The 2015 Stress in America survey, from the American Psychological Association, found that average stress levels in the U.S. rose from 4.9 in 2014 to 5.1 in 2015, on a 10-point stress scale. There was also an increase in the number of adults who experience “extreme stress”, with 24% reporting they were highly stressed last year, compared with 18% the year before.
And while some stress can be good when harnessed properly –when it’s not, it can cause emotional and physical problems.
“Stress can have a dramatic impact on our overall health and well-being,” said Laurie Mitchell, assistant vice president of global health and wellness at Unum. “While the connection between our minds and our bodies is often underestimated, stress can weaken our immune system and make us vulnerable to colds and infection. That’s why managing stress effectively is so important in protecting your health long term.”
Here are some tips to managing stress:
Mindfulness – Mindfulness is the practice of focusing your attention on the present moment and shifting your attention and thoughts away from any preoccupations. It helps improve physical and mental health. Here are some mindfulness techniques you can try.
Exercise – Exercise and physical activity help produce endorphins – chemicals that act as natural painkillers – that can improve not only your mood, but also your ability to sleep, which in turn helps reduce stress. “Regular exercise, even five minutes of cardio each day, can have anti-anxiety effects,” said Mitchell. “It helps decrease tension and it elevates and stabilizes your mood.”
Sleep – When we sleep, our bodies are busy taking care of our physical and mental health and getting us ready for the next day. When we’re deprived of sleep, our brains can’t function properly, affecting our cognitive abilities and our mental state. The Sleep Foundation recommends an adult between the ages of 26-64 should get around 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.
Eat healthy – Sometimes food becomes a coping mechanism for people when they are stressed. But, many of the “comfort foods” we often turn to are unhealthy choices because they tend to make us feel lethargic and even less able to deal with our stress. We should avoid simple sugars found in cakes, cookies and candy bars and instead go for healthy carbohydrates such as whole grain breads or crackers, lean protein, nuts/seeds, fruit and vegetables.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) – EAPs offer employees confidential guidance and support for some of the more challenging issues we sometimes face: relationship problems, financial issues, substance abuse, caring for an aging parent, just to name a few. Check with your benefits department or wellness program to see what EAPs your employer provides.
“People will have different preferences around how they want to manage their stress and there are a lot of options out there,” said Mitchell. “The important thing is to recognize the importance of doing something to mitigate the stress in your life. Tending to the emotional part of your health is just as important as taking care of yourself physically.”