Stress Management – The Bright Side

As we come closer to the end of this semester, we reflect on what we have learned throughout it. We know that stress affects our health negatively in a variety of ways and we know that many of us are experience stressors on a daily basis.  What we learn from the readings assigned this week is that we can always find healthy ways to cope with the stress we face in our everyday lives and reveres the negative effects of stress.

In his chapter, Sapolsky begins by telling us there is hope. Sapolsky discusses many stress reduction techniques, including exercise. Exercising is, of course, great for your body, through a variety of ways. We know that it decreases our chance of getting cardiovascular diseases, on top of that it generally makes us feel good about ourselves, putting us in a positive mood. I can definitely speak to this statement. During my first year of graduate school, I would much rather be working for an hour than go to the gym for an hour.  By the end of the year, I had gained a weight and also just felt horrible about myself. Sure I did great in my classes and learned so much in a year, but I begin to realize I shouldn’t just be improving my mind, but my body as well.  I had been doing my body an injustice by ignoring it for so long. So starting this semester, I decided to begin working out 3-5 times a week for one hour. Now, after two months of following this routine (not perfectly, I’ll admit, but I do workout every week!), I can say I feel much better about myself. Additionally, I feel less stressed than last year and can’t imagine skipping a whole week of working out. Not only does Sapolsky suggest exercise decreases stress and increases our mood, but there are many studies to back up his claim. For example, a study conducted by Von Haaren and colleagues (2015) examined if a 20-week aerobic exercise intervention (AET) can be used as a preventative measure to improve emotional stress reactivity during finals for previously inactive students. The study was designed to have inactive students assigned to either a waitlist or AET group. Pre-intervention baseline was taken at the beginning of the semester and every two days students reported their perceived stress. Lastly, a post-intervention assessment was tested during final exam period. The researchers found AET was beneficial on emotional stress reactivity, thus AET could be a strategy used to prevent the negative health outcomes of extreme stress for students (Von Haaren, et al., 2015).

On top of working out, another popular way of reducing stress is through mindfulness. Something that I personally have never done, mindfulness is meant to have the individual pay attention to themselves in a way that allows them to be in the present moment, without judgment. While therapists have used mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy and stress reduction (MBCT/MBSR), little research has been focused on understanding whether mindfulness can be used for individuals with comorbid physical and psychological disorders. A recent review conducted by Alsubaie and colleagues (2017) sought to answer this question. Their review revealed that not enough research has been conducted to understand the mechanisms of change with MCBT/MBSR in those with physical conditions, such as chronic pain, compared to psychological conditions such as anxiety or depression. However, in regard to psychological conditions, MBCT/MBSR seem to have a mediating effect. This study highlights the need for more research on the topic of physical conditions (Alsubaie, et al., 2017).

Additionally, we learn that a change in behavior can help us cope with stressors. A study conducted by Evers and colleagues (2006) found that individualized transtheoretical model (TTM) – tailored interventions that were meant to increase stress management skills worked such that those in the treatment group who completed the study had significantly increased their stress-management skills and were able to significantly reduce stress more than the control group (Evers et al., 2006). Thus, we see that TTM-tailored interventions have been shown to be successful.

Thankfully, all this research has been conducted for us and has provided us some idea of how to successfully manage stress, or prevent the negative health outcomes from it. I’ve taken one step in reducing my stress by using exercise, but I am becoming more and more intrigued by mindfulness training and hope to learn the practice one day.

 

1 Comment

  1. Great post Ceci! I can definitely relate to the struggle of getting myself to exercise when I am overwhelmed with stress and feel like I just don’t have the time to. The funny this is just taking 30 minutes to workout will make us feel much better, but somehow it is hard to remember this in the midst of the chaos. I’m glad you pointed out the multifaceted benefits that exercise has on not only physiological, but psychological stress response. Since it elicits a wide variety of effects, from improving mood and self-esteem, to reducing basal cortisol levels, sometimes it makes it hard to study specific effects of exercise in isolation. Alternatively, as Sapolsky (2004) points out we can also consider exercise to be a stressor when performed at high intensities, or for prolonged duration. In my research we often examine exercise from both angles, as a stressor and a stress reliever!

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