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Mind and Body

National Stress Awareness Month: Stress-relief after tragedy

National Stress Awareness Month is ending next week, but sadly most peoples’ stress won’t end with the month of April. Many people are still reeling from the bombing and shooting events in Boston as well, which only increases everyday stress. Experts share some tips on how to keep your stress levels at a minimum despite the recent events.

Carrie Krawiec, a marriage and family therapist at Birmingham Maple Clinic and executive director of the Michigan Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, said in an email that stress can sometimes worsen depression and anxiety, which leads to a negative outlook on the world. This in turn starts a vicious cycle of negativity and increased stress due to that negativity.

“One of the best remedies is to rewrite these negative, self-defeating scripts or thoughts about ourselves, others, [or] our situation with some positive replacements,” Krawiec said. “I encourage people to identify a minimum of five positive thoughts for each one negative.”

You can make a chart on paper with a happy face on the right and a sad face on the left, then list negative vs. positive thoughts. An example of a negative thought is: “I am overwhelmed I have no one to help me.”

Here are five positive thoughts from Krawiec to counter that negative thought:

1) My mom helps me.

2) I am not overwhelmed when I am at yoga.

3) I can make a list and try to do five things each day.

4) I could be better at asking for help instead of waiting for others to help me.

5) I actually got a few items on my list done today.

“I always tell clients that positives make us feel light like feathers, and negatives are heavy like cement,” she said. “That’s why it takes five positives to outweigh each one negative.”

This method can apply to any aspect of life. If you start to feel mad at a significant other for something hurtful they did or said, just think of all the great deeds they have done for you, and the loving words they have said to you previously.

Dr. Eva Ritvo, a psychiatrist, speaker and author, said in an email that there are some ways to reduce stress, even in the wake of the recent tragedy.

You can focus on how rare certain tragedies are, volunteer to help survivors in any way possible, and if necessary avoid excessive media coverage on the tragedy.

She said the most recent fad for relieving stress is a variety of “mindfulness meditation and activities.”

“We’re starting to realize that not everybody meditates the same way, nor should they,” Ritvo said.

“Find the mindfulness strategy that works for you — it can be mindful dishwashing, mindful running, mindful sitting, mindful eating, mindful sex, and so on. Find ways to be hyper-aware in your daily activities.”

Pay attention to the colors of objects surrounding you, the fabric of the couch you’re sitting on, etc.

“Anything that creates present moment awareness and decreases the brain’s chatter can help reduce stress,” Ritvo said.

“Yoga, cooking, gardening, and singing can all function like meditative experiences. The list is endless, but the key is to find a calming and centering activity that you enjoy and practice it daily.”

And of course, any type of exercise is a time-tested stress-reliever.

“Moving your body launches a cascade of hormonal and neurochemical activity, all of which lead to relaxation, surges of oxytocin (the good stuff), [a] decrease in cortisol (the bad stuff), and increased blood flow throughout the body and to the brain,” Ritvo added.

Rena McDaniel, a therapist who specializes in trauma and the director of Outreach and Operations at IntraSpectrum Counseling, said in an email that she finds older stress-relief methods are helpful, such as yoga, meditation and mindfulness.

“Any stress reduction technique needs to include regulating the body as well as the mind,” she said. “Deep Breathing, yoga, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation are all helpful techniques.”

Activities as basic as laughing with friends, watching a comedy or going to a funny show can also help with relaxation, she added.

During this awareness month, McDaniel wants to emphasize that stress can have long-term consequences if it’s not relieved properly.

“Prolonged stress is very unhealthy for both the body and the mind, and can exacerbate many physical and mental conditions,” she added. “Stress creates a physical hyper-arousal in the body and makes it difficult to function cognitively at the highest level.”