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Stress-busting techniques: scientific findings.

For every research study these days on the negative effects of stress, there's one on the positive stress-busting effects of lifestyle change. You'll hear more about using exercise and nutrition to inoculate yourself against the health-sapping effects of chronic stress in the Lifestyle Corner on page 8.

Here, we tell you about some other steps you can take, most relatively simple, all proven through clinical studies to reduce the effects of stress on your health.

Meditate. Forget chanting "om." Today's meditation can be nothing more complex than sitting in a quiet room for 20 minutes, concentrating on your breathing and trying to clear your mind of pesky worries and to-do lists. When researchers from the Center for Natural Medicine and Prevention at the College of Maharishi Vedic Medicine, in Fairfield, Iowa, and the University of California, Los Angeles, had 60 African-American men and women with high blood pressure meditate 20 minutes twice a day or attend a health education group for seven months, they found that those meditating reduced their overall risk of a heart attack by up to 11 percent, and their stroke risk up to 15 percent. The other group had no reduction; in fact, participants' risk worsened. (12) The researchers theorized, based on this and similar studies, that reducing stress, and thus stress' effect on the nervous system, enabled the body to begin repairing itself, halting and reversing atherosclerosis.

"We know studies consistently demonstrate that meditation lowers blood pressure to the same magnitude as starting on a first-line drug," says C. Noel BaireyMerz, MD, medical director and chair of the Women's Health Program at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Dr. BaireyMerz has spent the past three years investigating the effects of meditation on women 's coronary heart disease risk; she expects to begin presenting the results of those studies within the next few months.

Laugh. It costs nothing and it really works. When researchers divided 33 healthy adult women into two groups and had one watch a humorous video while the other viewed a tourism video, those laughing not only saw their stress levels drop, but their immune function increase when compared to the women watching the tourism video. (13)

Pray. Studies suggest that people who attend church regularly have stronger immune systems, which may explain why researchers have found that regular churchgoers also enjoy better physical health overall. (14) It makes sense when you think about it; sitting in church is like meditating. It's quiet and peaceful.

Take a vacation. This doesn't mean that the only time you address your stress is on vacation. The goal here is to change how you view stress throughout the day so your body doesn't overreact. But vacations--even just a weekend away--can make a big difference. One study of 749 women found a connection between a lack of vacations and heart attacks and early death, regardless of whether they worked outside or inside the home. (15)

Get a pet. Numerous studies attest to the stress-relieving benefits of pets. In one study, researchers evaluated the heart health of 240 couples--half of which owned a pet. People with pets had significantly lower heart rates and blood pressure levels when exposed to stressors than those who were petless. In fact, the pets worked even better than the spouses at buffering stress. (16)

In a hurry? Just 10 minutes of a head and neck massage, progressive muscle relaxation, listening to soothing music or talking to a friend lowered anxiety, depression, confusion and fatigue while boosting energy levels of the 64 women studied. (17) You can't go wrong!

For more information on women and stress, visit www.healthywomen.org.org.

(12.) Castillo-Richmond, A., Schneider, R., Alexander, C., et at. Effects of stress reduction on carotid atherosclerosis in hypertensive African Americans. Stroke. 2000 Mar;31(3):56B-73.

(13.) Bennett, M., Zeller, J. Rosenberg, L., McCann, J. The effect of mirthful laughter on stress and natural killer cell activity. Alters Ther Health Med. 2003 Mar-Apr;9(2):38-45.

(14.) Koenig, H., Cohen, H., George, L., et al. Attendance at religious services, interleukin6, and other biological parameters of immune function in elder adults. Int J Psychiatry Med. 1997;27(3):233-50.

(15.) Eaker, E. D., Pinsky, J., Castelli, WP Myocardial infarction and coronary death among women: psychosocial predictors from a 20-year follow-up of women in the Framingham Study. Am J Epidemiol. 1992 Apr 15;135(8):854-64.

(16.) Allen, K., Blascovich, J., Mendes, W.B.; Cardiovascular Reactivity and the Presence of Pets, Friends, and Spouses: The Truth About Cats and Dogs, Psychosom Med 2002 64: 727-739.

(17.) Field, C, Quintino, O., Henteleff, C, et al. Job stress reduction therapies. Altern Ther Health Med. 1997 Jul;3(4):54-6.
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Publication:National Women's Health Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2003
Words:782
Previous Article:Personal resilience.
Next Article:Dealing with stress. (Ask the Expert).
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