Stress is a natural and unavoidable human experience that can be helpful and protective in certain instances. But according to the American Psychological Association, stress becomes unhealthy when it is chronic and there is no possibility or chance for recovery.

Long-term activation of the body’s stress-response system (the physical and emotional sensations that rise up inside each of us when confronted with a threat or stressor) and the overexposure to stress hormones can disrupt just about all body processes. Some of the common psychological and medical symptoms of chronic, unmanaged stress include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive disorders
  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated heart and respiration rates
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep disruptions
  • Weight gain
  • Memory and concentration impairment
     

Studies show regular engagement in relaxation techniques can help to attenuate the majority of these symptoms, but equally important, it can help restore energy, instill a sense of calmness, increase confidence and improve productivity, resiliency, and coping abilities.

Unfortunately, knowledge is not enough. For many busy people, relaxation still seems counterintuitive, likely because it remains at odds with cultural and workplace norms and stigmas.  But the norms of working long hours, taking little vacation time, shunning family leave opportunities and skipping or eating meals at our desk appear to have caught up with Americans.  Productivity levels continue to decline as presenteeism and burnout rates are at an all-time high—attested in a recent Gallup report indicating 76% of American workers are experiencing burnout to various extents. 

A growing body of evidence ranks relaxation high among the key health habits to incorporate into everyday life, while other studies have shown that taking regular breaks helps us increase creativity, regain our focus, and retain information. Still, self-care and relaxation, which are inherent and embedded in other cultures but feel like a guilty pleasures to Americans, tend to fall by the wayside until there’s a health crisis or we learn to prioritize and schedule it into our daily routine.  We can’t wait for American culture to catch up with science and shift away from these puzzling, counterproductive norms.  Instead, individuals need to shift and be the change. We also must teach our children effective techniques and the importance of self-care and balance beginning at an early age. Children, too, are heavily impacted by increasing stress levels and symptoms that result.

If you are shaking your head in agreement and understanding, make a pledge to celebrate Relaxation Day this year by carving out time each day to de-stress.  While there are many proven stress management techniques such as yoga, meditation, tai chi, Qigong, biofeedback or aromatherapy to explore—don’t overlook other known stress busters such as regularly scheduling time with friends, hot baths, massage, music, artistic creations, exercising, taking up a hobby, spending time in nature and of course planning a good ole vacation from time to time. Experiment and find the various methods and practices that resonate and rejuvenate you and your family.  

By assembling a toolbox of techniques, you can learn to regulate the stress response at the first signs of arousal-- ultimately preventing stress from spiraling out of control and making you sick.  

Relax. Rejuvenate. Restore. Repeat.
 

References
American Psychological Association
Mayo Clinic

 

These materials are provided to you by Blythedale Children’s Hospital and Kohl’s
Eat Well, Be Well Nutrition Outreach Program.
For more tips and information, please visit eat Eat Well, Be Well.

Kohl's Eat Well, Be Well Program

Blythedale Children's Hospital, through the generosity of Kohl’s Department Stores, is proud to offer Blythedale and Kohl's Eat Well, Be Well, an innovative outreach program designed to bring health and nutrition education to schools throughout Westchester and Putnam counties. Through this program, Blythedale staff members teach healthy eating habits to children by providing curricula, training and educational tools to school districts throughout the area. The program provides general nutrition guidelines to students, parents and school faculty. Blythedale Children's Hospital offers experts in nutrition and health-education to speak with local parenting groups, PTAs and school personnel.

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