What did 2012 teach us about stress management?

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A study on stress management conducted at the University of Montreal showed that women produce more stress hormones than men when they read or view negative news stories.

Stress management – or rather lack of – is linked somehow to most health reports in this country.

In fact, findings from the 2012 Stress in America™ survey revealed that, as it happens year after year, people in the United States suffer from high levels of stress.

Symptoms of poor stress management include moodiness and irritability, feeling overwhelmed, under-appreciated, exhausted, and lacking in loving relationships. In turn, these lead many people to smoking, trouble sleeping, overeating or under eating and lack of physical activity. As The American Psychological Association reminded us, “there is a strong link between stress and overall health.”

Indeed, lack of stress management leads to serious issues, and leaves us more vulnerable to chronic diseases, panic attacks and depression.

During 2012, we learnt how stress management can make a difference in our health and wellness. Exercise, an alkaline diet full of natural nutrients, avoiding permanent exposure to bad news or cultivating empathy are effective tools that have to become an essential part of our routines in order to reduce stress and keep us healthy.

Top stress-related health news of 2012

Women are more sensitive to bad news

A study conducted at the University of Montreal showed that women produce more stress hormones than men when they read or view negative news stories. To study the gender differences in stress management, the researchers recruited 60 men and women aged 18 to 35 to read news stories.

The results showed that although women’s stress levels didn’t rise after reading the negative news stories, they became more reactive to further stressful situations. Men’s cortisol levels were not affected, though.

Empathy may be the reason why women are naturally better at identifying threats not to them, but to their children. “They carry the emotional load longer than men, which could also influence their memory,” suggested lead author Marie-France Marin.

This study highlighted the importance of learning how to counteract the stressful effect of mass media in the digital age, encouraging women to learn how to disconnect from the constant flow of bad news.

Doctor’s empathy relieves patient’s pain and stress

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Empathy, rather than language skills, may be the key to reducing health disparities, say some experts. A doctor’s empathy is also key in stress management in patients. (Shutterstock photo)

Empathy, or the ability to understand and share the feelings of another individual, also proved to be a crucial asset for patients, because it can change the brain’s response to stress. Michigan State University conducted “the first study that has looked at the patient-centered relationship from a neurobiological point of view,” said lead researcher Issidoros Sarinopoulos.

The results indicated that patients who felt their doctor was more empathetic showed less pain response than those who were asked only technical questions prior to the procedure.

Doctor’s empathy has been proven particularly important in the health care industry when it comes to new immigrants and minority patients. A John Hopkin’s Children’s Center survey indicated empathy was more important to Hispanic parents than having a doctor who was proficient in Spanish. Another study published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal earlier this year confirmed this theory. Researchers found Latina mothers with limited English language skills were willing to look past language barriers if they felt their child’s medical staff was caring and empathetic, which helped them feel more confident and build trust.

Minority faculty reported higher levels of stress

Minority faculty report more financial work stress when compared to non-Hispanic white co-workers, indicated a study from the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California.

According to the report, 72.5 percent of non-Hispanic black teachers and 69.2 percent of Hispanic teachers indicated personal finances were the main source of work-life stress, compared to 64.7 percent of non-Hispanic white faculty.

When it comes to major sources of stress, both men and women surveyed indicated “lack of personal time” as an extensive source of work-related stress, and 40 percent of women compared to 20 percent of men felt there was an issue with subtle discrimination. Another source of stress included issues with child care, promotion processes and being a part of a dual career couple.

Faculty also reported dealing with stress related to students and discrimination, changes in work responsibilities, care of an elderly parent, children’s problems and job security. While women felt subtle discrimination significantly more than men in the survey, the break down by race/ethnicity also revealed disparities. Minority faculty reported experiencing more discrimination.

Most notably, 63.6 percent of black/African-American faculty reported subtle discrimination (e.g., prejudice, racism, sexism) as a source of stress,” wrote researchers. The next most prominent group to report subtle discrimination as a source of stress was Latina/o faculty (42.6 percent).

Stress and inactivity at workAn explosive cocktail 

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Stress management at work is essential. Three out of four workers said their jobs are stressful, and one of those four considers their job the most stressful part of their life. Stress-related diseases and incidents cost businesses around the country approximately $300 billion annually.

More than 80 percent of Americans are employed in a position where there is little or no physical activity, stated an infographic from Compliance and Safety. More than 290,000,000 people in the nation do not reach the level of exercise needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle.  This inactivity has led to one in three Americans being classified as obese. Besides, sedentary people are twice as likely to die from heart diseases as those who are active while at work.

The other prominent health issue related to inactivity at work is stress. Three out of four workers said their jobs are stressful, and one of those four considers their job the most stressful part of their life. Stress-related diseases and incidents cost businesses around the country approximately $300 billion annually.

To prevent and reduce stress due to work conditions, Compliance and Safety recommended standing and stretching throughout the day, being active after work, washing hands frequently and sitting at a 135 degree angle while at work to reduce back stress.

Stress caused by unemployment may increase chances of heart attacks

After knowing that our jobs could be killing us, we also found out that unemployment could damage our heart, according to a study linking joblessness with heart attacks in older workers.

The researchers analyzed data on more than 13,000 men and women aged 51 to 75 taking part in an ongoing health and retirement survey partly sponsored by the National Institute on Aging. Since 1992, participants have been interviewed every two years about their employment and health. The conclusion of the study was that multiple job losses can be as dangerous as smoking, high blood pressure and other conditions that are bad for the heart.

The greatest risks for heart attacks were from being fired or laid off, said researcher Matthew Dupre, an assistant professor at Duke University and the lead author of the study. The stress of losing a job may trigger a heart attack in people with clogged arteries or heart disease.

 

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