Stress is a way of life for most of us. But stress takes a huge toll on Americans every year. Between 75 and 90 percent of primary care doctor visits are for stress-related problems. Stress has also been linked to all the leading causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis, and suicide, according to the American Institute of Stress.
Rana Walker, M.Ed., one of the "health cops" on "Sentenced to Health" is a mental health therapist and president of Diamond Cutter LLC, a company that promotes wellness of mind, body and spirit. She offers these seven tips for reducing stress in your life.
1. Check out. Maybe taking a vacation seems like the last thing you can afford to do when you're stressed out, but if you're overwhelmed with anxiety, can you afford not to? If you're sleeping poorly (or taking sedatives regularly to help you snooze), anxious and tense all the time, shifting your eating habits in an unhealthy way or using drugs, alcohol, caffeine or cigarettes as a coping aid, these are clear indications you need a break from your current situation, says Walker.
"Take a vacation that suits your time frame," she says. Two weeks would be ideal, but if that's not possible block out a week, a weekend or even a day for yourself. The more time an individual spends away from their every day environment, the more they step outside of the box and see themselves and their problems in a new perspective. "We encourage our clients to be with nature because it's a very calming environment," says Walker. "Take a hike, lay on the beach or go on a picnic."
2. Work out. Quite simply, exercising makes you look better and feel better. Consider it an integral part of your day, like brushing your teeth or eating dinner. "If you make it a way of life, it becomes part of your life, not just something you have to make time for," says Walker.
3. Express yourself. Unloading all your worries and concerns is a terrific way to clear your mind and reduce your stress level. Find a friend or a therapist whom you can talk to; it's important not to keep everything inside. You can also write everything down in a journal. Moving things out of your head and onto paper can help you release a lot of the chaos you're feeling. Doing both is the best combination.
4. Claim your peace. Affirmations, sentences you write down and put up in a place like a bathroom mirror where you repeat them five to ten times a day, can help you become the person you'd like to be, says Walker. "The more you say it, the more it becomes part of your psyche." Craft something that's right for your situation, such as "I am calm. I am peaceful, and all is in order."
5. Read up. Connecting with something bigger than yourself can help you gain perspective on your problems. Walker recommends books with a spiritual focus such as "Anatomy of the Spirit" by Caroline Myss and "Seat of the Soul" by Gary Zukav.
6. Don't avoid. If there's something in your life that's a source of worry, seek out things that will help you feel in control. "When we procrastinate or we think something is overwhelming, it's usually not as bad as we thought it was," says Walker. If you're suffering from financial problems, for example, read some books on gaining control of your financial life or seek the counsel of a financial planner.
7. Breathe deeply. For those moments when you're so tense that you feel like you might explode, go back to the basics. Inhale to a slow count of ten, and exhale at the same speed through your nose. Before you respond to a situation, breathing deeply will help center you.