significant pain from the message.   If pain is being felt, tell the massage therapist.

The typical massage lasts about an hour, but some may last up to 90 minutes. The person receiving the massage usually has to pay for it, and the price varies widely depending on a variety of factors.

Meditation

Is a state of concentrating on some object or thought. It usually involves a person turning his or her attention inward to a single thing. The benefits of meditation can result in a higher state of consciousness. Meditation is recognized as a component of eastern religions, where it has been practiced for many centuries. Different meditation techniques have a wide range of spiritual and/or psychophysical practices which can focus on developing either a high degree of mental concentration, or the apparent opposite, mental quietness

Meditation can be practiced anywhere – at home, during public transportation, or almost anywhere else. Although more research is needed about the role of meditation for medical treatment, some researchshows that it may be helpful for allergies, arthritis, hypertension or high blood pressure, and heart disease as well as several other conditions.

Adequate Sleep

Getting enough sleep is an often overlooked key to being healthy. Although people’s individual sleep needs vary, most adults still need about 8 hours of sleep a night. Some adults seem to be fine with less sleep, and others need more than 8 hours in order to feel well rested. The average child needs about 11 hours of sleep although the need is different from one individual to another. In general, sleep need decreases as the age increases, going from about 9 hours during the teen years to about 6 hours during the senior years.

Taking one or more naps doesn’t make up for lost hours of sleep, even if the total hours of napping add up to 8 hours. This is because the best sleep includes a period during which the person sleeping has rapid eye movement (also called REM sleep). It takes a few hours of sleep to reach the REM state. It is also important for the person to stay in REM sleep for some time. If the person has to get up from a nap, the period of REM sleep may have been too short. Also, if he or she returns to napping later, that nap might not last long enough for REM sleep to occur. More information on Sleeping for Health and Beauty can be found in Health Power’sPreventive Health Channel.

Laughing

Laughing has been documented to be effective in reducing stress. It relaxes tense muscles and lowers the blood pressure. Laughter can often be achieved by watching favorite comedy shows on TV, reading funny materials, or talking by phone or spending time with a friend whose personality brings joy or laughter. According to the Mayo Clinic, benefits of laughing can include

  • Stimulation of organs by improving oxygen intake to the heart, lungs and muscles
  • Increasing certain hormones released by the brain, called endorphins
  • Stimulation and then relaxation of the body’s stress response
  • Improvement of digestion and circulation.
  • Improvement of the immune system

So whether laughter has to be forced at first, or comes naturally, laughing often can have real benefits.

Aromatherapy

This approach to stress reduction refers to the use of volatile (like a vapor or gas) essential oils, and other scented plant compounds (or substances) to affect a person’s mood or health, sometimes along with other alternative medicine practices. It is most popular in Western societies. Aromatherapy for stress relief generally produces a calming effect. Aromatic oils considered best for stress relief include:

  • Lavender
  • Jasmine
  • Orange
  • Tangerine
  • Ylang-ylang
  • Juniper

Visualization

Visualization creates images to communicate both abstract and concrete ideas. Examples from history include cave paintings, Egyptian hieroglyphs, Greek geometry, and Leonardo da Vinci’s revolutionary methods of technical drawing for engineering and scientific purposes. Today, visualization has far-reaching applications in science, engineering, education, interactive multimedia and medicine. See the Health Power web site section on Stress Prevention and Reduction for additional information.

Herbs

Although studied less, herbs are also considered helpful by many. Popular herbs for relaxation are chamomile, lemon, and lavender.

For more information related to Stress Prevention and Reduction, visit our

Mental Health Channel.