Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Stress in America

The weekend shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords – and the attendant murders of six bystanders – has again pushed the American psyche into overload. Though out of harm’s way themselves, many people experience stress and anxiety when faced with these kinds of uncontrollable situations. While it appears the gunman’s serious mental illness motivated the shooting spree, the horrendous act itself has raised stress levels all across the United States, already high due to the poor economic climate. In fact, a recent national health survey found that 75% of the general population experiences at least some stress every two weeks, with half of these rated at moderate or high levels.

According to the American Psychological Association, key findings from their recent survey indicate that stress levels have increased over the past five years, impacting both physical and emotional health. Most Americans are feeling moderate to high stress levels, with many feeling overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted. The most frequently cited sources of stress are concerns about money, work and the economy. Nearly one-half of those who participated in the survey were fearful about their job stability. Over one-half also noted that family responsibilities and relationships were significant causes of stress.

What can you do to reduce your stress levels and take better care of yourself now and during the rest of 2011? The American Psychological Association has some suggestions to manage your distress in the aftermath of the shooting. And here are some of our tips to get you started:

Maintain balance in your life between personal needs, work and your family obligations. Don’t over commit yourself even as you retain a normal routine. Carve out some special time for yourself even in the midst of caring for your growing children and aging parents.

Exercise moderately several times a week. Only one-quarter of those surveyed were satisfied with their level of physical activity. To increase yours, find an activity that you enjoy and will stick with – walking with friends, water aerobics, dance or yoga classes, training at the gym.

Eat sensibly, following a balanced diet of healthy foods rich in nutrition that serve as a natural defense against stress. Avoid the use of drugs and alcohol to self-medicate and limit your use of sugar, caffeine and cigarettes as they can contribute to your anxiety. Get enough rest and sleep to allow your body to recover from the stresses of the day. Over 40% of the survey respondents reported feeling fatigued on a regular basis and lacking in energy.

Use relaxation techniques. Set aside time for a regular routine of deep breathing, guided imagery, meditation, or other stress reduction methods. Decide to put off worrying – much of what you may fear never actually happens anyway. Remember to be open to the healing effects of laughter.

Using these tips can help you become more resilient as you cope with the stresses around you on a daily basis. And to learn more about how you can manage the pressures you face in our economic downturn, check out our ebook, Taking Control of Stress in a Financial Storm: Practical Strategies and Resources for Success.

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