Monday, January 7, 2013

Stress Out! Happiness In!

Lately I hear more and more about the harmful effects of stress. Could it be that we are finally coming to realize America’s number one health problem is actually stress? Now, I know many of you will point to cancer, diabetes or obesity as the nation’s top health concerns; but all of those diseases can be caused or made worse by stress.

Anger, depression and other stressors affect the immune system (Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 2001, 24:537-555). Every feeling we experience affects some part of our body. Unresolved anger and other negative emotions are some of the most common causes of disease. While you may not get sick immediately after a heated argument, you can be sure that if anger goes unchecked it will lower your resistance to the flu or the common cold, and you will get sick eventually.

Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) admits that as many as 90 percent of visits to the doctor are a result of stress-related illness (USA Today, March 22, 2005). We need to kill stress before it kills us.

Where does all this stress come from? For adults, job worries and finances top the list of major stressors. Others add that fear, increased crime, peer pressure, substance abuse and family problems are also among the chief causes of stress.

Most of us do not have the luxury of living on a deserted island or meditating for hours a day. We live in a stressful world, and it is unrealistic to think we can completely eliminate stress from our lives. However, we can lower the effects of stress. Here are 10 tips to help you live in a stressful world without having to be stressed out!

1.       Practice the art of SDASU (Sit Down And Shut Up): Life is so busy that we often end the day without having a moment to ourselves. Take the time to sit still and be quiet.

2.       Lower your sugar intake: A healthy diet can make a big difference in how stress affects you. Decrease or eliminate your caffeine intake.

3.       Create frequent and low-risk family time: Engage more often with your family in activities that are low-risk for stress. Going through the drive-through does not count; but playing board games, attending a ball game or other mutually enjoyable shared activities can be refueling. If you are single, get together with friends without an agenda – just hang out.

4.       Talk it through: Find a confidant or trusted advisor with whom you can safely share frustrations in the form of a ‘vent’ session.

5.       Say no to low-priority activities: Don’t stress out over obligations. Learn to value yourself and your time by prioritizing high-value activities and eliminating low-value stressors in your life.

6.       Learn to under-react: This is a personal favorite and is explained further in my book, The Happiness Factor. Don’t let urgent matters or someone else’s crisis become your crisis. Say, “I choose to under-react.” Take a step back, and take a deep breath. You will be surprised at how many problems diminish this way.

7.       Widen the wiggle room: Learn to accept interruptions gracefully. Don’t schedule yourself so tightly that you can’t adapt to changes in your day.

8.       Own up to your feelings: Take notice of when you feel stress, look for a cause, and make an adjustment. Don’t let stress take up long-term residence within you.

9.       Give it away: Look for a good deed to do. This may seem difficult when you feel stressed, but doing something thoughtful for another person will give you positive feelings and constructive re-direction. Focus on small acts of kindness.

10.   Work out or take a walk: Regular exercise really does help. While you can’t run a mile every time you feel stress, a consistent exercise program will help you cope better. It is proven that exercise improves your state of mind and well-being.

Kirk Wilkinson is the Founder and President of The Happiness Factor, a best-selling author, two-time cancer survivor, speaker and life coach. The Happiness and Factor and the Fresh Start for Women Foundation have partnered to bring you a powerful and uplifting on-line coaching program. Click here to learn more.

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