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Healthy Living - Harnessing Stress

Stress has become a fact of life, and for some, the
daily norm. Although occasional stress can help
improve our focus and performance, living with chronic
stress can backfire by causing anxiety, depression, and
serious health problems.
Understanding who we are, knowing our major struggles,
putting them in perspective, and taking action
can help us deal with stress. The following strategies
can also improve stress tolerance and help lessen the
effects of stress on our health.
Think Positively
“Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative
stress into positive,” said Hans Selye, author of the
groundbreaking work around stress theory. When optimism
is hard to muster, cognitive-behavioral therapy,
which trains people to recognize negative thinking patterns
and replace them with more constructive ones,
can also help reduce the risk of chronic stress and
Get Out and Enjoy Nature
While modern civilization has made our lives more
convenient, it has deprived us of an essential source of
stress relief—connection with nature. Studies show
that interacting with nature can help lessen the effects
of stress on the nervous system, reduce attention
deficits, decrease aggression, and enhance spiritual
“Smell the Roses” for Better Mood
Aromatherapy, or smelling essential plant oils, recognized
worldwide as a complementary therapy for managing
chronic pain, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and
stress-related disorders, can help you unwind. Orange
and lavender scents, in particular, have been shown to
enhance relaxation and reduce anxiety.
Relax with a Cup of Tea
During stressful times, coffee helps us keep going. To
give yourself a break, however, consider drinking tea.
Research shows that drinking tea for 6 weeks helps
lower post-stress cortisol and increase relaxation.
Habitual tea drinking may also reduce inflammation,
potentially benefiting your heart health.
Laugh It Off
Humor relieves stress and anxiety and prevents
depression, helping put our troubles in perspective.
Laughter can help boost the immune system, increase
pain tolerance, enhance mood and creativity, and
lower blood pressure, potentially improving treatment
outcomes for many health problems, including cancer
and HIV. Humor may also be related to happiness,
which has been linked to high self-esteem, extroversion,
and feeling in control.
Build a Support System
Relationships are also key to health and happiness,
especially for women. Women with low social support,
for example, are more likely to increase blood pressure
under stress. Loneliness may also contribute to stress
in both men and women, also leading to poorer outcomes
after a stroke or congestive heart failure. On the
other hand, active and socially involved seniors are at
lower risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Social
support also helps cancer patients to boost the
immune system and maintain a higher quality of life.
Employ the Relaxing Power of Music
Music, especially classical, can also serve as a powerful
stress-relief tool. Listening to Pachelbel’s famous
Canon in D major while preparing a public speech
helps avoid anxiety, heart rate, and blood pressure,
which usually accompany public speaking.
Singing and listening to music can also relieve pain
and reduce anxiety and depression caused by lowback
pain. Group drumming also showed positive
effects on stress relief and the immune system. Music
therapy can also elevate mood and positively affect the
immune system in cancer patients and reduce fatigue
and improve self-acceptance in people with multiple
To help people deal with stressful medical procedures,
music can help reduce anxiety before surgery. When
played during surgery, it can decrease the patient’s
post-operative pain. Aiding recovery, a dose of calming
music may lower anxiety, pain, and the need for
Calm Your Mind
In recent decades, many forms of meditation have
gained popularity as relaxation and pain relief tools.
Focusing on our breath, looking at a candle, or practicing
a non-judgmental awareness of our thoughts and
actions can help tune out distractions, reduce anxiety
and depression, and accept our circumstances. In cancer
patients, meditation-based stress reduction
enhances quality of life, lowers stress symptoms, and
potentially benefits the immune system.
Guided imagery, such as visualizing pictures prompted
by an audiotape recording, also shows promise in
stress relief and pain reduction. Based on the idea that
the mind can affect the body, guided imagery can be a
useful adjunct to cancer therapy, focusing patients on
positive images to help heal their bodies.
Enjoy the Warmth of Human Touch
Just as the mind can affect the body, the body can
influence the mind. Virginia Satir, a famous American
psychotherapist, once said that people need 4 hugs a
day to help prevent depression, 8 for psychological
stability, and 12 for growth. While asking for hugs may
not work for some, massage can help us relieve stress
and reduce anxiety and depression. Massage has also
been shown to reduce aggression and hostility in
violent adolescents, to improve mood and behavior in
students with ADHD, and to lead to better sleep and
behavior in children with autism.
Massage has other therapeutic properties, as well.
Regular massage may reduce blood pressure in people
with hypertension and may lead to less pain, depression,
and anxiety and better sleep in patients with
chronic low-back pain. Compared to relaxation, massage
therapy also causes greater reduction in depression
and anger, and more significant effects on the
immune system in breast cancer patients.
Give Exercise a Shot
To get the best of both worlds, affecting the mind
through the body while getting into good physical
shape, try exercise. In one study, a group of lung cancer
patients increased their hope due to exercise.
Exercise can also reduce depression and improve
wound healing in the elderly. Tai chi, which works for
people of all ages, may enhance heart and lung function,
improve balance and posture, and prevent falls,
while reducing stress.
No matter what stress-relief methods you choose,
make it a habit to use them—especially if you feel too
stressed out to do it. As someone once said, the time
to relax is when you don’t have time for it.

For more information on health and safety visit the Ontario Chiropractic Association
Web site at www.chiropractic.on.ca or call 1877-327-2273.
Dr. George Traitses, 416-499-5656, www.infinite-health.com

Dr. George Traitses    8/1/2011


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