Coping mechanisms to offset harmful consequences of stress

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Stress levels in America are soaring since the election, according to the American Psychological Association. Two-thirds of people surveyed by the Harris Poll on behalf of the APA reported increased stress due to their concerns about prospects for the country’s future and the current political climate.

The APA report Stress in America: Coping With Change revealed that 57% of respondents feel that the current political climate causes them to experience significant anxiety in their lives. The spike is the biggest increase in stress levels in the past decade, a time frame that includes the Great Recession.

Additional stress affects our health, according to the report. The percentage of Americans who reported experiencing at least one symptom of stress rose to 80 percent in January 2017. This includes physical and emotional symptoms such as headache (34 percent), feeling overwhelmed (33 percent), feeling nervous or anxious (33 percent), or feeling depressed or sad (32 percent).

“We know that chronic stress can take a toll on a person’s health. It can make existing health problems worse, and even cause disease, either because of changes in the body or bad habits people develop to cope with stress. The bottom line is that stress can lead to real physical and emotional health consequences,” said Dr. Katherine Nordal, APA’s executive director for professional practice.

While we can’t stop ourselves from having negative reactions, there are coping mechanisms we can use to offset the harmful consequences of stress. Counteracting the effects of the stress prevents it from ruining our relationships, harming our health, and compromising our capacity to remain clear-headed.

Here are 10 strategies for coping with stress:

1. Stay connected to people. Sharing your feelings with people helps to release your emotions and builds your support system. Choose who you talk wisely so you surround yourself with those who are cautiously optimistic rather than purveyors of doom and gloom.

2. Do good things for others. Studies show that practicing acts of kindness and compassion helps to dissipate the stress chemicals in your brain and restore your mind’s ability to see the good in the world.

3. Be grateful for the positives in your life. Showing genuine appreciation for the people who make your life better has been proven to pick up the spirits of both the giver and the receiver. And it will get you more of the positive interactions you need right now to be better balanced emotionally.

4. Reduce negativity. To be happy researchers have found that you must have 3 positive thoughts for every negative one. If you expose yourself to a constant stream of negative news, you’ll have a hard time generating enough positive. Redirect your attention to an activity that will focus your mind on some positive aspect of your life.

5. Pray. This is another proven practice for turning off the negative inner dialogue. The benefit of prayer is that it can restore hope. Ask the higher power questions such as “How can I make a meaningful difference in the world?”

6. Meditate. Sit quietly, breathe deeply, and focus your mind on creating a feeling of calmness and well-being. Tell yourself that you’re breathing in serenity, and that you’re breathing out the distressing emotions of anger, anxiety, or depression.

7. Get a good night’s sleep. Sleeping for 7-8 hours is essential for your body and mind to function effectively. Plan to get enough sleep by starting to wind down early in the evening. Check out the many good internet sites that can teach you techniques for getting to and staying asleep without drugs.

8. Exercise regularly. Your body was designed to burn off stress chemicals by engaging in physical fight or flight responses. Even moderate exercise such as walking 30 minutes a day will give you a big boost emotionally.

9. Focus on the future. When you ruminate about the past you deepen your sense of loss, fuel your negative emotions, and end up feeling helpless because you can’t change what has happened. To cope with the current state of affairs you must find things to do make your present life positive. What can you do set yourself on a course toward a more satisfying future?

10. Talk affirmatively to yourself. Develop a daily ritual of repeating, “Of course I’m stressed out by what’s going on and I know it’s affecting me. I need to generate positivity for myself and my family to counteract the stress. The small step I will take today to make my life more positive is….”