Preventing Stress Through a Healthy Lifestyle

“Lifestyle” refers to personal behaviors and habits such as
exercise, eating habits, cigarette smoking, alcohol and drug
use, safety, and stress management. Experts say that a person’s
lifestyle helps him or her resist the negative effects of stress
and prevents stress from becoming a problem. You may want to
follow the Lifestyle Guidelines listed below to maintain your
health and prevent stress:

  • Avoid
    cigarettes. Cigarette smoking is the single most important
    preventable cause of illness and early death. The effects
    of smoking can be reversed.
  • Exercise
    regularly. Regular exercise helps people of all ages look
    and feel better. Different kinds of exercise provide specific
    health benefits.
  • Eat
    sensibly. A nutritious diet is essential for maintaining
    good health and proper weight.
  • If
    you drink, drink only in moderation. Alcohol is frequently
    used to reduce stress because it has a relaxing effect.
    Regular, heavy use of alcohol leads to disease. Drinking
    and driving often leads to fatal or crippling accidents.
  • Use
    care in taking drugs. Although drugs may provide temporary
    relief from stress symptoms, they may not solve ongoing
    problems and tensions. Excessive or continued use of either
    prescription or illegal drugs may cause physical and mental
    problems.
  • Be
    safety-conscious. Living safely at home, work, and on the
    road prevents accidents and injuries.
  • Learn
    to manage stress. Stress is a normal part of living. Three
    major steps to keep daily stress from becoming a problem:
    take time to relax, talk with a friend, and learn to keep
    a positive outlook.

Have you ever noticed that, while one person sees a situation
as a problem, another views it as a challenge? Research shows
that adults who are optimistic maintain higher levels of mental
and physical health than those who are more negative. There
seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy at work: When a person
sees a stressor as a problem or crisis it is likely to become
a crisis because he or she feels unable to cope. But when a
person sees an event as something that can be managed, he or
she is likely to act quickly to solve a problem before it exhausts
her or his energy. In other words, how people perceive the situation
influences how they react.

It is
not clear what enables some people to “see a glass half full”
while others “see it half empty.” Outlook may be affected
by the person’s sense of autonomy and control–feeling independent
and in control of daily life. People who feel in control are
more likely to believe they can handle a situation and are
able to prevent it from becoming stressful. People who look
at a situation as something that can be handled are confident
that it will be resolved and takes steps to confront or solve
the problem; this may prevent the situation from becoming
worse.

Although
it is important to maintain autonomy and control, it may also
be important to recognize when situations cannot be controlled.
This avoids increased frustration and tension. When a solution
is out of reach, the most effective coping strategy may be
to change your outlook by “letting go,” rather than by forcing
a solution. Relaxation exercises help in releasing tension.

Another
option is to reframe the situation, that is, to look at it
in a different, more positive light. This technique often
helps a person to accept and to feel better about the situation.

To reframe
a situation means to look at what is happening with a different,
more positive attitude. When individuals and families keep
a positive outlook they can stand up to stress more easily.
Some examples of how you can reframe certain situations appear
in Table 1. Add your own examples at the end of the list.

Table 1. Reframing
NEGATIVE OUTLOOK POSITIVE REFRAME
stubborn determined
stingy thrifty
bossy a leader
loud uninhibited
shy quiet
picky attends to details
won’t follow rules creative/innovative
talks too much outgoing

There
are times when reframing doesn’t fit the situation. There
are also times when it seems almost impossible to feel positive.
You may not be able to change the situation or even to look
at in a positive light, but it may be helpful to take walks
outdoors and to try to appreciate the enjoyable aspects of
life. Sometimes taking stock of personal and family strengths
and assets helps us to appreciate the positive.

  • Make
    a list of the things you enjoy about your life.
  • With
    your family, discuss the things you enjoy about being together,
    and the things you like about each other.
  • Talk
    about the things you and your family are looking forward
    to in the future–events, activities, celebrations. Explore
    ways you can continue to show your appreciation for your
    individual and family strengths.

Relaxation exercises are effective techniques for reducing stress.
These exercises help you to feel less tense and more relaxed.
The result is a greater sense of physical and emotional well-being.
A brief relaxation activity requires 60 to 90 seconds, so it
can be done easily and quickly on the job, in the car, or in
a few minutes of free time at home.

Step
1. Assume a passive and comfortable position. Although sitting
may be most conducive to relaxation, you can do these exercises
while standing, riding in a car, lying down, or as you prepare
for an anticipated stressful event.
Step
2. Practice one or more of the following activities several
times each day. This will help keep you calm, and will reduce
tension when it occurs.

  • Deep
    breathing:
    Exhale slowly, and tell all your muscles
    to relax. Say as you exhale, “I feel tension and energy
    flowing out of my body”. Repeat the above exercise five
    or six times and you’ll become more relaxed.
  • Whole
    body tension:
    Tense every muscle in your body, stay
    with that tension, and hold it as long as you can without
    feeling any pain. Slowly release the tension and very gradually
    feel it leave your body. Repeat three times. Notice how
    your feelings change.
  • Shoulder
    shrugs and head rolls:
    Try to raise your shoulders up
    to your ears. Hold for the count of four, then drop your
    shoulders back to normal position. Rotate your head and
    neck. Vary this by rotating your shoulders up and down,
    and head and neck around–first one way, then the other,
    then both at the same time.
  • Imagine
    air as a cloud:
    Open your imagination and focus on your
    breathing. As your breathing becomes calm and regular, imagine
    that the air comes to you as a cloud–it fills you and goes
    out. Notice that your breathing becomes regular as you relax.

Some
relaxation exercises work better for some people than others.
Practice whatever exercises seem to fit you best. (These exercises
were adapted from Stress and How to Live With It. Cheryl
Tevis, Ed Meredith Corp. 1982.)

Publication #: HE-2090


1.
This document, Fact Sheet
was published 11/91, Florida Cooperative Extension Service.
For more information, contact your county Cooperative Extension
Service office.

2. Suzanna Smith, Assistant
Professor, Human Development, Home Economics Department;
and Joe Pergola, Multi-County Family Life and Child Development
Specialist, Hillsborough County Extension Office, respectively,
Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food
and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), University of Florida,
Gainesville, Florida.

Disclaimer and Reproduction Information: Information in
NASD does not represent NIOSH policy. Information included in
NASD appears by permission of the author and/or copyright holder.
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