More strategies to manage stress
This blog examines the role of regular exercise and other interventions in stress management.
Regular physical exercise
Regular physical activity plays an important role in reducing and attenuating the stress response and thus the chronic effects of stress. Regular exercise has indeed been shown to exhibit a marked stress-busting effect, comparable to the effect of medications. Exercise training has also shown to increase the synthesis of new nerve cells in the adult brain.
Whilst endurance type exercise has been the focus of most exercise training studies, the effects of muscle strength and endurance on the chronic stress response is also important. Regular practice of yoga has shown clear benefit in stress reduction. Martial arts have also been well researched. The majority of studies on Tai Chi have focused on health and well being of older Tai Chi participants. The results of these studies indicate that Tai Chi may lead to improved balance, reduced fear of falling, increased strength, increased functional mobility, greater flexibility, and increased psychological well-being, sleep enhancement for sleep disturbed elderly individuals, and increased cardiovascular functioning.
Current guidelines for exercise interventions for optimal health and prevention of chronic disease include the accumulation of 150 minutes of moderate intensity (brisk walking) aerobic type exercise a week. Two sessions of resistance training (in the form of elastic band or circuit weight training); 8-10 exercises of 8-12 repetitions each are also recommended.
Biofeedback is a method of stress management that uses monitors to feed back to patients about their body’s own physiological information of which they are usually unaware. By watching the monitor, patients can learn by practicing certain techniques to adjust their thinking and other mental processes in order to control “involuntary” bodily processes such as blood pressure, heart rate, heart rate variability, temperature, muscle activity, gastrointestinal functioning, and brain wave activity. Examples of biofeedback equipment useful for stress reduction and available in South Africa include, Heart Math, Journey to Wild Divine, Healing Rhythms and the Stress Eraser.
Meditation is defined as a specific technique involving self-induced regulation of attention, towards the present moment. The various techniques of meditation can be classified according to their focus. Some techniques focus on the field or background perception and experience, also called mindfulness based meditation whilst other techniques focus on a pre-selected specific object of attention, and are called concentrative meditation. There are also techniques that shift between the field and the object.
Mindfulness based meditation, involves the meditator sitting comfortably and silently, centering attention by focusing awareness on an object or process (the breath, a sound, visualization or a mantra). The meditator is usually encouraged to maintain an open focus.
Concentration meditation is used in most religions and spiritual practices where the meditator holds attention on a particular object e.g., a repetitive prayer. In some traditions, such as Vipasana mindfulness and concentration are combined. Meditation can also be practiced while walking or doing simple repetitive tasks.
Other interventions have also shown to be effective in stress reduction includes laughter and laughter based yoga, faith based practices and pet-ownership. In addition to the techniques mentioned above it is important that patients are given generalized lifestyle advice regarding stress reduction which would include:
- Obtain sufficient quality and quantity of sleep
- Develop a support system and share feelings with family, friends or a counselor.
- Eat a well balanced, nutritious diet
- Reduce caffeine and sugar intake
- Engage in nurturing therapies e.g. massage, reiki, reflexology, aromatherapy, music therapy
- Don’t self-medicate with alcohol or drugs