We have a Prolonged Stress Problem, The Latest American Stress Snapshot Shows
The latest Stress Snapshot conducted by Harris Poll, for American Psychological Association has some important revelations for us that we can no longer ignore, for the sake of our own wellbeing and that of people around us. According to the survey, about 85% of American adults feel the country has serious societal issues to deal with. About 84% of Americans reported experiencing at least one of the emotions related to prolonged stress, most common being feelings such as anxiety (47%), sadness (44%), and anger (39%). 2 in 3 adults felt overwhelmed. The three major sources of prolonged stress have been worry about ‘future of the country (81%), the coronavirus pandemic (80%), and political unrest around the country (74%)’. CDC in a release put out in January this year, shares some effective and science-backed ways to cope with the stress that has resulted from the social flux made worse by the rising COVID-19 cases and isolation.
Here’s the peculiar irony of our times. Norms that we need to follow in order to beat the coronavirus have had a fallout in terms of our mental health. Social distancing, staying out of public places, and get-togethers have had an isolating effect, making us lonelier, confused, and helpless. The result has been that people have been experiencing growing stress, animosity, and experiencing difficult emotions that have really found no outlet. Learning ways to cope with this stress in a healthy and productive manner is important for building resilience in ourselves and that of our loved ones.
How does stress show up?Some common signals of elevated stress, according to CDC, are:
- Emotions like worry, sadness, numbness, anger, or frustration.
- shift in appetite, energy levels, desires, and interests.
- Having a hard time focus and make decisions
- Sleep issues, nightmares
- Headaches, body ache, digestive problems and skin problems
- Chronic health issues like elevated blood pressure, sugar levels, heart problems
- Increased use of substances including drugs, tobacco or alcohol.
Tools to cope with stress in a healthy manner
Let us talk about some of the ways CDC recommends handling the excesses caused by the accumulation of stress in the system.
1. Taking a break from the news cycle
Information overload is a common trigger for stress and now CDC experts recommend taking frequent breaks from the news cycle and avoid overexposure to news information coming in from television or social media. This can be done by limiting screen time and frequency with which we access social and other media.
2. Taking care of our body
CDC also shares it is important to take care of our physical health, in order to stay mentally healthy. Take a break from activities that cause you to worry and stress more and instead, invest your time in activities that help you release this stress that has built up in your system. For a start, give yourself a nice Abhyanga, which is an Ayurvedic full body massage that uses warm, aromatic herbal oils crafted especially to help the benefits of the selected herbs reach tissues deep below the epidermal layer to give you total relaxation, lightness, and stress-relief. Abhyanga therapy helps loosen ama or toxins that build in the body due to exposure to pollutants and a lifestyle that is not aligned with food and practices that favor our body type. It also relaxes the nervous system and provides rest, nourishment, and rejuvenation. It improves blood circulation, tones, and moisturizes skin, works up the lymph system, and calms the mind and nervous system. Here’s everything you need to know about Abhyanga. Shankara’s Calming Body Oil is an effective choice of oil for getting the total benefit of the massage. Rich in nutrients, antioxidants, and moisturizing ingredients, the oil is filled with essential oils like vetiver, dashamoola, borage, sesame oil, oils of macadamia nuts, almond, avocado, hempseed, sandalwood, evening primrose, that help soothe emotions and relax the body and mind.
3. Deep diaphragmatic breathing practices
CDC recommends deep breathing, stretching, and meditation as key ways to cope with stress. But how does breathing help reduce stress?
A study by Italian researchers has shown that practices that involve deep breathing help in improving your moods as well as in reducing stress, which was found both through self-reporting as well as physical examination of heart rate and cortisol levels.
A particular technique that has found to be effective by experts in helping reduce cortisol (a stress hormone) levels by 56.6% with just two weeks of practice is the Sudarshan Kriya Yoga, a rhythmic powerful breathing practice taught as part of The Art of Living programs. The technique helps
- increase mental focus
- heighten your awareness
- improve the quality of sleep by increasing time spent in deep sleep
- reduce biochemical markers of stress including cortisol, corticotrophin, blood lactate, ACTH, and plasma malondialdehyde.
4. Have a healthy, well-balanced diet
If one of your major causes of concern is the rising coronavirus caseload, then it is important for you to know the importance of building strong immunity in order to fight off the virus. An important way this can be done is by having an antioxidant-rich diet. Having a healthy diet helps reduce the drastic effect of stress on the body. Healthy meals improve our immune defense by making sure inflammation is low and oxidative stress is minimized. It can also help us counter weight gain which is a common fallout of chronic stress.
5. Some of the other ways CDC suggests for dealing with stress include:
- Getting regular exercise
- Getting good sleep (Also read: 6 Quick Ayurvedic Tips To Sleep Well)
- Avoid excessive use of alcohol, tobacco, and other substances.
- Continue taking regular preventive measures (like vaccinations, cancer screenings, etc.) as recommended by healthcare providers.
- Connect with friends and ‘talk with people’.
- Connect virtually with community- or faith-based organizations of your choice. You can also join chanting events that will bring you a sea of calm. According to the latest research, activities like chanting and meditation help activate the vagus nerve, also called the wellness nerve. The vagus (meaning wanderer) nerve is responsible for the mind-body connection and it is linked to all the major body organs- the brain, gut, heart, liver, pancreas, kidney, spleen, lungs, reproductive organs, and even the tongue. The vagus nerve can help you deal with the physiology of depression and anxiety in the brain; helps regulate digestive secretion; have a say in heart rate variability; control blood glucose balance, bile production, kidney function, fertility in women, taste, and saliva; and bring about a sense of connectedness, mental and physical well-being, and even altruistic behavior!
To make sense of how deeply the pandemic has impacted our mental health, what have been our learnings and what we can do as individuals, as communities and nations, to get back to normalcy in every which way, the World Forum for Ethics in Business is organizing a summit on 'Changing Paradigm in the Pandemic World', one of the largest global conferences this year, with 2 million attendees, 120 speakers, including spiritual master and founder of The International Association for Human Values, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar; Director-General, World Health Organization, Hon. Dr. Tedros Adhonam Ghebreyesus, from 95 countries, to find the answers to what lies ahead.