Friday, December 12, 2008

Tense? Nervous? Upset?

Stress Can Take A Toll On Mind And Body. Here’s How To Cope

“If you find yourself screaming, cursing, fist pumping, or crushing beer cans on your forehead while watching the World Series, be warned: Taking a game too much to heart may actually harm your heart, according to a recent study by German researchers. They found that the number of emergency-room visits for heart problems more than doubled during and soon after a stressful sporting event. While some stress reactions are dramatic, others are subtle and can take a slow, stealthy toll on your health. Stress is now considered as much of a risk factor as excess weight, lack of exercise, and smoking for heart attack and stroke. Other research has linked stress to type 2 diabetes and impaired immunity, and to worsening acne, asthma, chronic pain, depression, gastrointestinal problems, and multiple sclerosis. It can also prompt unhealthy behaviors such as alcohol abuse, overeating, sleep deprivation, and smoking. As a first step to gaining control, consider what areas in your life are stress-provoking. Common sources include everyday demands such as job strain, raising children, and caring for aging parents. But this year, more Americans are putting financial worries at the top of their list of anxieties, according to an April poll of some 2,500 adults by the American Psychological Association. The rising costs of food and gas, the plummeting stock market, and the falling values of their homes are causing more stress, especially for people on fixed incomes and those planning to retire. Indeed, some 80 percent of Americans age 55 or over report moderate to high levels of stress, according to the APA. Another common source of stress is the hurried pace and frenetic multitasking that cell phones, e-mail, and laptop computers have wrought. ‘I can get more work done in a day than I used to get done in a month, but the expectation now is that I’ll do that, so work has become more stressful,’ says Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He is also a leading researcher of the potential health benefits of mindfulness meditation, a popular stress-reduction program. At this point scientists know more about how stress hurts us than about how to reverse its effects. But that picture is changing. A 2007 Canadian analysis of more than 800 studies found that various meditation practices might help lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular disease, but concluded that additional research was needed. So far this year the NIH is financing about 50 new studies on stress reduction—up from 15 a decade ago—from mindfulness for hot flashes to yoga for the side effects of cancer treatment. In the meantime, there is ample evidence that such practices can improve psychological functioning and quality of life. And programs that teach them are now widely available at hospitals, medical schools, and clinics.”

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