April is Stress Awarerness Month, and the recent annual report from the American Psychological Association on stress in America shows that 74 percent of adults say they have experienced at least one symptom of stress in the past month. Almost half of Americans, or 45 percent say they lay awake at night due to stress. The study shows that as a result of stress, 37 percent overeat or splurge on unhealthy food due to stress.
In their new book, Burnout: The Secret To Unblocking The Stress Cycle, authors and twin sisters Emily Nagoski PhD and Amelia Nagoski DMA, dive into and focus on the many stressors that so many women experience at work, home, life and in relationships.
Of course, some stress is outside of your control—events, disasters, economic upheaval, family deaths or illness– but you can manage stress of your own creation.
In the United Kingdom, where Stress Awareness Month is also observed, one of the 10 precursors to stress is listed as “being enslaved to technology.”
For instance, if you are alone at home, at a meeting or eating dinner with friends, you probably check your smart phone several times in an hour. These practices and habits can impact your health.
Recent research from Nielsen Co. shows the average American adult spends 11 hours per day interacting with their screens, whether that is a phone, laptop or other media.
A 2016 study and the first to delve into social media use and mental health, from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine published in the journal Depression and Anxiety, found a direct correlation with time young adults use social media and an increased likelihood for depression.
Texting and driving can literally impact your life as The National Safety Council reports that cell phone use while driving led to 634,000 non-fatal crashes in 2016.
As a Nurse Practitioner for the last 40 years, I listen to many patients who inform me that perhaps because of stress they are awake too much, sit too much or eat too much. While instncitvely they may know that these behaviors are unhealthy, they report they have trouble changing the behaviors.
These same patients usually offer a list of reasons why they cannot change anything.
“What about five minutes of silence a day?” I suggest.
After some laughter and shoulder shrugging, some are ready to leave the office.
For those who sit and listen, I offer simple suggestions. First, I tell them to stop what they are doing, put away all electronics and take deep breaths.
Research over the past several years demonstrates that silence has been found to stimulate brain growth, reduce stress, allow you to sleep better, reduces heart disease, increases your awareness and provides more opportunity to solve problems.
I instruct patents to start with two minutes of being quiet, with no media input and no talking. During the two minutes the tendency is to keep your mind ablaze with problem-solving. When this happens, repeat a work or a phrase that you find comforting such as “breathe deeply,” “peace,” “surrender” or any calming word.
I tell patients to set a timer so there is no need to look at the clock, and to practice this two to three times a day, keeping eyes open or closed.
After three to five days, they can increase the quiet time to five minutes several times a day. The goal is to get to at least 10 minutes twice a day. Many find this technique useful, even in the most stressful situations.
A recent study in Neurology shows that high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, affect memory and are linked to shrinkage in the brain in otherwise healthy middle aged adults.
For those who are addressing the need to control stress in April and throughout the rest of the year, perhaps we can observe not just one but several moments of silence. Of course this will not eliminate all the stressors in your life—as so many are out of our control—but it’s a quiet start.
Ingrid Forsberg, DNP, FNP-BC is an assistant professor and clinical faculty in the family nurse practitioner program at Rush University College of Nursing, Chicago. She is a Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project.