Living 50 Plus

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Healthy habits to combat stress

Stress has an immediate and potentially long-term effect on the human body. Though it's a natural response to both good and bad experiences, stress, when chronic, can produce a host of negative consequences that greatly diminish one's quality of life.

Combatting stress can sometimes be difficult, as the causes of stress are never too far away for many adults. In its 2015 "Stress in AmericaTM: Paying With Our Health" survey, the American Psychological Association found that money is the top cause of stress for Americans. The survey was conducted on behalf of the APA by Harris Poll, which asked more than 3,000 participants about their issues with stress. Sixty-four percent said money was a somewhat or very significant source of stress, and that number was even higher for parents (77 percent). Survey respondents also noted that work is a significant source of stress.

Few adults can imagine a life that does not include financial- or work-related stress. But there are ways to combat stress that can benefit people's long-term health and improve their present-day quality of life.

• Develop a support network. Speaking about problems with trusted friends and family members can be an effective way to combat stress. The APA study found that participants who reported having an emotional support network reported lower stress levels than those who had no such networks to rely on. Try to overcome any reticence you might have about speaking about your stress to a close friend or trusted relative on those days when stress seems overwhelming.

• Get more exercise. Routine exercise is another healthy way to combat stress. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, studies have shown that exercise can reduce fatigue, improve alertness and concentration and enhance overall cognitive function. Those are considerable benefits to people dealing with elevated levels of stress, which can contribute to both physical and mental fatigue and negatively impact one's ability to concentrate. Studies also have shown that regular exercise can decrease tension, which tends to increase as stress levels rise, and elevate and help to stabilize mood, which often decreases as stress levels increase.

• Don't lean on alcohol after stressful days. Many people respond to stressful days by consuming alcohol. While alcohol helps some people forget a stressful day, it also produces psychological and physiological side effects that can compound the effects of the very stress drinkers are looking to relieve. People who drink to alleviate stress may only be doing more harm with each drink, so find a way to cope with stress that has a more positive impact on both your body and mind than that produced by alcohol.

• Breathe deeply. The American Institute of Stress notes that focused breathing is a relaxation response that stimulates the nervous system and promotes a sense of calmness. Deep breathing can combat stress, lower blood pressure and draw your attention away from those things that are causing your stress. Visit www.stress.org to learn about deep breathing exercises.

Stress if a fact of life for many people. But while stress may be inevitable, it can be overcome.