The Right Amount of Stress

Some stress is good for you, but there's no uniform right amount that works for everyone.

Activity, Sex, Laughter and Meditation Are Stress Relief Secrets

The mantra of the manageable stress movement: "I'm stressed. Aren't we all?"

Siting Around Screaming, Yale Digital Commons
James Rosenquist
It seems from recent research that although factors that trigger stress are still with us, people are learning to cope more effectively. When the American Psychological Association reported that stress had declined, in fact, the research showed that stress is still with us, but perception and coping skills have changed — which in part may be related to media attention.

Stress is a common reaction to concerns about money, work, family and relationships in a world of economic and job uncertainty, marriage breakdown, and fractured love affairs.

Dr. Gail Saltz, psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and commentator on the NBC Today Show, http://Dr.GailSatz.com, tells us that $800 million per year is spent on anti-anxiety medication and that one million employees miss work every day because of stress. Today Show: 5 Shocking Facts about Stress

The perplexing study from the APA

In a survey of 1,226 adults ages 18 and older, on a 10-point scale where 1 is little or no stress and 10 is high stress, the association’s Stress in America survey reported that during the past five years, average stress levels went from 6.2 in 2007 to 5.2 in 2011. The biggest drop was noted among Baby Boomers, who stated that healthy stress levels went from 4.5 in 2007 to 3.4 in 2011. Is the manageable stress movement starting to take root?

Secrets to managing stress

Activity: Teri L. Bourdeau is a professor at the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences. She said: “The survey findings may have to do with the increased engagement in physically challenging and engaging activities. There are many more programs being offered for people in the boomer and older age group — not surprising because of the higher numbers and longer lifespan.

“In addition, there are more people working later in life and thus are more engaged in activities that require cognitive engagement and socializing. It is well-known that good social supports aid in management of stress.”

Sex: Many researchers tell us that sex is great for stress reduction and that “sexercise” can even help transform a relationship. However, while men embrace sex when they are stressed, sometimes women find that stress inhibits sex. Dr. Richard Nicastro, whom I have interviewed, says: 

“While stress impacts people in different ways, couples usually report that intimacy and passion are profoundly compromised when stress reaches a certain level. And this makes sense for several reasons: When under stress, your body readies itself for danger.” "Passion, Sex, and Intimacy", Dr. Richard Nicastro’s E-Workbook, is at Relationship Advice | Marriage Help.

Several years ago an interesting study was reported in the Daily Princetonian with an amusing comment: “A new study by University researchers suggests something that college students have known for decades: Sexual activity may lower stress.” Sex may reduce stress, study shows.

Laughter: Although the top stressors remain unchanged — money, work, relationships and health — people appear to be better adapting to the status quo.  And I would like to believe all those alternative medicine studies that say stress can be mitigated with laughter. Look what the Deccan Herald had to say just two days ago about the Laughter show, a stress buster for cops.

Always aiming to practice what I preach, I rely on The New Yorker and Donna Barstow for a good laugh. For anyone who believes that stress is turning their hair grey, this one will give you a smile: If You Believe in Fairies, You're Not Alone.

Meditation: One of the positive benefits of meditation is that even with just 5 or 10 minutes of meditation, its relaxing effects continue.  MayoClinic.com notes:Meditation is an umbrella term for the many ways to a relaxed state of being. There are many types of meditation and relaxation techniques that have meditation components. All share the same goal of achieving inner peace.” Meditation: Take a stress-reduction break wherever you are.

Stress, gratitude, the economy, and medical help

With the economy, which continues to be a major stressor, worry often results in anger, blame, depression and lack of sleep. William Hurt Sledge, MD, professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, talked to me about attitude change: “Some people reach out to each other and actually become more generative and generous, bringing a sense that whatever awful things happen, they will endure with the good that they have.”

In terms of work and personal relationships, the easiest solution is one that most people shy away from — talking to each other in a “let’s find a solution to this” manner.

Nonetheless, if you find yourself at the “blood boiling point,” ask your physician about medication and stress-management techniques. It was often believed that managing stress meant either changing the situation or changing one’s response to it. At a time when changing the situation is difficult to impossible, a new mantra has appeared on the scene — “I’m stressed.  Aren’t we all?”

Sitting Around Screaming artist is: James Rosenquist

Copyright 2012 Rita Watson/ All Rights Reserved/  on Twitter @ LoveColumnist

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The Right Amount of Stress