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April 8, 2009 > Keep Your Cool During These Tough Economic Times

Keep Your Cool During These Tough Economic Times

Learn Tips for Managing Stress and Reducing Anxiety

Everyday there seems to be more bad news about the economic crisis. Unemployment is in the double digits, people are losing their homes and lifesavings, stores are going out of business, and toxic debt is wreaking havoc on our financial institutions. On top of all that, it's tax time. It seems there is plenty to be stressed and anxious about.

"I'm seeing a lot more patients who are suffering from work-related stress," said Dr. Steven Curran, a family practice physician and medical director at WTMG/Newark and WTMG/Warm Springs. "People are in fear of losing their jobs or their retirement savings and it's having an impact on their health. Stress can weaken the immune system, interfere with sleep, and basically zap your energy."

Everybody reacts differently to stress, but some common symptoms include headaches, muscle tension, chest pains, sleeplessness, fatigue, appetite changes, more frequent colds, memory loss or forgetfulness, lack of concentration, irritability and anxiety.

According to Curran, it's important to pay attention to the signs and listen to what your body is telling you. By noticing how you respond to stress, you can manage it better and in healthier ways, and prevent chronic, long-term health problems later.

"Stress usually comes from a real or perceived loss of control," he said. "Often there is nothing we can do about the situation causing us stress, but we can control how we react to it. Having a good attitude, engaging in activities that calm you down, and taking good care yourself are all keys to managing stress."

If you are feeling stressed by all the bad economic news, you aren't alone. Last fall, the American Psychological Association released data from a survey that showed eight in 10 Americans say the economy is a significant source of stress. The association recommended the following advice:

Gain some control by making a plan. Evaluate your own financial situation and consider ways you can reduce expenses or manage your finances more efficiently. Find out if there are additional classes or training available that can help you improve your career options or increase your earning power. If you are having trouble paying your bills, reach out to your creditors and see if there are more workable payment plans.

Dr. Curran adds that it is important to recognize most of what happens due to the economy is out of your control. He provides the following tips for managing the stress you may be feeling:

Try to relax. Some effective relaxation techniques include deep-breathing exercises, meditation and yoga. These techniques counter the "fight or flight" response that stress causes and instead bring your system back into balance, reducing stress hormones, slowing down your heart rate and blood pressure, and relaxing your muscles. Set aside a specific time each day for relaxation and make it part of your routine.

Exercise Regularly. Physical activity can also decrease the production of stress hormones and counteract your body's natural response to stress. Exercise makes you feel better because it increases the production of endorphins, the brain's feel-good neurotransmitters. After a good workout, the day's irritations and worries often seem to melt away. Regular physical activity can also boost self-confidence, so you feel more empowered to take on life's hurdles.

Eat right and get plenty of sleep. Avoid the temptation to overindulge on comfort foods as a way to feel better. Instead, make sure you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats, while avoiding foods that are high in fat and sugar. Get at least seven or eight hours of sleep each night so you feel rested in the morning.

Add balance to your life. Make time for the people and activities you enjoy. Schedule quality time with family and friends and take part in social events.

"Sometimes during stressful times, people don't make their emotional and physical health a priority, and they may even forgo health care," Curran said. "But taking good care of yourself is critical for avoiding costly health problems later."

Washington Hospital offers a number of free classes and seminars that can help you stay on top of your health. For more information, visit www.whhs.com.

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