By Jared Rogers Jared Rogers is an Exercise Physiologist & Personal Trainer at the Duke Center for Living at Fearrington.

Slow Down.

By Jared Rogers Posted August 2, 2013 at 5:25 am

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I do not handle stressors as well as I should.

There, I said it.

Those who know me well would dispute that statement, saying I am a calm and collected individual.  My grandfather once told me, “Never let them see you sweat.” Sound advice — which has certainly been internalized in my case. When it comes to stress management though, it becomes a façade. I may look collected on the exterior, but there are times when I let stress build up to levels that are damaging to both my mental and physical health.

I bet you don’t handle stressors well either.

A 2004 article in the academic journal Occupational Health presents the idea that information overload is the culprit explaining why mental health problems are just as prevalent, if not more prevalent, than physical health problems in society today. It makes sense, let us take a look:

When was the last time you took a leisurely stroll through the neighborhood, just to get some fresh air? When was the last time you sat watching the sun set over the horizon? When was the last time you sat in complete silence for even just a handful of minutes?

Please do not feel that I am calling you — the reader — out, for it has been far too long since I have participated in any such activity myself. Humans today are on the go. We have important things to do and important people to see (or so we tell ourselves). We work overtime, use electronics incessantly, stay out too late, and piece together our lives on a whim. Another way to say it: We skimp on sleep, get by with coffee, never turn our minds off, and never slow down. We are constantly stimulated, and have been socially conditioned to believe this is the way things should be.

I disagree.

In addition to information overload, I believe we have developed poor mental “nutritional” habits as well.  Think of mental nutrition similar to physical nutrition — you are what you eat. Put nutritious food into your body, health follows.  Put engineered food-like products into your body, things go downhill quickly.  The same can be said of our minds.  Do you fill your mind with positive thoughts? Do you listen to and read positive and thought provoking commentary and ideas? Do you surround yourself with uplifting individuals?

Unfortunately, this is not often the case. I will provide one prevalent example: the news.  The majorities of people I interact with on a daily basis are fairly up to date with, and watch, newscasts on television. Modern day newscasts are heavily threat-based, and this is what hooks us. Human beings are hard-wired to pay attention to threats in our environment; it is very pro-survival. Now it mainly creates a large quantity of negative stress in our lives. Let us not get started on commercials and advertisements.

A 2007 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine showed that watching a mere 15 minutes of a nationally broadcasted newscast increased levels of anxiety and perceived stress in individuals for up to an hour after watching.  Consider that many people watch or read the news multiple times each day.

Many studies have shown that these modern stressors we deal with have negative impacts on our health, both mentally and physically.  Humans who report high levels of perceived stress are more likely to suffer from depression & anxiety, get sick more often, have higher risks of metabolic diseases, and are more likely to abuse alcohol.  None of this sounds like fun to me.

I have presented to you quite the conundrum, but have not provided a solution.  The first step in managing stress comes from the awareness that is indeed a real problem for each and every one of us, and there are consequences for not handling it effectively.  I will discuss some ideas on how to effectively manage stressors in your life next time around, but for now I leave you with two simple challenges.

  1. Do not watch television for one 24 hour period. Take note of how you feel during that time.
  2. At some point in the next week, stop everything you are doing and take three deep breaths. Take note of how the breath feels, and how you feel afterwards.


Until next time I will do my best to slow down and relax. I hope you do the same.


References

1. Donkersly, T. An interview with Dr. Andrew Weil. 2012. http://www.greenlivingaz.com/?p=3027.

2. Hammen C, Kim E, Eberhart N, Brennan P. Chronic and acute stress and the prediction of major depression in women. Depression & Anxiety. 2009;26(8):718-723.

3. Holland E. Stress substantially slows human body’s ability to heal. Ohio State Research News. 2005. http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/wounheal.htm.

4. Info overload causes mental problems. Occupational Health. 2004;56(7):11.

5. Rod N, Grønbæk M, Schnohr P, Prescott E, Kristensen, T. Perceived stress as a risk factor for changes in health behaviour and cardiac risk profile: a longitudinal study. Journal of Internal Medicine. 2009;266(5):467-475.

6. Szabo A, Hopkinson K. Negative psychological effects of watching the news in the television: relaxation or another intervention may be needed to buffer them. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 2007;14(2):57-62.

Image via Deja Photo from Lens to Picture

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