Lately, every day seems to bring a new cause for worry-the mortgage
crisis, the struggling economy, rising unemployment. And on top of all
that, the holiday season (a recurring source of stress) is about to
begin. This constant barrage of disturbing news and emotional hurdles
can have a big impact on health.
Although you won't find the
word "stress" anywhere on the list of the 10 leading causes of death in
America, many highly-regarded studies link chronic stress to ailments
such as heart disease, stroke, and a weakened immune system.
"Stress doesn't just make you feel tense and edgy, it can actually
impair your health," says Dr. Michael Miller, editor in chief of the
Harvard Mental Health Letter. "Thankfully, there's plenty we can do on
our own to reduce stress in our lives." The Harvard Medical School
Portable Guide to Stress Relief, a free guide offered by Harvard Health
Publications, provides helpful tips on how to start.
Of course, sometimes just thinking about embarking on such a program
can feel overwhelming. Don't freeze in your tracks. Instead, follow Dr.
Miller's suggestion to start small.
One stress-management technique that may work for you is a form of deep
breathing known as the relaxation response. Another useful approach,
known as cognitive restructuring, aims to change patterns of negative
thinking. Not only will these strategies help you feel calmer, they may
also reduce your blood pressure.
The free guide from Harvard Health Publications, culled from the pages
of the special health report, Stress Management: Approaches for
Preventing and Reducing Stress, provides detailed suggestions for
soothing anxiety and worry. Whether you have one minute or half an
hour, The Harvard Medical School Portable Guide to Stress Relief will
teach you ways to manage the strains of your day. It describes 10
common stressors and how to defuse their impact and offers information
on how to use meditation to lower stress levels. You will also find
step-by-step instructions for "mini-relaxation" routines, organized
according to how much free time you have available.
To begin, try the sample mini-relaxations that follow:
De-stressing when you've got 1 minute
Place your hand just beneath your navel so you can feel the gentle rise
and fall of your belly as you breathe. Breathe in slowly. Pause for a
count of three. Breathe out. Pause for a count of three. Continue to
breathe deeply for one minute, pausing for a count of three after each
inhalation and exhalation.
Or alternatively, while sitting comfortably, take a few slow deep
breaths and quietly repeat to yourself "I am" as you breathe in and "at
peace" as you breathe out. Repeat slowly two or three times. Then feel
your entire body relax into the support of the chair.
When you've got 2 minutes
Count down slowly from 10 to zero. With each number, take one complete
breath, inhaling and exhaling. For example, breathe in deeply saying
"10" to yourself. Breathe out slowly. On your next breath, say "nine,"
and so on. If you feel lightheaded, count down more slowly to space
your breaths further apart. When you reach zero, you should feel more
relaxed. If not, go through the exercise again.
Also in this guide:
- Using a gratitude journal to turn your focus away from negative thoughts and feelings
- Learning to straighten out cognitive distortions
- Helping your children-or yourself-reduce stress with a "worry box."
The Harvard Medical School Portable Guide to Stress Relief is available
to download for free from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing
division of Harvard Medical School, at to http://www.health.harvard.edu/stress-relief.
*Go to http://www.health.harvard.edu/stress-relief to find information on other Harvard Health Publications, including:
Stress Management: Approaches for preventing and reducing stress
Coping with Anxiety and Phobias
Alcohol Use and Abuse
Harvard Medical School
*(Note: Not all these resources are available free of charge.)