Make 2016 the year of less stress

January 28, 2016

URBANA, Ill. - Lately, it may seem many people are experiencing stress. Loved ones to care for, events to plan, finances to balance, and paperwork to complete are just a few of the culprits behind stress, says a University of Illinois Extension family life educator.

“No one can prevent stress, and a little bit can actually be good for you because it can motivate and help you get things accomplished,” says Cheri Burcham. “But too much of it and for prolonged periods of time is unhealthy and can even cause us to age faster.”

Burcham explains that chronic stress can cause psychological complaints like anxiety and depression, and physical complaints like headaches, fatigue, muscle aches, and even ulcers and high blood pressure.

“Studies show that chronic stress can even reduce the volume of the brain which results in impaired thinking and emotional regulation,” she says.  

While we can’t prevent stress, Burcham says we can learn to manage it. “There are a variety of ways to relieve stress, and what might work for some, may not work for others. Some people might require something that provides more of a physical outlet like cleaning the house, gardening, or running. Others may find listening to music, reading a book, or taking a warm bath more beneficial. 

“There are those that find activities like crocheting or doing puzzles engage them and take the focus off their concerns. Rewarding or pampering one’s self with a massage, pedicure, or a nice dinner is another route people choose for relaxation,” the educator says.

Mindfulness meditation is also becoming an increasingly popular way to decrease stress, increase focus, and appreciate the moment. “Taking a few minutes to focus only on the present moment, and on your breathing, is something that everyone is able to do. It can be done alone or with others as part of a class,” Burcham suggests.

Volunteering is also another great stress buster. Being able to help others not only makes people feel good, but also takes the focus off their own concerns.

Burcham adds that talking with a trusted family member or friend or journaling about your feelings and concerns are also ways to help deal with difficult emotions that may be causing stress.

“Remember that chronic stress left unchecked can be unhealthy, so take the time to ‘de-stress’ in a way that works for you,” she says. “Over time, you will be glad you did.”

For more information on mindfulness and stress reduction, contact a University of Illinois Extension family life educator at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/state/staff.cfm?ExtTeamID=6 or check out the Family Files Blog at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb380/.


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