SATURDAY, July 11, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Recessions are bad for the stress level, as many in the midst of the current economic situation know and surveys prove.
Perhaps not surprisingly, nearly half of the 1,791 adults polled for the American Psychological Association's latest Stress in America survey said that their stress had increased in the past year. As a result, more than half reported fatigue, 60 percent said they were irritable or angry, and more than half said they lie awake at night because of stress.
Other researchers have found that stress adds years to a person's life but that those who cope with it effectively have higher levels of what's known as "good" cholesterol.
But for those who say it's impossible to cope because of a lost job, a retirement account that's virtually disappeared and a house that's plummeted in value, consider the advice of two veteran stress-reduction experts.
Dr. Paul J. Rosch is president of the American Institute of Stress and a clinical professor of medicine and psychiatry at New York Medical College. Deborah Rozman is a research psychologist and chief executive of Quantum Intech, the parent company of the HeartMath Institute in Boulder Creek, Calif., which conducts research on stress management.
As coping strategies, they advise people to:
Volunteer. This might sound counterproductive or even crazy: If you're worried about your job or already laid off, shouldn't you be looking for another? But Rozman insists it's a great strategy.
"Volunteering actually opens you up to possibilities," she said. Volunteering most anywhere -- at the church picnic, the local 5K run, the food bank -- can help get your mind off your problems, she said. It also will "reopen the heart," she said, "because the heart gets shut down when you worry."
Practice appreciation and gratitude. This isn't as difficult as it might sound, Rozman said. "If you still have a job, appreciate that," she said. Just like volunteering, this "helps the heart stay open." And she believes it will also help you reconnect with feelings of hope.
Follow traditional de-stress advice, but tweak it. To de-stress, people are supposed to exercise, eat right, find a way to calm down. But it's crucial to find the technique or techniques that work for you, Rosch said.
"You have to find out what works for you so that you will practice and adhere to it because it relieves tension and makes you feel better," he said. "Jogging, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga and listening to music are great for some but dull, boring and stressful when arbitrarily imposed on others."
Decrease the drama in your life. Rozman said that it's typical for people who've been laid off or fear losing their jobs to sit around and complain. But that only adds to the stress and drama, she said.
"Drama is when we amp up anger, anxiety or fear," she said. So if you find yourself in the midst of a woe-is-me conversation, she said, don't add to it by complaining more. Rather, try to change the subject or the tone. She suggests talking about how to improve things, not how bad things are.
Ration your news diet. The news can be full of bad economic tidings, 24/7. So limit your viewing, Rozman suggested. Decide what amount you can watch and still keep a balance between being informed and being dragged down.
Stop the comparisons. "Don't compare the present with the past," Rozman said. It's natural but depressing. Instead, give yourself time to heal after a job loss or other major setback and then move on.
And rather than thinking, "I've lost my nest egg," try: "Here's what I'll do to get it back," she said.
"It's about shifting focus to something that doesn't bring you down," Rozman added.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on managing stress.