Why Stress Management Strategies Work

stress management


Stress is a universally experienced phenomenon. Although there are many causes, the methods of managing it are generally the same. Research from varying professionals helps explain how coping strategies work, broken into three categories – physical, mental and social.

 

PHYSICAL STRATEGIES

  1. Exercise – Research confirms that being physically active leads to physical, mental and emotional benefits, both immediately after and long-term. Exercise can be as successful at decreasing depression as anti-depression prescriptions, according to University of California  Riverside professor and author Sonja Lyubomirsky. Exercise stimulates the release of “feel good” chemicals that help improve mood.

 

  1. Get adequate and high-quality sleep – Even slight levels of sleep deprivation can affect judgment, memory and mood, according to the American Psychological Association. When you do not get enough sleep, the areas of the brain that experience anxiety and worry are impacted. In addition, while you sleep, your muscles are repaired and your memories are consolidated, preparing you for the next day. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to obesity and high blood pressure and cancause you to feel overwhelmed, less motivated and less able to concentrate.

 

  1. Maintain a healthy diet – The National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability explains that certain nutrients, such as thiamin and folate, help with nervous system function. Deficiencies in these nutrients can lead to irritability, depression and poor concentration, causing stress. In addition, the APA notes that when you overeat or eat unhealthy foods, you will tend to feel sluggish and think negatively about your body, causing more stress.

 

  1. Hydrate  – Stress and dehydration affect each other and produce similar symptoms such as headaches and fatigue. Staying hydrated can help stave these off. 

 

  1. Take breaks – In order to avoid burnout, it is important to find an outlet that lets you relax and enjoy what you are doing. Taking a vacation, listening to certain types of music, checking email less often and laughing have all been shown to reduce stress levels.

 

MENTAL STRATEGIES

  1. Meditate – Relaxing the body through deep, controlled breathing helps fight off the physiological symptoms of stress. In addition, feeling in control of just one thing in life—in this case your breathing—is empowering. Meditating increases your self-awareness and helps you gain a new perspective, focus on the present and reduce negative emotions.

 

  1. Cultivate spirituality – Spirituality is not necessarily synonymous with being religious. It has more to do with finding purpose and context for your life through something larger than yourself. Spiritual people tend to be happier, have better mental and physical health, cope better, have more satisfying marriages, use drugs and alcohol less and live longer (Lyubomirsky, 2007).

 

  1. Write – Writing is a great way to calm the chaos of life. Because writing is, by nature, highly structured, it can help you put your thoughts together in a coherent manner, helping you find meaning in your experiences. It also helps you to learn about yourself and feel in control of your life (Lyubomirsky, 2007).

 

  1. Think positively – According to Mayo Clinic research, positive thinking allows you to “approach unpleasantness in a more positive and productive way.” It improves your outlook on life and can lead to health benefits such as greater resistance to the common cold and improved cardiovascular health. Optimistic people often have healthier lifestyles as well.

 

SOCIAL STRATEGIES

  1. Talk to a friend – Knowing that you are not alone facing your stressors can empower you. The Mayo Clinic asserts that people with strong social support networks are healthier and live longer. This is likely because a social support network increases your sense of belonging, feelings of self-worth and of security. In addition, others often have a different perspective and may suggest changes or coping strategies you had not thought about.

 

  1. Spend time with a pet – Animals reduce tension, improve mood and can be a nice icebreaker in social interactions. According to health journalist Kathleen Doheny, having a pet yields unconditional love, a diminished sense of being alone, physical contact, a consistent daily routine (often including exercise) and an increased sense of self-esteem from caring for it. However, the benefits of having a pet are reduced if doing so causes worry, is not affordable or if you aren’t in a position to provide care. Therefore, a pet is not a one-size-fits-all solution for reducing stress.

 

  1. Learn to say no – The Mayo Clinic proposes that saying no to one thing means you are saying yes to another priority. Doing so can also open up opportunities to try new things and for others to step up to what you are turning down. Being able to say no reflects a healthy level of assertiveness and self-confidence. Always saying yes causes stress, which over time can lead to burnout, resentment and illness.

 

  1. Meet with a professional – If your stresses become overwhelming and burdensome, seek professional help. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance notes that a good therapist may help you cope with the stresses or traumatic events you have or are experiencing by helping you identify the triggers and develop a plan to help you cope with and make sense of them.

 

Since stress is part of everyday life, it is important that you learn healthy, effective coping skills. Understanding the reasons for common stress management strategies makes them even more empowering. As you apply them, your personal well-being and relationships with others are likely to improve.


This article was written by Dave Schramm, Utah State University Extension family life specialist, David.schramm@usu.edu and Jennifer Viveros, M.A.




Five Ways to Find Peace by Staying Present

5 tips to find peace.jpg


It is easy to get caught up in the events of the past or the future. However, doing so only brings worry and causes you to miss out on the present. On the other hand, mindfulness – or focusing on the present moment – leads to better health, lower anxiety and greater resilience to stress. Learning to incorporate the concept of “flow” is one of several ways to increase mindfulness.

Have you ever enjoyed an activity so much that you did not feel time passing? This intense absorption and involvement in what you were doing in the present moment is called flow, and it is generally pleasurable and fulfilling. In addition, the enjoyment is usually lasting and reinforcing and provides a natural high that is not accompanied by negative feelings.

Although it is easy to experience flow during our favorite activities, we can enjoy this feeling more often during other activities with practice, and experiencing flow will come more naturally. Consider these five tips:

1. Control your attention – Try to keep your full attention on the task at hand. If your mind wanders, bring it back to the present moment. If you are having a conversation with another person, try to stay completely focused on what they are saying. Be patient with yourself as you work to develop the ability to stay focused.

2. Adopt new perspectives – Try to enjoy life, even if it unfolds differently than you had planned. (Which it often does!) In order to do so, be open to new and different experiences, and be willing to keep learning until the day you die.

3. Recognize flow – Many times we do not realize that we are having these experiences. In order to create more of these in your life, you first have to recognize when they are happening so you can increase them.

4. Transform routine tasks – During dull, daily tasks, seek to add microflow activities to make them more meaningful. For example, while you are waiting at the doctor’s office, you could read a book or draw a picture. You could try to make your work more meaningful by viewing it as your calling in life rather than just a job. When brushing your teeth, try doing some lunges or squats. When driving, instead of listening to the radio, listen to audiobooks, podcasts or TED talks to learn new ideas.

5. Find the balance between challenge and skills – Flow experiences occur when we are sufficiently challenged to the point that our skills are stretched, but not so much that the task seems daunting. Activities that challenge your skills too much result in anxiety, while activities that are not challenging enough result in boredom; herein lies the paradox of flow experiences.

The intrinsic rewards of engaging in these kinds of activities make you want to keep doing them, yet you have to continue stretching yourself because your progress will eventually leave you bored during the same experiences that were once exciting.

Finding activities that result in flow is exhilarating. Change things up by trying new things. Our brains crave variety and novelty. The key to finding flow is developing a balance between skills and challenges – finding something you are good at and enjoy, but that still stretches you a bit.


This article was written by Dave Schramm, Utah State University Extension family life specialist, and Jennifer Viveros, M.A.




7 Tips for a Mindful Marriage

Mindful Marriage GraphicMindfulness can help you more fully enjoy what matters most– including your spouse! Try these seven tips to be more mindful in your marriage.


We live in a fast-paced world, and if we aren’t careful, life can slip by without us fully enjoying the people and things we love most. Being mindful, or maintaining an awareness of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surroundings, can help you be more mentally, emotionally and physically present, and more fully enjoy those things and people that matter most. Consider these seven tips for increasing mindfulness in your relationship with your significant other.

1. Practice personal mindfulness.

Practicing personal mindfulness can help create a stronger relationship with your sweetheart. Quieting the excess chatter in your mind will help to steady your emotions and lower your physical and mental stress levels, potentially making you less reactive to your partner’s actions or words. It can also help you to focus on the small, everyday moments with your loved one, such as being fully present when you hug or kiss.

2. Prioritize time with your spouse.

In order for us to connect and be mindful of our partner, we need to have time together. Make your spouse a priority and give him or her your undivided attention, even if it is for 10 minutes every day to check in with them about their day. No TV. No phones. No books. Just each other.

3. Continually learn about each other.

Take time to ask open-ended questions so you can know about what is really going on in their world. The more mindful you are of each other’s hopes, dreams and challenges, the more of a support you can be to each other.

4. Show affection.

Let your partner know that you are mindful of them by showing your love daily through affection. Hold hands, give a lingering full-body hug or a five-second kiss.

5. Play together.

Have fun together and try new things. Show that you are mindful of your partner by trying things that he/she enjoys doing.

6. Express appreciation and compliments.

Show your partner that you are aware of him or her by sharing genuine compliments and words of appreciation daily.

7. Service.

Show your partner that you are mindful of him or her by helping ease their load through small acts of service. Even little things like getting up with the kids, making dinner, or doing a chore you normally don’t do can make a huge difference.


Naomi Brower NewNaomi Brower is an Extension Associate Professor in Weber County specializing in helping others improve the quality of their lives through creating and strengthening their relationships. She earned her master’s degree in Family and Human Development from Utah State University and she is a Certified Family Life Educator. She enjoys hiking, traveling (especially anywhere green) and playing with her husband and adorable little boy.  Contact Naomi at naomi.brower@usu.edu or check out videos and other content at relationships.usu.edu.

References:

Doherty, W. J. (2013). Take back your marriage. New York: NY: The Guildford Press:

Gottman, J. M. & Silver, N. (2007). The seven principles for making marriage work. London, England: Orion Books, Ltd.

Parker, T. (2016, August 24). How to mindfully meditate in marriage. [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.gottman.com/blog/mindfully-meditate-marriage/

 




Add Some Mindfulness to Your Movement

Mindfulness to Movement.jpg

Are you struggling to fit physical activity into your routine? Try a different approach, and be mindful about your movement. 


It’s no secret that engaging in regular physical activity offers a number of health benefits – from decreasing the risk of developing chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer, to promoting better sleep and improving mental health. Yet according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around four out of five adults in America fall short of weekly physical activity recommendations (CDC, 2015a; CDC, 2014).

 

Both the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that adults between the ages of 18-64 aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate level activity. This includes brisk walking, mowing the lawn with a push mower, water aerobics, or riding a bicycle on flat terrain; or 75 minutes of vigorous level activity, such as playing sports (i.e., tennis or soccer), jogging, riding a bicycle on a path with inclines, or hiking (CDC, 2015b; WHO, n.d.). Additionally, adults should incorporate two strength training sessions per week targeting all major muscle groups (CDC, 2015b; WHO, n.d.).

 

People often have a desire to be more physically active, but there are many barriers that can get in the way. A survey given to adult women found that lack of time, fatigue/lack of energy, no one to exercise with, lack of a place to exercise, pain/discomfort, and lack of motivation, were all barriers to engaging in physical activity (Adachi-Mejia & Schifferdecker, 2016). In order to reap all the health benefits exercise has to offer, finding ways to overcome barriers and increase physical activity levels is essential. However, the way we approach exercise may also have a significant impact on health (Calogero & Pedrotty, 2007). According to Calogero and Pedrotty (2007), mindless physical activity involves exercising solely for the intent to lose weight or change body shape, adhering to a rigid exercise schedule with no flexibility, and/or exercising to compensate for calories eaten. This type of exercise promotes a disconnection from the body and how it feels and it may involve continuing to exercise when sick or injured or in extreme weather conditions (Calogero & Pedrotty, 2007; Tribole & Resch, 2017). This type of exercise may promote disordered thinking patterns around exercise and eating, and it and may lead to injury (Calogero & Pedrotty, 2007).

 

In contrast, to encourage a healthy relationship with exercise, Calogero & Pedrotty (2007) and Tribole & Resch (2017) recommend mindful exercise, which involves paying attention to the process of engaging in physical activity and listening to your body, rather than focusing solely on the desired end result. This involves tuning into the physical sensations in your body as you are moving including your heart rate, breath, and the feeling of your muscles as they contract and relax (Tribole & Resch, 2017). Mindful physical activity has the following characteristics:

  1.     It revitalizes the body, rather than drains it of energy;
  2.     It allows you to connect with your body and its sensations so you can respond to them, instead of encouraging you to “push through” an activity that may cause discomfort;
  3.     It helps with managing stress, rather than contributing to it;
  4.     It is fun and enjoyable, which makes you want to continue (Calogero & Pedrotty, 2007; Tribole & Resch, 2017).

 

A critical step to becoming more physically active is finding enjoyable physical activities. A systematic review of several studies found that people who reported enjoyment during exercise were more likely to engage in exercise in the future (Rhodes & Kates, 2015). Additionally, thinking outside of the box and recognizing that physical activity does not have to be done at a gym or on sports team, may be useful. The World Health Organization acknowledges leisure activities that involve movement such as dancing and gardening, household tasks such as mowing the lawn, and play with children or pets as movement that contributes to total physical activity (WHO, n.d.). Additionally, activity can occur in a large chunk of time or it can be spread out in small increments (i.e., 10 minutes at a time, four times per day) (WHO, n.d.).

Still not sure where to begin? Tribole and Resch (2017) recommend taking time to think through the environment and types of activities that would be most enjoyable to you. Here are some questions to ask yourself (Tribole & Resch, 2017):

  1.     Would I rather exercise alone or in a group?
  2.     Do I prefer to be outdoors or indoors?
  3.     What would I enjoy doing that is realistic given my current level of fitness?
  4.     Do I want to choose an activity that makes me feel more relaxed or energetic after I finish?
  5.     Is there a new activity I am interested in, but haven’t tried before?
  6.     How can I see physical activity as part of my self-care routine?
  7.     What is the best time to fit exercise in my schedule?

Note: People with certain chronic health conditions should check with their doctor prior to beginning a physical activity routine (CDC, 2015a).


Brittany BingemanThis article was written by Brittany Bingeman. Brittany studied family and consumer sciences and nutrition/dietetics and she is passionate about health and wellness with a holistic approach. She enjoys teaching about mindful and intuitive eating to help people improve their relationship with food as well as other important family and life skills. Originally from Georgia, she enjoys spending time exploring beautiful southern Utah and the western states. She enjoys spending time with her husband, cooking, reading, listening to podcasts, hiking, jogging, and yoga. Brittany can be reached at brittany.bingeman@usu.edu or 435-634-5706.

References

Adachi-Mejia, A.M., & Schifferdecker, K.E. (2016). A mixed-methods approach to assessing barriers to physical activity among women with class I, class II, and class III obesity. Public Health, 139, 212-215. doi:10.1016/j.puhe.2016.04.013

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2015, June 4a). Physical activity and health. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/index.htm

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2015, June 4b). How much physical activity do adults need? Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2014, May 23). Facts about physical activity. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/data/facts.htm

Calogero, R., & Pedrotty, K. (2007). Daily practices for mindful exercise. In L. L’Abate, D. Embry, & M. Baggett (Eds.), Handbook of low-cost preventative interventions for physical activity and mental health: Theory, research, and practice (141-160). New York, NY: Springer-Verlag.

Rhodes, R.E., & Kates, A. (2015). Can the affective response to exercise predict future motives and physical activity behavior? A systematic review of published evidence. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 49(5), 715-731. doi:10.1007/s12160-015-9704-5

Tribole, E. & Resch, E. (2017). Principle nine. Exercise: Feel the difference. In J. Eastman (Ed.), The intuitive eating workbook: 10 principles for nourishing a healthy relationship with food (199-224). Oakland, CA: New Harbor Publications, Inc.

World Health Organization (WHO). (n.d.). Physical activity and adults: Recommended levels of physical activity for adults aged 18 – 64 years. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/factsheet_adults/en/

 




Four Tips for Money Mindfulness

Money MindfulnessTry these tips to be more mindful about your finances. 


The common buzzword today seems to be “mindfulness” – mindful eating, mindful exercise, mindful relationships, etc. The idea behind mindfulness is to be more aware. Mindfulness helps us develop attentiveness. Definitions include:

  1. The state of being conscious or aware of something.
  2. A mental state achieved by focusing awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

If you have ever tried the mindfulness techniques used in yoga, eating or any other area, you know it is not about emptying your mind of all thought, or simply getting rid of all stress. Rather it is about intentionally paying attention to the present without emotion or judgement…which may involve being aware of uncomfortable feelings too. The main point of mindfulness is to help us spend less time worrying and allow us to step back to consider more choices and make decisions more clearly and intentionally, rather than reactively.

This reaction can especially be a problem in finances. Many of us react emotionally or impulsively rather than rationally. Statistics show that the average American household carries around $16,000 in credit card debt, approximately 34 percent of Americans admit to having no money in savings, 61 percent of adults do not keep track of their money and 60 percent have not checked their credit score in the last year. With these startling statistics, it’s important to consider how to achieve money mindfulness and attentiveness.

Money mindfulness allows us to be more present and attentive to what unfolds in our lives…so when we have looming debt, a depleted bank account or an emergency that threatens our financial stability, we can be more mindful in dealing with it. Just like with mindful meditation, it takes focused self-analysis and thought to untangle our thinking and behavior related to money.

Mindfulness regarding money requires us to do four key things:

1) Focus. Focus on the money moves you make. Are they in line with your core values? Focus on the numbers, and determine what they are telling you.

2) Avoid distractions. Avoid the “bling” and learn to live more frugally by cutting money-wasting habits. Learn to push pause on anything that distracts you.

3) Concentrate. Notice why you are spending, and think about what you could do differently and what effect it will have on things that may matter more. So often we spend money on things simply out of habit, emotion or desire.

4) Breathe new life into paying yourself first. Learn to save without feeling you are missing out. Instead, you are breathing new life into a spending plan, financial goals and a monthly budget.

Mindfulness is learning to train your mind to be more present in the moment and to be calmer in your approach and response, and that includes your money.


This article was written by Teresa Hunsaker, Utah State University Extension family and consumer sciences educator

References:

Claudia Hammond.   Mind over Money: The Psychology of Money and How to Use It Better.

US News and World Report.  How to Cultivate Mindfulness to Curb Spending. https://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/articles/2016-03-24/how-to-cultivate-mindfulness-to-curb-spending

Mindful Spending:  The Happy Way to Financial Freedom.  http://www.simplemindfulness.com/mindful-spending-the-happy-way-to-financial-freedom/




Two-Minute Mindfulness Tips

Mindfulness Graphic.jpgWe live in a fast-paced world where most everyone is too busy, but chances are you can spare two minutes to practice mindfulness. Try these tips to sneak some mindfulness into your schedule for better overall wellness.


Do you feel like life is on fast-forward? As comedian and actress Lily Tomlin once said, “For fast acting relief, try slowing down!” Research has found that focusing on the present moment, or mindfulness, can lead to better health, lower anxiety and greater resilience to stress. Consider these tips for increasing peace through practicing mindfulness. (And did I mention that all four tips will only take you two minutes?)

  1. Take a technology break. Technology seems to be everywhere, and the constant flow of information can be stressful and exhausting. As you set boundaries and limits for technology use (i.e., limiting the amount of time on Smartphones or other devices, unplugging an hour before bed, etc.), you will free up time to focus on activities that bring peace and fulfillment, such as connecting with others, meditation or developing a new talent or hobby.
  2. Focus on being in the moment. Keep your mind on whatever you are doing at that moment and it if starts to wander, bring it back to what you are doing in the present moment. While this can be challenging, one strategy that can help is to engage all five senses in whatever you are doing. For example, take time when you are eating to notice the color, smell and different textures of the foods you eat, and savor the flavors.
  3. Be still. We live in a busy world, and it can be challenging to just stop and be in the moment. Try taking a 2-minute meditation break to close your eyes, take long, deep breaths and just focus on your breathing. If your mind wanders, be aware that it is wandering and refocus. If it is helpful, set a timer so your mind can be at ease about how much time you are spending.
  4. Spend time in nature. Research has found that nature tends to have a calming effect and reduces negative emotions, so take a moment any time you are outside (i.e., walking to and from your car, taking out the trash, etc.) to take in your surroundings. Use all of your senses to fully experience the moment, and take a mental snapshot to help it last longer.

 

While we may not be able to control the speed of life, we can control where we focus our time and energy. By employing these tips, you will find greater peace even on the craziest of days.


Naomi Brower NewThis article was written by Naomi Brower. Naomi is an Extension Associate Professor in Weber County specializing in helping others improve the quality of their lives through creating and strengthening their relationships. She earned her master’s degree in Family and Human Development from Utah State University and she is a Certified Family Life Educator. She enjoys hiking, traveling (especially anywhere green) and playing with her husband and adorable little boy.  Contact Naomi at naomi.brower@usu.edu or check out videos and other content at relationships.usu.edu.

Find more contributor bios here.

Sources:

Greater Good in Action. (2017a). Mindful breathing. Retrieved from https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/mindful_breathing#data-tab-why_you_should_try_itPassmore, H. A. & Holder, M. D. (2016). Noticing nature: Individual and social benefits of a two-week intervention. Journal of Positive Psychology.  

Passamore, H.A. & Holder, M.D. (2016). Noticing nature: Individual and social benefits of a two-week intervention. Journal of Positive Psychology, 12 (6), 537-546. Passmore, H. A. & Holder, M. D. (2016). Noticing nature: Individual and social benefits of a two-week intervention. Journal of Positive Psychology.  

Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). How of Happiness. New York: The Penguin Press.